Egypt Independent: World-Main news en Gaza says readying sea port for international travel <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1422210980041_795">A ministerial committee in Hamas-controlled and&nbsp;<a data-rapid_p="1" href="">Israel</a>i-blockaded Gaza announced plans on Sunday to ready the enclave&#39;s sole seaport to allow Palestinians to travel abroad.</p><p>The enclave, home to 1.8 million people, has been under an Israeli land and sea blockade since 2006. Its sole gateway to the world not controlled by Israel is the Rafah border with Egypt, which has been largely closed since late October.</p><p>Alaa al-Batta, spokesman for the committee formed to lift the blockade, said preparations are under way to launch within two months a boat service for the sick and students studying overseas.</p><p>The port in Gaza City is currently restricted to fishermen, whom Israel only allows to fish up to a maximum of six nautical miles from the shore.</p><p>Israeli forces routinely fire on any vessel close to the outer limit.</p><p>Opening a port was one of the main Palestinian demand to be tabled during negotiations with Israel to firm up a truce agreement which ended a 50-day war in July and August.</p><p>But the negotiations failed to get off the ground and the demand was never tabled.</p><p>&quot;We are taking the necessary measures to allow maritime transport and to prepare for the construction of a port which will link Gaza with the outside world,&quot; Batta said.</p><p>There was no immediate reaction from Israel to the Gaza port plan.</p><p>Several ships manned by pro-Palestinian activists have tried to run the blockade and reach the shores of Gaza, but they have all been repelled by the Israeli navy.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1422210980041_1248">In 2010, Israeli commandos staged a botched raid on a six-ship flotilla in international waters, killing 10 Turkish nationals and sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara that has yet to be resolved.</p> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 18:38:00 +0000 AFP 2443186 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/01/25/499612/palestinian_fishermen_rest_at_the_seaport_in_gaza_city.jpg Greek leftists Syriza aim for landmark election win <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>Greeks began voting on Sunday in an election expected to bring to power the radical leftist Syriza party, which has pledged to take on international lenders and roll back painful austerity measures imposed during years of economic crisis.</p><p>Barring a huge upset, victory for Syriza, which has led opinion polls for months, would produce the first&nbsp;<a href="" title="Full coverage of Euro Zone">euro zone</a>&nbsp;government openly committed to cancelling the austerity terms of its EU and IMF-backed bailout programme.</p><p>&quot;In&nbsp;<a href="" title="Full coverage of Greece">Greece</a>, democracy will return,&quot; the party&#39;s 40-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras told a throng of cameras as he voted in Athens. &quot;The message is that our common future in Europe is not the future of austerity.&quot;</p><p>A Syriza win would represent another turning point for Europe after last week&#39;s announcement by the European Central Bank of a massive injection of cash into the bloc&#39;s flagging economy after years of trying to clamp down on budgets and pushing countries to pass structural reforms.</p><p>Polls close at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT), with 9.8 million Greeks eligible to vote. An exit poll is expected immediately after voting ends, with the first official projections due at 9.30 p.m. with results updated into the night.</p><p>While Syriza is expected to form the biggest group in the 300-seat parliament, it is unclear if it will be able to govern alone or have to form a coalition with a smaller party.</p><p>Final polls on Friday gave the party a lead of up to 6.7 points with 31.2-33.4 percent of the vote, close to the level needed for an outright victory.</p><p>Syriza appeared to be widening the gap in the final days of campaigning over the centre-right New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who appealed to undecided voters to ensure Greece stays on the path of stability and reforms.</p><p>&quot;Today we are deciding if we move ahead with power, safety and confidence or if we get into an adventure,&quot; Samaras said after voting in the western Pelopponese region. &quot;I am optimistic because I believe no-one will risk the European course of our country.&quot;</p><p>After its most severe crisis since the fall of the military junta in 1974, Greece&#39;s economy has shrunk by some 25 percent, thousands of businesses have closed, wages and pensions have been slashed and unemployment among youth is over 50 percent.</p><p>At the same time, its massive public debt has climbed from 146 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 to 175.5 percent last year, the second highest in the world.</p><p>For a factbox on the Greek elections, click:</p><p><strong>&quot;ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!&quot;</strong></p><p>Greece&#39;s economy last year emerged from recession for the first time in six years and unemployment has begun to come down slightly, but it may be years before the country recovers.</p><p>Tsipras&#39; campaign slogan &quot;Hope is coming!&quot; has resonated with austerity-weary voters, despite Samaras&#39; warnings that a Syriza government could bankrupt Greece.</p><p>&quot;We are voting for Alexis Tsipras to put an end to this misery,&quot; said Stavroula Gourdourou, an unemployed mother who voted for the ruling conservatives in 2012. &quot;Enough is enough! We won&#39;t let them destroy our children.&quot;</p><p>Renouncing much of the firebrand rhetoric that was once his hallmark, Tsipras has promised to keep Greece in the euro and dropped threats to &quot;tear up&quot; the tough requirements of its 240 billion euro bailout.</p><p>He has promised to renegotiate a deal with the European Commission, ECB and International Monetary Fund &quot;troika&quot; and write off much of Greece&#39;s 320 billion-euro debt, despite clear signs from partners including&nbsp;<a href="" title="Full coverage of Germany">Germany</a>&nbsp;that they would refuse.</p><p>At the same time, he wants to raise the minimum wage, cut power prices for low income families, cut taxes and reverse pension and public sector pay cuts.</p><p>Financial markets have been on edge ahead of the elections, although the ECB&#39;s massive bond-buying programme and growing confidence that a Syriza-led government could compromise with its creditors boosted confidence last week.</p><p>Syriza would need around 40 percent of the vote to be guaranteed a majority but it could win with less depending on how well other parties perform.</p><p>If not, it may need to form a coalition with a small party such as the centrist To Potami, the centre-left PASOK or the anti-bailout Independent Greeks or form a minority government, relying on ad-hoc support from other parties.</p><p>Syriza officials have said they would seek a six-month &quot;truce&quot; whereby the bailout programme due to end on Feb. 28 would be put on hold while talks with creditors begin.</p><p>But they face stiff resistance from the rest of Europe over demands for a debt write-off, raising the spectre of Greece being forced out of the euro if no agreement is reached.</p><p>Unlike the last time Greeks went to the polls, the country has enough cash to survive a couple of months before it faces almost 10 billion euros in debt repayments over the summer.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 14:53:00 +0000 Reuters 2443165 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/01/17/499612/greeces_syriza.jpg Japan condemns IS execution, demands remaining hostage release <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>-&nbsp;<a href="" title="Full coverage of Japan">Japan</a>ese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called the killing of a Japanese captive by Islamic State militants &quot;outrageous&quot; and again demanded the group release a second Japanese national they are holding.</p><p>Abe, speaking to public broadcaster NHK, said chances were high that a recording and an image of what appeared to be the decapitated body of captive Haruna Yukawa, which emerged late on Saturday, were authentic.</p><p>The Japanese leader called for the immediate release of the remaining Japanese captive, veteran war correspondent Kenji Goto, and said saving Goto&#39;s life was a top priority.</p><p>But he reiterated that Japan would not give in to terrorism.</p><p>&quot;Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible, which causes me nothing but strong indignation,&quot; Abe said. &quot;Again, I strongly demand that Mr. Kenji Goto not be harmed and be immediately released.&quot;</p><p>The escalation of the hostage crisis has become a test for Abe, who took power in 2012 pledging to bolster Japan&#39;s global security role. On Tuesday, Islamic State militants released a video showing Goto and Yukawa kneeling with a knife-wielding, masked man demanding a $200 million ransom for their release. A 72-hour deadline for that payment expired on Friday.</p><p>In the latest recording, Goto says Yukawa was &quot;slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate.&quot; But the journalist said the Japanese government could save him by working through Jordan where Abe earlier this week set up an office to coordinate the government&#39;s response to the hostage situation.</p><p>Goto says the militants would free him in exchange for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi held in Jordan, and that the militants have dropped the ransom demand.</p><p><strong>&quot;PAINED&quot;</strong></p><p>&quot;I am filled with disappointment, that it has finally come to this,&quot; Yukawa&#39;s father, Shoichi, told NHK. &ldquo;I feel pained, that he (Goto) risked his life out of concern (for my son) and ended up being captured. I hope he can be released as soon as possible, and return to Japan to continue his activities.&rdquo;</p><p>Goto&#39;s mother, Junko Ishido, told NHK: &ldquo;First of all I wish it weren&rsquo;t true, that it&rsquo;s some mistake. I&rsquo;m a mother so it&rsquo;s unbearable. What I want to tell Islamic State is that Kenji&#39;s ideal is world peace.&quot; She was later quoted by Kyodo news agency as doubting her son would seek a prisoner exchange.</p><p>More than 100 people congregated at Tokyo&#39;s Denenchofu Protestant evangelical church, where Goto was baptized in 1997 and where he prayed just days after Yukawa was captured in August. Three policemen stood guard outside the church.</p><p>&quot;Please have Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa in your thoughts as we go through today&#39;s prayers,&quot; Pastor Shun Takatsu said.</p><p>Abe told NHK he had spoken to Jordan&#39;s King Abdullah about the situation, but he had no comment on the Islamic State demand for the release of al-Rishawi.</p><p>U.S. President Barack Obama condemned Yukawa&#39;s &quot;brutal murder&quot; in a statement released by the White House, and later called Abe to express his condolences and thank him for the humanitarian aid Japan has provided to the Middle East.</p><p>French President Francois Hollande in a statement also condemned what he called the &quot;barbaric killing,&quot; while Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has forged closer security ties with Japan, called it an &quot;absolute atrocity&quot;.</p><p>&quot;All this means is it&rsquo;s more important than ever to do everything we can to disrupt and degrade the death cult,&quot; Abbott added in a statement from Canberra.</p><p><strong>HUMANITARIAN AID</strong></p><p>Yukawa, 42, was seized by militants in August after going to&nbsp;<a href="" title="Full coverage of Syria">Syria</a>&nbsp;to launch a security company. Goto, 47, went into Syria in late October seeking to secure Yukawa&#39;s release, according to friends and business associates.</p><p>The new recording, released on YouTube late on Saturday before being deleted, showed an image of a gaunt Goto in an orange t-shirt with audio of what appeared to be him making a statement in English.</p><p>&quot;I would like to stress how easy it is to save my life,&quot; the recording says. &quot;You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime, and I will be released immediately. Me for her.&quot;</p><p>Al-Rishawi was arrested shortly after she failed to blow herself up in one of three deadly hotel bombings that hit the Jordanian capital in 2005.</p><p>Japan paid $6 million to Japanese Red Army hijackers after a 1977 kidnapping, but in recent years has moved toward the U.S. government&#39;s hard line against paying ransoms.</p><p>Japan&#39;s pacifist constitution also rules out any military response. A briefing paper prepared for Abe&#39;s office on Friday and reviewed by Reuters said Japan would not have the legal authority to strike the Islamic State even after proposed legislation loosening military restrictions that the prime minister is seeking to pass later this year.</p><p>Abe told NHK that Japan did not intend to join the U.S.-led military operation against Islamic State, but wanted to continue to provide humanitarian aid. The decision by Abe to give aid specifically to countries contending with Islamic State has raised some eyebrows.</p><p>&quot;I think it&#39;s unavoidable if they (Islamic State) took this as support for their enemies and view Japan as an enemy,&quot; Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the small opposition People&#39;s Life Party, told NHK, adding the government appeared not to know how to respond.</p><p>The Islamic State has executed five British and American aid workers and journalists in recent months. Yukawa&#39;s capture by Islamic State fighters outside Aleppo in August was the first time a Japanese citizen has been held by the group.</p> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 08:39:00 +0000 Reuters 2443145 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/01/24/499612/is_hostages.jpg Thousands march in Venezuela over economic crisis, shortages <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>Demonstrators against Venezuela&#39;s economic crisis -- facing sky-high inflation and shortages of food and consumer goods -- took to the streets in their thousands Saturday, banging pots and demanding an end to President Nicolas Maduro&#39;s term.</p><p>Opposition leaders, fed up with shortages of milk, coffee, sugar, meat, toilet paper, diapers, deodorant and corn meal, and with Maduro&#39;s refusal to overhaul the increasingly state-managed economy, say the elected socialist should go.</p><p>Ex-lawmaker Maria Corina Machado -- who was jailed after deadly riots last year for inciting violence -- said Maduro &quot;must step aside now, so the Venezuelan people can stand united again.&quot;</p><p>&quot;The government needs to be changed urgently,&quot; Machado argued, at what opposition activists called the &quot;March of Empty Pots.&quot;</p><p>She insisted that constitutional order -- waiting for Maduro to be voted out -- &quot;cannot wait,&quot; even as some marchers chanted, and others wore tape over their mouths saying &quot;we want to eat.&quot;</p><p>Many Maduro foes argue that the government has co-opted so many sectors of society that they have no real chance at the polls against the political heir of longtime leader Hugo Chavez.</p><p>Jesus Torrealba, leader of the activist coalition, said organizers want those who oppose the government to express themselves both at the polls and demonstrating on Venezuela&#39;s streets.</p><p>&quot;I am here because of all the suffering we are going through,&quot; said architect Jose Salinas, 46. &quot;There are food shortages, shortages even in drugstores, prices have gone up across the board, meat costs twice what it did recently.&quot;</p><p>Maduro is facing a dismal 22-percent approval rating, and three quarters of the population oppose his government, recent polls show.</p><p>Venezuela was already mired in economic woes before oil prices began their recent slide, but the sharp downturn in crude prices has been especially punishing for a country that relies on oil for 96 percent of its foreign currency.</p><p>With the precipitous drop of oil, Maduro has traveled in recent days to Algeria, China, Iran, Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia as he makes an urgent appeal for cash.</p><p>In November, Caracas failed to convince the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, including top producer Saudi Arabia, to reduce production in order to halt the price drop.</p><p>This week Maduro even floated the idea of discussing raising the local price of gasoline (petrol).</p><p>The price has not been raised since 1989. Back then, a hike in gasoline and transport costs helped trigger a deadly wave of protests, rioting and looting remembered here as the Caracazo. Hundreds were killed -- some analysts say as many as 2,000.</p> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 08:06:00 +0000 AFP 2443142 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/01/25/499612/thousands_march_in_venezuela_over_economic_crisis.jpg