Daily Archives: December 16, 2017

Latest from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), based on information received as of 19:30, 15 December 2017

This report is for the media and the general public.

The SMM recorded more ceasefire violations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions compared with the previous reporting period. The Mission reached Travneve, where it spoke with civilians and saw military presence. It also followed up on reports of civilian casualties in Dokuchaievsk. The SMM continued monitoring the disengagement areas near Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote and Petrivske; it recorded a ceasefire violation in the disengagement area near Petrivske and near the disengagement area near Stanytsia Luhanska. Its access remained restricted in the disengagement areas and elsewhere, including in Uzhivka.* The SMM saw weapons in violation of the withdrawal lines near Shymshynivka and Haiove. The SMM facilitated and monitored repairs of essential infrastructure near Travneve, Vesela Hora and Artema.

In Donetsk region, the SMM recorded more ceasefire violations,[1] including about 430 explosions, compared with the previous reporting period (about 330 explosions).

On the evening and night of 14-15 December, the SMM camera at the Donetsk Filtration Station (15km north of Donetsk) recorded, in aggregate, 31 undetermined explosions, 155 projectiles (103 in flight from east to west and 52 in flight from west to east), an illumination flare in vertical flight and an airburst, all 0.5-1.5km south.

On the evening and night of 14-15 December, the SMM camera 1km south-west of Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol) recorded, in sequence, 29 projectiles in flight from east to west, nine projectiles from west to east, an illumination flare in vertical flight, three projectiles from east to west, 12 projectiles from west to east, six projectiles from east to west, a projectile from west to east and four projectiles from east to west, all 5-8km north.

Positioned at the railway station in “DPR”-controlled Yasynuvata (16km north-east of Donetsk) during the day on 15 December, the SMM heard about 80 undetermined explosions as well as heavy-machine-gun and small-arms fire, all 1-6km in westerly directions, and about 50 bursts of heavy-machine-gun fire 3-4km south-east.

Positioned on the south-western edge of government-controlled Avdiivka (17km north of Donetsk) during the day on 15 December, the SMM heard 17 undetermined explosions and 20 shots of automatic grenade launcher fire, all 2-5km in southerly directions.

Positioned at the central railway station in “DPR”-controlled Donetsk city (6km north-west of city centre), the SMM heard about 90 explosions, as well as heavy-machine-gun and small-arms fire, all 2-5km at directions ranging from west to north-west.

While in “DPR”-controlled Horlivka (39km north-east of Donetsk) on the evening of 14 December, the SMM heard about 180 undetermined explosions as well as heavy-machine-gun and small-arms fire, all 5-8km south-west and north-west.

While in government-controlled Svitlodarsk (57km north-east of Donetsk) on the evening and night of 14-15 December, the SMM heard about 40 explosions (including 14 assessed as impacts of mortar rounds, three assessed as outgoing mortar rounds, three assessed as impacts of recoilless gun (SPG-9, 73mm) rounds and two assessed as outgoing artillery rounds; the remainder were undetermined), as well as heavy-machine-gun and infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) (BMP-2) cannon (30mm) fire, all 2-5km at directions ranging from south-south-east to west.

In Luhansk region, the SMM recorded more ceasefire violations, including about 80 explosions, compared with the previous reporting period (28 explosions).

During the evening on 14 December, while in government-controlled Popasna (69km west of Luhansk), the SMM heard about 80 explosions assessed as artillery rounds and 17 shots of IFV (BMP-2) cannon fire 5-10km at directions ranging from south-east to south-west.

The SMM reached Travneve (51km north-east of Donetsk) and followed up on the situation of civilians living there. (See SMM Daily Report 14 December 2017.) On 15 December, the SMM entered Travneve, accompanied by Ukrainian Armed Forces officers of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) and representatives of the military-civil administration and State Emergency Services. In the village, the SMM observed that some houses had marks on their entrance gates: according to local residents, red circles indicated the houses were inhabited while black crosses meant they were uninhabited. The SMM noted that members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces had occupied some of the latter houses. The SMM also saw at least two soldiers with black Aidar battalion patches on their uniforms in the town. At the western end of Haidara Street, the SMM observed an armed man near a recently dug trench. At the eastern end of the street, the SMM saw a soldier of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and a south-pointing heavy machine-gun at a position about 100m from the nearest houses.

At 12 Haidara Street in Travneve, the SMM observed a house with a damaged roof that was being repaired by members of a fire brigade and State Emergency Services. The house’s 75‑year-old resident told the SMM that a shell had struck her home’s roof on the night of 3 December. Six of the village’s residents told the SMM that electricity supplied to the village was insufficient, and that local wells provided only non-potable water. Residents told the SMM they had to travel on foot or by bicycle 2.5km to “DPR”-controlled Holmivskyi (49km north-east of Donetsk) to buy food and medicine.

The SMM followed up on reports of civilian casualties in “DPR”-controlled Dokuchaievsk (30km south-west of Donetsk). At the hospital in Dokuchaievsk, the SMM spoke with two patients, one of whom told the SMM he had been injured on 14 December at 11 Frunze Street, while the other had been injured on 7 December on Vatutina Street. He told the SMM he had sustained shrapnel injuries to his chest and had undergone surgery on 14 December, while the second patient – whose entire left arm was bandaged – said he had sustained shrapnel injuries to his arm and leg. They both said that a third patient, a 61-year-old man who had sustained shrapnel injuries to his lower back on 14 December, had shared the hospital room with them until he was released the morning of 15 December. A Russian Federation Armed Forces officer of the JCCC also told the SMM that a 61-year-old man had sustained shrapnel injuries to his lower back at 24 Vatutina Street on 14 December. (See SMM Daily Report 14 December 2017.)

The SMM continued to monitor the disengagement process and to pursue full access to the disengagement areas near Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote (60km west of Luhansk) and Petrivske (41km south of Donetsk), as foreseen in the Framework Decision of the Trilateral Contact Group relating to disengagement of forces and hardware of 21 September 2016. The SMM’s access remained restricted but the Mission was able to partially monitor them.*

On 13 December, the SMM camera in “DPR”-controlled Petrivske recorded a tracer round in flight from east to west 1-2km south-south-west and assessed as inside the disengagement area.

On 14 December, positioned at the disengagements areas near Petrivske, government‑controlled Stanytsia Luhanska and government‑controlled Zolote, the SMM observed calm situations.

On the evening of 15 December, the SMM camera at the Prince Ihor Monument south-east of the Stanytsia Luhanska bridge recorded four explosions (three assessed as outgoing fire of rounds of undetermined weapons, and one assessed as the launch and vertical flight of a flare) 3.5km north-west, assessed as outside the disengagement area.

The SMM continued to monitor the withdrawal of weapons in implementation of the Package of Measures and its Addendum, as well as the Memorandum.

In violation of the respective withdrawal lines in non‑government-controlled areas, the SMM observed a tank in Haiove (14km west of Luhansk) on 14 December; aerial imagery revealed the presence of seven self‑propelled howitzers (type unknown) near Shymshynivka (27km south-west of Luhansk) on 11 December.

Beyond the withdrawal lines but outside designated storage sites, in government-controlled areas, the SMM observed two towed mortars (2B16 Nona-K, 120mm) and two towed howitzers (2A36 Giatsint-B, 152mm) near Minkivka (78km north of Donetsk). In non‑government-controlled areas, aerial imagery revealed the presence of 16 towed howitzers (type unknown) and 22 tanks (type unknown), as well as 80 military-type armoured vehicles and 71 military-type trucks, near Myrne (28km south-west of Luhansk) on 11 December.

The SMM revisited an “LPR” heavy weapons permanent storage site and found that seven towed howitzers (D-30 Lyagushka, 122mm) remained missing.

The SMM observed armoured combat vehicles,[2] new trenches and anti-tank mines in the security zone. In government-controlled areas, on 12 December, an SMM mid-range UAV spotted seven IFVs (six BMP-1 and a BMP-2) and a minimum of 275 anti-tank mines near Popasna (69km west of Luhansk), eight armoured personnel carriers (APC) (BTR-variant) and 15 mortar pits near Vesele (21km north of Donetsk), an APC (MT-LB) near Romanivka (41km north of Donetsk), and a newly dug trench and several recently dug firing positions near Hladosove (51km north-east of Donetsk). On 14 December, the SMM saw four IFVs (BMP-variant) and a reconnaissance vehicle (BRDM-2) near Popasna, two APCs (BTR-80) near Shchastia and an IFV (BMP-1) near Novoluhanske (53km north-east of Donetsk). In non‑government-controlled areas, on 14 December, the SMM saw an armoured combat vehicle in Petrivske.

The SMM continued to facilitate and monitor repairs and maintenance works, co‑ordinated by the JCCC, to power lines near Travneve and “LPR”-controlled Vesela Hora (16km north of Luhansk), and to the water pumping station near government-controlled Artema (26km north of Luhansk).

In Kyiv, the SMM observed a group of 15 men (middle-aged, some wearing all black) creating a barrier of wires and bricks around the about 35 tents set up in front of the national Parliament building. (See SMM Daily Report 21 October 2017.)

The SMM continued monitoring in Kherson, Odessa, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Chernivtsi.

*Restrictions of SMM’s freedom of movement or other impediments to fulfilment of its mandate

The SMM’s monitoring and freedom of movement are restricted by security hazards and threats, including risks posed by mines, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and other impediments-which vary from day to day. The SMM’s mandate provides for safe and secure access throughout Ukraine. All signatories of the Package of Measures have agreed on the need for this safe and secure access, that restriction of the SMM’s freedom of movement constitutes a violation, and on the need for rapid response to these violations. They have also agreed that the JCCC should contribute to such response and co-ordinate mine clearance. Nonetheless, the armed formations in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions frequently deny the SMM access to areas adjacent to Ukraine’s border outside control of the Government, citing orders to do so. (See, for example, SMM Daily Report 13 December 2017.) The SMM’s operations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions remained restricted following the fatal incident of 23 April near Pryshyb; these restrictions continued to limit the Mission’s observations.

Denial of access:

  • Plastic, liquid-filled containers laid across the road blocked the SMM’s passage south of Uzhivka (formerly Leninske, “DPR”-controlled, 24km north-east of Mariupol). The SMM informed the JCCC.

Related to disengagement areas and mines/UXO:

  • The SMM was prevented from accessing secondary roads south of the Zolote disengagement area due to the possible presence of mines and UXO. “LPR” members positioned on the southern side of the Zolote disengagement area told the SMM that no demining had taken place during the previous 24 hours. The SMM did not consider it safe to proceed and informed the JCCC.
  • The SMM was prevented from accessing secondary roads in the Zolote disengagement area due to the possible presence of mines and UXO. A Ukrainian Armed Forces officer of the JCCC told the SMM that he had no information about the de-mining process. The SMM did not consider it safe to proceed and informed the JCCC.
  • The SMM was prevented from accessing parts of the Stanytsia Luhanska disengagement area, with the exception of the main road, due to the possible presence of mines and UXO. A Ukrainian Armed Forces officer of the JCCC told the SMM that no de-mining had taken place during the previous 24 hours. The SMM did not consider it safe to proceed and informed the JCCC.
  • The SMM could not travel across the bridge in government-controlled Shchastia (20km north of Luhansk) due to the presence of mines. A Ukrainian Armed Forces officer of the JCCC said there were mines on the road south of the bridge. The SMM informed the JCCC.

[1]Please see the annexed table for a complete breakdown of the ceasefire violations as well as a map of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions marked with locations featured in this report. Four SMM cameras continue to be tested until the end of December 2017.

* Please see the section at the end of this report entitled “Restrictions of SMM’s freedom of movement or other impediments to fulfilment of its mandate.”

[2] This hardware is not proscribed by the provisions of the Minsk agreements on the withdrawal of weapons.

Erslan meets Bogdanov, Umakhanov in Russia

NNA – Lebanese Democratic Party Head, Displaced Minister Talal Erslan, currently on a visit to Russia, met Saturday with Deputy Russian Foreign Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov, at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow.

Both sides discussed the situation in Lebanon and the region, especially after the recent developments that led to the defeat of Takfiri terrorism in Syria and Lebanon, as a step towards full stability.

For his part, Erslan thanked Russia for “its historic role that has changed the balance of power in the Middle East and around the world.” He also stressed the need to consolidate the partnership between Lebanon and Russia on different levels.

Erslan also met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Elias Omakhanov, expressing his interest in developing bilateral parliamentary relations and strengthening communication between the Russian and Lebanese people.

============= R.K.

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Moderate earthquake – South Of Java, Indonesia – December 15, 2017

Most important Earthquake Data:

Magnitude : 4.9

Local Time (conversion only below land) : Unknown

GMT/UTC Time : 2017-12-15 21:10:02

Depth (Hypocenter) : 10 km

Depth and Magnitude updates in the list below.

Donation - long - San Francisco

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Click on the “I Felt It” button behind the corresponding earthquake. Your earthquake experience is not only important for science, but also for people in the area as well as our global readership.

SRC Location UTC Date/time M D INFO
EMSC South Of Java, Indonesia Dec 15 21:10 4.9 10 MAPI Felt It
GEOFON South Of Java, Indonesia Dec 15 21:10 4.9 10 MAPI Felt ItINFO
GEOFON Java, Indonesia Dec 15 16:47 6.5 109 MAPI Felt ItINFO
  • Semarang, Central Java – Moderate shaking
  • Lembang – about 1 mins
  • Tangerang – Light shaking
  • Tembalang, Semarang – feel shaky a few bit seconds, sorry bad language
  • Cirebon – Moderate shaking
  • Jakarta – maybe a good 20-25 seconds. No visible damage yet
  • Jakarta – Light shaking
  • Jakarta – Light shaking
  • Jakarta Pusat – Light shaking
  • Cirebon – Very weak shaking
  • Tangerang – Felt the shaking, my table was shaking. I thought I was dizzy. The vibration probably last for 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Bali – Woken up by bed shaking. Lightning was swinging 2 centre meters each way. Could hear windows shaking. Felt for 20-30 seconds then smaller treers followed for around 3-5 minutes.
  • Yogyakarta – about a minute. No damage. walls swaying.
  • Yogyakarta – 5-10 seconds
  • Jakarta – Weak shaking
  • Bandung – Strong shaking
  • Bandung – Felt it for 5-10 seconds
  • Bali – Light shaking
  • Yogyakarta – Pas de dommage, secousses ressenties pendant environ 2 minutes
  • Manonjaya, Jawa Barat – First time experience with such earth tremor
  • Christmas Island – Very slight shaking for about 10 seconds. The sliding door moved a little in the frame
  • Cibubur – Felt like my furnitures are moving when i was in bed so i decided to wakeup my family it was about 50-1 min long. long enough for me to be alerted but stayed calm
  • Bogor – Light shaking
  • Semanggi – Light was moving.
  • Jakarta – Moderate shaking
  • Bandung – Pretty strong, 2 times, both only seconds but strong enough to run into the bedroom, grab my son and run out again….
  • Yogyakarta – Strong shaking
  • Semanggi – Light was moving.
  • Bogor – Weak shaking
  • Kebumen – kuat bergetar
  • Bandung – All the lights and clocks were moved! Scary indeed
  • Christmas Island – The hole house was shaking for about 4 seconds
  • Pangandaran – Scary oh lord
  • Jakarta – Light shaking
  • Magelang – 23:56 WIB bergoncang ringan
  • Limpung – Tempat tidur bergoyang, air dalam ember kamar mandi sebagian tumpah. Getaran sekitar 15-30 detik
  • Jakarta – Apt building swaying, light fixtures swinging
  • New Kuta – Felt bed shaking there was two bouts of it. Lasted few seconds each time
  • Garut – I felt so scare for the earthquake 7.3 skala
  • BANDUNG – It was about 1 min long
  • Yogyakarta – Lasted perhaps 45 seconds. No damage that I know of.
  • Pantai Saba, Bali – A couple of second of gentle swaying (like being on the boat).
  • Bandung – Definitely shocking. Everyone outside the house sounded screaming and panicking. The earthquake felt like forever, almost 2 minutes.
  • Jogjakarta – Felt the bed move and the lights moved. My first quake.
  • Solo Baru, Sukoharjo – In bed it felt like my house swayed from side to side 2 or 3 times.
  • Purworejo – Bergoyang kurang lebih 2 menit
  • Jatinangor – Strong shaking
  • Solo – I feel dizzy, my bed was shaking and my clothes hanger was shaking so badly.
  • Jakarta – Light shaking
  • Bandung – Around 30 sec – 1 min. No visible damages
  • bandung – the water shake almost 12 cm
  • Cimahi – Light shaking
  • jakarta – Lots of slow lazy swaying of our high rise apartment. Very scary but no obvious damage now it\’s over.
  • BSD, Tangerang – The bed was moving back and forth along with the window blinds and hanging pans. 17th floor apartment
  • Jakarta – Light shaking
  • Jakarta Slipi – Room was moving, could feel building swaying
  • Yogya – Moderate shaking
  • Tangerang – Moderate shaking
  • yogyakarta – Light shaking
  • Semarang – 6th floor. Bed was heavily shaking. Floor felt like a ship on strong sea.
  • Yogyakarta – The floor was moving. We all evacuated to a road across the hotel.
  • NYC – NYC “Seismologists know that how long an earthquake lasts is a decent proxy for its magnitude…A MINUTE-LONG QUAKE IS IN THE HIGH SEVENS, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one
  • central jakarta – at 40th floor, awaken by the swaying and some funny noises from the building. curtains, water are moving. when I stand up, I can feel the strong sway.
  • Bandung – The shock is great and could felt twice making all started to run down.
  • bandung – building swaying for 15-20 seconds- some light damage visible to interior of building with hairline cracks in plaster on walls.
  • Bandung – Moderate shaking
  • Surabaya – Very strong shaking
  • USGS Cipatujah, Indonesia Dec 15 16:47 6.5 91 MAPI Felt It
  • Eureka, USA – Short, sharp jolt, coming from the West.
  • Hakucho, Japan – It started to shake and it was scary at first but it wore off quickly
  • Yogyakarta – it felt quite strong, tho. and happened for quite long time.
  • bogor – Very weak shaking
  • Jakarta selatan – Weak shaking
  • Tangerang – Felt it at 27F. Water inside bottles shaking. Door swayed.People opened the emergency exit & went out to a safe place.
  • Christmas Island. WA – At approximately 23.19 ( Jakarta Indonesia time )on 15.12.2017 I woke up with my bed shaking and a glass rattling against dishes on the sink so it may have lasted 12 seconds.I have searched for any activity and this is the only one recorded.

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    SHARE YOUR EARTHQUAKE EXPERIENCE WITH US

    I felt the shaking *
    Country where you felt the earthquake *
    City/Village where you felt the earthquake *
    Street or suburb (area) where you felt the earthquake
    Shaking Strength *
    MMI II (Very weak shaking) ?

    People :
    Felt by persons at rest, on upper floors or favorably placed.
    MMI III (Weak shaking) ?

    People :
    Felt indoors; hanging objects may swing, vibration similar to passing of light trucks, duration may be estimated, may not be recognized as an earthquake.
    MMI IV (Light shaking) ?

    People :
    Generally noticed indoors but not outside. Light sleepers may be awakened. Vibration may be likened to the passing of heavy traffic, or to the jolt of a heavy object falling or striking the building.
    Fittings :
    Doors and windows rattle. Glassware and crockery rattle. Liquids in open vessels may be slightly disturbed. Standing motorcars may rock.
    Structures :
    Walls and frames of buildings, and partitions and suspended ceilings in commercial buildings, may be heard to creak.
    MMI V (Moderate shaking) ?

    People :
    Generally felt outside, and by almost everyone indoors. Most sleepers awakened. A few people alarmed.
    Fittings :
    Small unstable objects are displaced or upset. Some glassware and crockery may be broken. Hanging pictures knock against the wall. Open doors may swing. Cupboard doors secured by magnetic catches may open. Pendulum clocks stop, start, or change rate.
    Structures :
    Some large display windows cracked. A few earthenware toilet fixtures cracked.
    MMI VI (Strong shaking) ?

    People
    Felt by all. People and animals alarmed. Many run outside. Difficulty experienced in walking steadily.
    Fittings :
    Objects fall from shelves. Pictures fall from walls. Some furniture moved on smooth floors, some unsecured free-standing fireplaces moved. Glassware and crockery broken. Very unstable furniture overturned. Small church and school bells ring. Appliances move on bench or table tops. Filing cabinets or “easy glide” drawers may open (or shut).
    Structures :
    Slight damage to buildings with low standard. Some stucco or cement plaster falls. Large display windows broken. Damage to a few weak domestic chimneys, some may fall.
    Environment :
    Trees and bushes shake, or are heard to rustle. Loose material may be dislodged from sloping ground, e.g. existing slides, talus slopes, shingle slides.
    MMI VII (Very strong shaking) ?

    People
    General alarm. Difficulty experienced in standing. Noticed by motorcar drivers who may stop.
    Fittings :
    Large bells ring. Furniture moves on smooth floors, may move on carpeted floors. Substantial damage to fragile contents of buildings.
    Structures :
    Unreinforced stone and brick walls cracked. Low standard buildings cracked with some minor masonry falls. A few instances of damage to buildings of ordinary workmanship. Unbraced parapets, unbraced brick gables, and architectural ornaments fall. Roofing tiles, especially ridge tiles may be dislodged. Many unreinforced domestic chimneys damaged, often falling from roof-line. Water tanks Type I burst. A few instances of damage to brick veneers and plaster or cement-based linings. Unrestrained water cylinders (hot-water cylinders) may move and leak. Some common windows cracked. Suspended ceilings damaged.
    Environment :
    Water made turbid by stirred up mud. Small slides such as falls of sand and gravel banks, and small rock-falls from steep slopes and cuttings. Instances of settlement of unconsolidated or wet, or weak soils. Some fine cracks appear in sloping ground. A few instances of liquefaction (i.e. small water and sand ejections).
    MMI VIII (Severe shaking) ?

    People
    Alarm may approach panic. Steering of motorcars greatly affected.

    Structures :
    Low standard buildings heavily damaged, some collapse. ordinary workmanship buildings damaged, some with partial collapse. Reinforced masonry or concrete buildings damaged in some cases. A few instances of damage to buildings and bridges designed and built to resist earthquakes. Monuments and pre-1976 elevated tanks and factory stacks twisted or brought down. Some pre-1965 infill masonry panels damaged. A few post-1980 brick veneers damaged. Decayed timber piles of houses damaged. Houses not secured to foundations may move. Most unreinforced domestic chimneys damaged, some below roof-line, many brought down.

    Environment :
    Cracks appear on steep slopes and in wet ground. Small to moderate slides in roadside cuttings and unsupported excavations. Small water and sand ejections and localized lateral spreading adjacent to streams, canals, lakes, etc.

    MMI IX (Violent shaking) ?

    Structures
    Many low standard buildings destroyed. Ordinary workmanship buildings heavily damaged, some collapse. Reinforced masonry or concrete buildings damaged, some with partial collapse. Buildings and bridges designed and built to resist earthquakes damaged in some cases, some with flexible frames seriously damaged. Damage or permanent distortion to some buildings and bridges, designed and built to normal use standards. Houses not secured to foundations shifted off. Brick veneers fall and expose frames.

    Environment :
    Cracking of ground conspicuous. Landsliding general on steep slopes. Liquefaction effects intensified and more widespread, with large lateral spreading and flow sliding adjacent to streams, canals, lakes, etc.

    Tell us your experience and how many seconds the shaking lasted + let us know if your property has been damaged (even slight damage). (max. 500 characters)

    * mandatory fields

    Macron to celebrate 40th birthday at luxurious ch�teau

    NNA – French President Emmanuel Macron will celebrate his 40th birthday Saturday at the vast and luxurious Château de Chambord south of Paris.

    Macron, who has been dubbed “president of the rich” by critics, traveled to Chambord with his wife Brigitte and family members on Friday for the celebrations, ahead of his birthday on December 21.

    The president and his wife paid for the weekend at Chambord out of their own funds, with the Elysée presidential palace ensuring security, French media reported.

    They will spend the weekend at an inn and will only go to the château on Saturday for a dinner in the president’s honor.

    But despite their relatively modest choice of accommodation, the couple’s decision to celebrate at Chambord, a vast royal domain with sumptuous galleries and vast grounds, prompted criticism of tone-deafness.

    “In today’s France, and from a head of state who knows the value of signs and symbols, celebrating his birthday at Chambord doesn’t make any sense,” tweeted Marion Van Renterghem, a journalist and author. — Politico

    ============== R.K.

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    Japan mulls record defense budget to counter North Korea

    NNA – Japan plans to increase its defense budget to a record high level for the next fiscal year, allocating money to purchase more American weapon systems to counter North Korea.

    The Japanese government is expected to set aside 5.19 trillion yen (approximately 46 billion US dollars) for defense in the country’s initial budget proposal for the fiscal year starting April 2018, Japan’s largest financial daily the Nikkei reported on Saturday.

    The amount surpasses the 5.12 trillion yen budget for the current fiscal year and is approximately 70 billion yen more than last year.

    The business newspaper said the measure would mark the sixth straight year of increases in Japan’s defense outlays, adding that most of the additional costs would go to protecting the country against the perceived threat from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

    The extra funding will cover the cost of the preliminary design and the subsequent purchase and deployment of the US military’s Aegis Ashore land-based missile interceptor system in Japan, the Nikkei said.

    Additionally, the Japanese Defense Ministry announced last week that Tokyo intended to begin developing a cruise missile designed to be deployed on fighter-jets and to strike naval ships and ground targets.

    Called the Japanese Tomahawk, the prototype is designed to defend remote Japanese islands.

    The United States and its regional allies, including Japan, have been opposed to North Korea’s weapons programs.

    Tokyo found reason for extreme worry when Pyongyang fired two long-range missiles over Japan in September and also conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

    Japan also fears that potential US military action against North Korea could draw reprisal attacks by Pyongyang against Japanese territory.

    The standoff over North Korea escalated in July when Pyongyang test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Experts say the entire US mainland is within the range of the missiles, which North Korea says could be equipped with nuclear warheads.

    North Korea has been under a raft of crippling UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear tests as well as multiple rocket and missile launches. Pyongyang has firmly defended its military program as a deterrent against the hostile policies of the US and its regional allies, including Japan and South Korea.

    Washington has thousands of troops in the region, partially in South Korea and Japan, and routinely threatens the North with military action to stop its weapons programs. —Press Tv

    ================== R.K.

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