Trump Defense Chief Assures Japan, S. Korea of US Commitment to Asia

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in Tokyo Friday the U.S. stands “firmly, 100 percent, shoulder to shoulder” with Japan.

Mattis, on his first trip since becoming the Pentagon chief, made the comment during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Earlier Friday in South Korea, Mattis said any nuclear attack by North Korea on the U.S. or any of its allies would be met with an “effective and overwhelming” response.

His trip to South Korea and Japan is to reassure the two Asian allies of Washington’s enduring alliance with them.

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened during his campaign to withdraw American forces from South Korea and Japan if they did not pay more for the military support they received from the U.S. South Korea has 28,500 U.S. troops stationed there, while 47,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan.

Mattis also visited Seoul’s National Cemetery Friday where he and his South Korean counterpart Han Minkoo participated in a wreath-laying ceremony to pay tribute to the soldiers who died in the Korean War.

On Thursday, Mattis said the Trump administration is committed to strengthening relations with South Korea in the face of what he called the “provocations” Seoul faces from North Korea.

“Right now we have to address the reality of the threat that your country and my country faces, and we intend to be shoulder-to-shoulder with you as we face this together,” he said.

Mattis spoke alongside South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn at the start of Mattis’ first overseas trip as Pentagon chief.

Hwang said he looks forward to further consultations on the U.S.-South Korea alliance and “responding to North Korea’s nuclear issue.”

Before landing in South Korea, Mattis told reporters traveling with him that one topic of conversation during his visit will be the THAAD missile defense system, which the U.S. and South Korea want to deploy this year over the objections of China.

“Were it not for the provocative behavior of North Korea, we would have no need for THAAD out here,” Mattis said. “There is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea if they are engaged in something that is offensive.”

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Man Shot, Wounded After Attacking Soldiers in Paris

A knife-wielding man shouting “Allahu akbar” attacked French soldiers on patrol near the Louvre Museum Friday in what officials described as a suspected terror attack. The soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker and then opened fire, shooting him five times.

The attack at an entrance to a shopping mall that extends beneath the museum sowed panic and again highlighted the threat French officials say hangs over the country, which was hit repeatedly by extremist attacks in 2015 and 2016.


A police union official said the attacker was carrying two backpacks and had two machetes. He said the man lunged at the soldiers when they told him that he could not bring his bags into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall underneath the world-famous museum where the “Mona Lisa” hangs.

That’s when he got the knife out and that’s when he tried to stab the soldier,” said the official, Yves Lefebvre.


The four soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker before opening fire, said Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for the military force that patrols Paris and its major tourist attractions.


The French interior ministry said anti-terrorism prosecutors are investigating. There were no immediate details about the identity of the attacker. “Allahu akbar” is the Arabic phrase for “God is great.”


The patrols – numbering about 3,500 soldiers in the Paris area – were instituted following the January 2015 attacks on Paris’ satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and reinforced after Nov. 13 suicide bomb and gun attacks that left 130 people dead at the city’s Bataclan concert hall and other sites.


The attacker slightly injured one of the soldiers, in the scalp, officials said. Another soldier opened fire, gravely wounding the attacker.


“He is wounded in the stomach,” said police chief Michel Cadot. “He is conscious and he was moving.”


Checks of the man’s two backpacks found they didn’t contain any explosives, he said.


Cadot said a second person who was “acting suspiciously” also was arrested but appears not to have been linked to the attack.


Restaurant worker Sanae Hadraoui, 32, was waiting for breakfast at the Louvre’s restaurant complex when she heard the first gunshot, followed by another and then a couple more.


“I hear a shot. Then a second shot. Then maybe two more. I hear people screaming, “Evacuate! Evacuate!”


“They told us to evacuate. I told my colleagues at the McDonalds. We went downstairs and then took the emergency exit.”


Hadraoui, who has worked at the Louvre for seven years, said the evacuation was orderly. She was smoking a cigarette when her managers told her people were going back inside.


The museum in the center of Paris is one of the French capital’s biggest tourist attractions. Police sealed off entrances around where the attack took place and closed the area to vehicles, snarling traffic in a busy part of central Paris. Officers shooed away confused tourists.


Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said about 1,000 people were inside the actual museum and were held inside in safe areas before the all-clear was given and they were allowed to move around as normal again.


Exterminator Olivier Majewski says he was just leaving his scooter in the parking lot beneath the Louvre when he saw a crush of people running and screaming “there’s been a terror attack.” The 53-year-old says he hid for about 15 minutes before gingerly making his way upstairs.


“They were panicked,” he said.

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Kyiv Raises Death Toll As ‘Escalation’ In Eastern Fighting Continues

Kyiv has warned that an escalation of fighting it blames on “Russian occupational forces” is continuing in eastern Ukraine, where residents say “nonstop” shelling overnight on February 2-3 was the worst of a six-day surge in the hostilities.

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Anticorruption Protests Continue In Romania

For a third straight night, anticorruption protesters demonstrated in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. Tens of thousands of people gathered outside the cabinet building on February 2. They demanded that the Social Democrat-led government abolish a decree that would grant amnesty to dozens of officials accused of corruption. (RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service)

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Police Say Taliban Killed Eight Afghan Security Forces In North

At least eight Afghan security force members have been killed by the Taliban in the northwestern province of Faryab, a police spokesman said on February 3.

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National Parks Traveler Finds Paradise – and History – in American Caribbean

It may surprise some people to learn that in addition to its 50 states and Washington, D.C., the United States includes more than a dozen territories located in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean territories include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

That’s where national parks traveler Mikah Meyer recently traveled to visit six pristine National Park Service sites.

A centuries-old complex

His first stop was the capital city of Puerto Rico, where he stepped into 500 years of history at the San Juan National Historic Site, a massive fort which was used to control the island.


Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony for centuries but was turned over to the United States following the Spanish-American war of 1898.  Today, visitors come to this World Heritage Site to learn about its history and unique architecture.

“I was just blown away by the size of it all,” Mikah said, “I mean some of the forts I’ve gone to thus far are maybe a city block in size or smaller, and this was three separate sites that were probably four or five city blocks combined.”

He noted how different it looked, compared to other forts he’d visited, from the American Revolution or the War of 1812. “It was in such a completely different climate and had such a different ambiance to it than any of these other ones that I’d been to.”

Caribbean gem

Mikah had another chance for great views of the stunning land and seascapes of Puerto Rico on his flight over to the island of St. Croix — the largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, but the least crowded.

Mikah said it was fascinating to be in a beautiful place that was so “non-touristy.” He and his travel companion Andy Waldron felt like locals as they rented a car and drove to practically every part of the island, where they discovered the residents had “a really laid-back attitude.”

Just off St. Croix is the Buck Island Reef National Monument, known for its nesting sites for turtles and birds, and its “underwater trail.”

The small, uninhabited island and its surrounding reef were designated a national monument by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. “Basically he had gone there on vacation with his family, snorkeled this Buck Island Reef, thought it was amazing and decided to save it as a National Monument,” Mikah explained.




President Bill Clinton expanded the monument in 2001, declaring it the first marine protected area in the National Park Service.


While hurricanes and rising sea temperatures have damaged and continue to threaten the fragile coral, many fish populations and a large number of native plant and animal species like the brown pelican and the St. Croix ground lizard are thriving in these protected spaces.

Finding Nemo

Despite his fear of the water, and inspired by what he might find in the clear blue sea, Mikah learned how to snorkel on the spot and dived in. He followed the markers of the “underground trail” where he explored the ancient barrier reef that wraps around two thirds of the island.

“They gave us an hour to snorkel around and it was kind of like being an explorer,” he said. “You’d be snorkeling and there would be this amazing brain coral that looks like a giant brain the size of a baby elephant… and then you might come around the coral and see this amazing fish — and it was like Finding Nemo in real life,” he said, referring to the hugely popular 2003 film of the same name.

But the most amazing moment of all, he related, was the giant school of fish that he encountered. “I think it was 300 fish just came passing by,” he said. “So I was basically swimming with this school of fish.”

“For someone who grew up in Nebraska, not near the ocean, it was just the complete opposite of what I was used to and it was so fascinating,” Mikah said. “It’s definitely my new favorite national monument.”

Christian’s Place

After Buck Island, Mikah headed to the Christiansted National Historic Site, which is home to a colorful old Danish fort.

“Their colors for their military sites were yellow and green… so it was this glorious yellow with these gorgeous green shutters.”

The urban park features 18th and 19th century structures in the heart of Christiansted, the capital of the former Danish West Indies on St. Croix Island. Christiansted, which means Christian’s Place, was named in honor of King Christian VI of Denmark and Norway, and was envisioned as a rival to Christiania (later Olso), Norway, in size. According to the National Park Service, it exemplifies the architectural, economic and political influence of Europe like no other place in the Caribbean.

Mikah was particularly impressed by the history behind the strategic placement of the cannons around the fort.

“The tour guide, Bonito Vegas, talked to us about how you could see in the distance where the coral was, and so they knew boats wouldn’t come in that way, so they didn’t have to put cannons there,” he recounted. “But they knew this one section had deep water… so if the boats wanted to come, this is where their cannons had to be.”

2,000 years of human history

The next stop for Mikah was the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve on St. Croix Island.

“That site is a historical point but it’s also an ecological preserve because they found that within this bay there’s a bunch of marine life that universities from all over the country come to study and so the National Park Service has been able to preserve that.”

The site is also famous for its first European visitor — Christopher Columbus. “He stopped here on his second visit to the Caribbean where he came in search of fresh water,” Mikah said.

Caribbean wildlife

Mikah was impressed by the diversity of the wildlife on the islands. “Each place we went, even though they were so close, all had their own what I call ‘national park zoo,’” he said.

“So in the San Juan National Historic Site there was this massive green iguana,” he described,” a color that you couldn’t imagine was real or came from nature.” And then there were the hermit crabs. “They were everywhere,” Mikah said. “If it wasn’t developed, it was covered in hermit crabs…and I was scared of stepping on one,” he recounted with a laugh.

And on St. Croix, there were mongooses.

“Apparently the Europeans brought them over to eat the rats,” Mikah said. But apparently they weren’t too keen on rats, “so they ended up eating a bunch of the other species on the islands, which are now extinct,” Mikah pointed out.

But what really took his breath away, Mikah said, was the Caribbean marine life. Observing them in their habitat and exploring other underwater treasures was a transforming experience for him.

Look, but don’t touch!

While snorkeling in Maho Bay on St. John Island, he saw sting rays and sea turtles. “You wouldn’t imagine this turtle that kind of plops around on sand being graceful but they are in the water,” he said. “They were made to swim.”

And at the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, he explored little coves and mangrove forests that help build a sustainable ecology.

“There are these trees that grow out into the ocean and actually help build new ground around the earth because they put their roots out into the ocean and then bits of debris and sand get caught on the roots and eventually those collect and become earth,” he described. “So they basically build habitats on level ground so they also serve as nesting areas for baby fish.”

Around the mangrove roots Mikah saw vibrant queen angelfish, which he described as a stunning visual scene. “They are blue fish that have these magnetic yellow stripes down them,” he explained.  “It looks like somebody painted them with glow paint.”

“It was an honor for me to get to experience these places… I just felt so lucky because this was something that a little kid from the prairie in Nebraska wouldn’t have imagined himself doing. And yet here I was in my own country, seeing a landscape that was so foreign, and yet was part of my story and my nation’s story and will still be for years hopefully, if we keep protecting it.”

To learn more about his time in the Caribbean and the many other sites he visited, Mikah invites you to visit him on his website, Facebook and Instagram.

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Компанії Порошенка, Кононенка і Гладковського купують газ у Злочевського – «Схеми»

Щонайменше три підприємства, кінцевими бенефіціарами яких є президент України Петро Порошенко та його близькі соратники у владі – Ігор Кононенко та Олег Гладковський, упродовж 2016 року купували газ для своїх виробничо-побутових потреб у фірми ТОВ «Парі» (Burisma Group). Кінцевим бенефіціаром цієї фірми є Микола Злочевський, колишній міністр екології уряду Миколи Азарова та близький соратник Віктора Януковича, який виїхав після Майдану з України через загрозу кримінального переслідування. Про це йдеться у розслідуванні програми «Схеми», журналісти якої отримали доступ до звітів компаній Burisma Group за 2016 рік, та проаналізували, хто купував газ у фірм Злочевського. 

ТОВ «Парі» – одна з чотирьох газовидобувних фірм групи Burisma, в 2016 році продала газ на загальну суму 270 мільйонів гривень. Більша частина була поставлена своїй же компанії ТОВ «Еско-Північ» (Burisma Group) для подальшого перепродажу. А решта видобутого газу була поставлена напряму компаніям президента Петра Порошенка, народного депутата Ігоря Кононенка та заступника секретаря Ради національної безпеки та оборони Олега Гладковського.

«Пісківський завод скловиробів» у 2016 році купив природній газ у ТОВ Парі на загальну суму 97,8 мільйонів гривень. Кінцевими бенефіціарами цього заводу є Петро Порошенко та Ігор Кононенко, які володіють ним через свої фонди – «Прайм Ессетс Кепітал» та «Вік» відповідно.

«Міжнародна тенісна академія», кінцевим бенефіціаром якої є Ігор Кононенко через свій фонд «Вік», також купувала газ у фірми Злочевського. У 2016 році сума контрактів з ТОВ «Парі» становила близько 1,25 мільйонів гривень.

Елітний фітнес-клуб «5 елемент», один з найбільш відомих активів президента та його соратників, упродовж 2016 року також забезпечувався газом «від Злочевського». Спортклуб, заснований Порошенком, Кононенком та Гладковським через їхні фонди, придбав газу у фірми «Парі» на суму близько 2,57 мільйона гривень.

Таким чином, три компанії президента України та його бізнес-партнерів лише за 2016 рік сумарно сплатили фірмі Миколі Злочевського понад 100 мільйонів гривень.

Микола Злочевський – один із тих, хто суттєво збагатився за президентства Януковича. Коли він був міністром екології, його бізнес розрісся до розмірів однієї з найбільших приватних газовидобувних компаній у країні – Burisma Group. Ліцензії на розробку газових родовищ фірмам Злочевського погоджувало міністерство, яке він сам же й очолював.

Після Майдану він втік із країни. Але через три роки його бізнес успішно працює.

12 січня Burisma заявила про закриття в Україні всіх процесуальних і судових дій щодо президента групи Миколи Злочевського й операційних компаній, що входять до Burisma Group після «взаємної багатомісячної роботи двох команд – Генеральної прокуратури України та Burisma Group». А 18 січня Генпрокуратура підтвердила, що ще 1 листопада 2016 року закрила справи щодо Злочевського про незаконне збагачення і відмивання коштів «у зв’язку з відсутністю в діянні складу кримінального правопорушення».

Справами щодо Миколи Злочевського займався департамент з розслідування особливо важливих справ у сфері економіки Генеральної прокуратури, який неформально називають «департаментом Кононенка-Грановського» на честь депутатів від президентської політсили БПП. Їхній вплив на Генеральну прокуратуру, очолювану Юрієм Луценком, неодноразово описувався у численних журналістських розслідуваннях.

Наприкінці 2016 року журналістка Ольга Василевська опублікувала фото зустрічі у Відні двох чоловіків, дуже схожих на Ігоря Кононенка та Миколу Злочевського.

Експерти Transparency International та «Центру протидії корупції», які від початку стежили за розслідуванням, вважають, що Генеральна прокуратура свідомо закрила кримінальні справи щодо Миколи Злочевського та його компанії в результаті політичних домовленостей.

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Sleep Shrinks Synapses, Preps For New Learning

Sleep, is an enduring mystery, and scientists continue to study its forms and its functions, and some new research shows sleep helps make us smarter.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison have found sleep helps improve brain function by shrinking synapses, the junctions between nerve cells.

VOA spoke with researcher Chiara Cirelli who said the research team started with the hypothesis that we sleep so that our brain can restore and recharge itself.  She said the idea seems simple, elegant and logical, but testing it and discovering how it works has been incredibly difficult.

Cirelli and Giulio Tononi of the Wisconsin Center for Sleep and Consciousness have been trying to prove the “Synaptic Homeostasis Hypothesis” since they published a first version of it in 2003.

Cirelli said they began by “literally, measuring the size of the synapses” in the brain.  “There are 100 billion synapses in our brain,” she says and we know that “that stronger synapses are also bigger.”

They knew that during sleep the brain “can sample all our synapses, and renormalize them in a smart way, comprehensive and balanced.”

So they decided to see if that renormalization has a physical component, that is, are they bigger after being awake all day, and smaller after a good night’s sleep.

How to measure a synapse

Synapses are only about 20-40 nanometers wide, and the team looked for changes in these already tiny gaps between nerve cells.  They had to wait until advances in electron microscopy made it possible to see these tiny changes.

A university press release said it was “a massive undertaking, with many research specialists working for four years to photograph, reconstruct, and analyze two areas of cerebral cortex in the mouse brain.  They were able to reconstruct 6,920 synapses and measure their size.”

Cirelli says it is an incredibly painstaking process because “all the actual measurements of the synapses (what we call the “segmentation”) has to be done manually.”

To make sure there was no bias, “the team deliberately did not know whether they were analyzing the brain cells of a well-rested mouse or one that had been awake.”

The result proved the SHY hypothesis by finding a few hours of sleep led on average to an 18 percent decrease in the size of the synapses.  “This shows,” Cirelli says, “in unequivocal ultrastructural terms, the balance of synaptic size and strength is upset by wake and restored by sleep,”

“Sleep,” the study concludes, “is the price we pay for brains that are plastic and able to keep learning new things.”

Cirelli says what “happens with sleep, is that salient and novel information is integrated within our body of knowledge, irrelevant details are forgotten, and new space is created for new memories to be formed the next day.”

She says our synapses shrink as our brain cleans house, and we wake up refreshed and ready to fill up those synapses with new information.

What can we do with this information

Cirelli says the work gets more complex from here on by researching the effect lack of sleep has on synapses.  The preliminary data says without sleep those synapses never shrink, and the concern is that “if synapses continue to strengthen, they will saturate, and thus neurons, which use synapses to communicate, will start responding too often and too much, also to inappropriate stimuli.” 

In short, the noise in the brain will increase, at the expense of the real ”signal.”

The team is also interested in the possibility there could be other ways to help the brain sift through material, perhaps through meditation or other forms of quiet wakefulness.  The research also holds out hope that could help people with chronic sleep disorders.

The team has already found one of possibly several molecules that make the synapses downsize.  It’s called Homer 1a, and is only present in the brain during sleep.  If they can chart more of these molecules and discover how they get the synapses to shrink there could one day be a way to refresh the brain without the need for sleep. 

The research findings are the culmination of more than a decade of work performed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison (UWM) and is published in the journal Science.


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Russia, Iran, Turkey Set Astana Talks To Discuss Syria Cease-Fire

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry says the co-sponsors of the Syrian peace talks will meet in Astana on February 6 to monitor implementation of the cease-fire in the war-torn Middle Eastern country.

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НАТО допомагатиме Балканам протистояти Росії – Столтенберґ

Генеральний секретар НАТО Єнс Столтенберґ заявляє, що в альянсі уважно слідкують за повідомленнями щодо іноземного втручання в ситуацію на Західних Балканах і допомагатимуть цим країнам протистояти цьому.

2 лютого, під час виступу у столиці Боснії і Герцеговини, Сараєві, Столтенберґ зазначив, що НАТО спостерігає за повідомленнями щодо «посилення російського втручання» у регіоні, зокрема щодо «втручання Росії у політичні процеси у Чорногорії» у 2016 році.

«Ми уважно за цим слідкуємо і працюємо з нашими партнерами, включаючи Чорногорію, щоб допомогти їм посилити розвідувальні можливості і оборонні інституції», – зазначив Єнс Столтенберґ.

У 2017 році Чорногорія має приєднатися до НАТО, чому різко протистоїть Росія.

У Чорногорії в жовтні арештували близько 20 людей і видали ордери на арешт іще двох громадян Росії і трьох – Сербії за підозрою в намаганні влаштувати переворот і зірвати парламентські вибори, щоб завадити приходові до влади прозахідного уряду, що підтримує вступ Чорногорії до НАТО.

Влада Росії заперечує свою причетність до цього.

Західні Балкани включають у себе Боснію і Герцеговину, Чорногорію, Македонію, Сербію, Албанію і Косово.

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