Monthly Archives: February 2015

WRAPUP 3-Buffett looks to succession, signals future growth problem

(Recasts headline)

By Luciana Lopez, Jonathan Stempel and Jennifer Ablan

Feb 28 (Reuters) – In his 50 years at the helm of
Berkshire Hathaway Inc, Warren Buffett has transformed
a failing textile company into a sprawling conglomerate that has
vastly outperformed most of the rest of corporate America.

But he now says: Do not expect a repeat of that
outperformance in the next 50.

In the 84-year-old’s annual shareholder letter released on
Saturday, Buffett said Berkshire has grown so large – 751,000
times its original net worth per share – that the future pace of
gains “will not come close” to those of the past.

“The numbers have become too big,” Buffett wrote. “I think
Berkshire will outperform the average American company, but our
advantage, if any, won’t be great.”

Within 10 to 20 years, Buffett said, Berkshire’s girth could
require whoever then runs the Omaha, Nebraska-based company to
consider steps he has resisted, such as paying dividends or
conducting “massive” share repurchases.

Buffett, also addressing one of the more pressing topics at
Berkshire, said he and his board of directors “believe we now
have the right person to succeed me as CEO,” likely for a decade
or more, and who in some respects “will do a better job than I
am doing.”

While Buffett did not name that person, Berkshire Vice
Chairman Charlie Munger, 91, said Greg Abel and Ajit Jain, two
top Buffett lieutenants, would be prime candidates.

Abel, 52, runs Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Jain, 63, has been
Buffett’s top insurance executive for three decades.

A successor could also be female: Buffett said “gender
should never decide who becomes CEO.”

And Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, who run some Berkshire
investments, “can be of particular help to the CEO in evaluating
acquisitions,” he added.

“You’ve got such good candidates,” said Thomas Russo, a
principal at Gardner, Russo & Gardner, which invests 12 percent
of its $10 billion of assets in Berkshire. “I think they’ll
adopt a different capital structure approach, which will include
a healthy, healthy large dividend.”

OPERATING RESULTS MISS ESTIMATES

Buffett is preparing in May to celebrate 50 years of running
Berkshire, whose market value is now $363 billion.

On Saturday, Berkshire also reported a 17 percent drop in
fourth-quarter profit, to $4.16 billion, or $2,529 per Class A
share, from $4.99 billion, or $3,035, a year ago, as investment
gains and results from insurance underwriting declined.

Operating profit rose 5 percent to $3.96 billion, or $2,412
per share, from $3.78 billion, or $2,297.

For all of 2014, profit rose 2 percent to $19.87 billion,
while operating profit increased 9 percent to $16.55 billion.
Revenue rose 7 percent $194.67 billion.

Book value per share, which Buffett considers a good measure
of Berkshire’s worth, rose 8.3 percent to $146,186 but lagged
gains in the Standard & Poor’s 500 for the fifth time in
six years.

Despite the big numbers, Berkshire had some problems.

Buffett lamented the performance of the BNSF railroad,
saying it “disappointed many of its customers” with congestion
on its rail lines caused by bad weather, amid rising oil
shipments and a bumper grain harvest.

He also said he was “embarrassed” by taking too long to exit
a $2.3 billion investment in Tesco Plc, a British
retailer that became mired in an accounting scandal.

Berkshire lost $444 million on Tesco, but Buffett said
that’s just 0.2 percent of its net worth.

MOTHER LODE OF OPPORTUNITIES

Berkshire owns more than 80 companies, such as Geico
insurance and Dairy Queen ice cream, and $117.5 billion of
equity investments in such companies as Wells Fargo & Co
, Coca-Cola Co, American Express Co and
IBM Corp.

Buffett remains on the prowl for acquisitions, and with
$63.27 billion of cash could make big purchases, which he calls
“elephants,” while preserving a $20 billion cash cushion.

Despite spending $7.8 billion on 31 acquisitions in 2014,
Berkshire has not bought an elephant since paying $12.25 billion
to buy half of ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co in 2013.

And while Buffett has said he may shop more in Germany,
after on Feb. 20 agreeing to buy a German motorcycle accessories
retailer, Berkshire’s main focus will remain at home.

“Though we will always invest abroad as well, the mother
lode of opportunities runs through America,” he wrote.

Buffett’s letter retained the folksy tone that have helped
make him popular among investors.

Talking about his See’s Candies business, which requires
little capital investment, Buffett compared the company’s
profits to “rabbits breeding.”

And Buffett said that at Berkshire’s annual meeting last
year, part of a weekend he calls “Woodstock for Capitalists,”
shareholders bought 10,000 bottles of Heinz ketchup with Buffett
or Munger on the labels. (Buffett’s cost $2, Munger’s $1.50.)

This year, Buffett said Heinz will also be selling mustard
as well as ketchup. “Buy both!” he exhorted.

(Reporting by Jennifer Ablan, Luciana Lopez and Jonathan
Stempel in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)


Source: Newsjyoti Company News

Greek PM accuses Spain, Portugal of anti-Athens 'axis'

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech at the ruling Syriza party central committee in Athens, February 28, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech at the ruling Syriza party central committee in Athens, February 28, 2015.

Credit: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis


(Reuters) – Greece’s leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused Spain and Portugal on Saturday of leading a conservative conspiracy to topple his anti-austerity government, saying they feared their own radical forces before elections this year.

Tsipras also rejected criticism that Athens had staged a climbdown to secure an extension of its financial lifeline from the euro zone, saying anger among German conservatives showed that his government had won concessions.

Greeks have directed much of their fury about years of austerity dictated by international creditors at Germany, the biggest contributor to their country’s 240-billion-euro bailout.

But in a speech to his Syriza party, Tsipras turned on Madrid and Lisbon, accusing them of taking a hard line in negotiations which led to the euro zone extending the bailout program last week for four months.

“We found opposing us an axis of powers … led by the governments of Spain and Portugal which for obvious political reasons attempted to lead the entire negotiations to the brink,” said Tsipras, who won an election on Jan. 25.

“Their plan was and is to wear down, topple or bring our government to unconditional surrender before our work begins to bear fruit and before the Greek example affects other countries,” he said, adding: “And mainly before the elections in Spain.”

Spain’s new anti-establishment Podemos movement has topped some opinion polls, making it a serious threat to the conservative People’s Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in an election which must be held by the end of this year.

Rajoy went to Athens less than a fortnight before the Greek election to warn voters against believing the “impossible” promises of Syriza. His appeal fell on deaf ears and voters swept the previous conservative premier from power.

Portugal will also have elections after the summer but no anti-austerity force as potent as Syriza or Podemos has so far emerged there.

In an interview published before Tsipras made his speech, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho denied that Portugal had taken a hard line in negotiations on the Greek deal at the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers.

“There may have been a political intention to create this idea, but it is not true,” he told the Expresso weekly newspaper.

Passos Coelho aligned himself with euro zone governments which have called for policies to promote economic growth but without trying to walk away from austerity as in Greece.

“We were on the same side as the French government, with the Italian and Irish governments. I think it’s bad to stigmatize southern European countries,” he said.

A VICTORY FOR GREECE

Portugal had to take its own bailout in 2011 but left the program last year. Finance Minister Maria Luis Albuquerque said on Saturday Lisbon would start repaying its loans to the IMF next month, giving back 6 billion euros.

This contrasts to Greece which remains in its EU/IMF program, almost five years and two bailouts after it had to seek international help.

Tsipras has portrayed the Eurogroup deal as a victory for Greece, even though it meant extending the bailout program he had promised voters to scrap. He noted German lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives had attacked the Greek leadership when they approved the extension on Friday.

“We have all watched the strong opposition within Angela Merkel’s party which shows that unacceptable concessions have been made to Greece,” he said.

So far he has public backing. A poll conducted by the University of Macedonia for SKAI TV showed 56 percent of Greeks believed the extension had been a success, compared with 24 percent who said it represented a failure.

Ireland’s finance minister has said Athens must negotiate a third bailout when the extension expires in June – something Tsipras denied on Friday.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis called into question a major debt repayment Greece must make to the European Central Bank this summer, after acknowledging Athens faces problems in meeting its obligations to international creditors.

(additional reporting by Andrei Khalip in Lisbon; Editing by Janet Lawrence)


Source: Newsjyoti Top Trending

For Republicans, a shift to national security ahead of 2016

(Reuters) – If this week was any indication, Republicans could spend much of the 2016 presidential election attacking Democrats as weak on national security, rather than focusing on the economic concerns that have preoccupied voters in recent years.

The shift reflects a changing political landscape as the U.S. economy has steadily added jobs while gruesome beheading videos by Islamic State and increasing conflict in countries such as Syria and Libya have revived Americans’ concerns about security threats.

Such a focus also provides plenty of opportunities to attack Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic front-runner who as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 was the public face of President Barack Obama’s effort to emphasize diplomacy over armed confrontation.

At a gathering of conservative activists, potential Republican presidential candidates characterized that approach as naive at best. On Clinton’s watch, the United States allowed Libya and Syria to slide into chaos while failing to contain the rise of new extremist groups like Islamic State, they said.

“Because of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy, our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. The annual gathering of conservative activists, known as CPAC, drew more than a dozen potential Republican candidates this year as the party gears up for the 2016 election.

Many of the dozen or so potential candidates who spoke at the conference just south of Washington portrayed Islamic State as a direct threat to U.S. domestic security, at times echoing the with-us-or-against-us rhetoric used by Republican President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“We need a president, a leader, who will stand up and say we will take the fight to them and not wait till they bring the fight to American soil,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said on Thursday.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry called Islamic State the “the worst threat to freedom since communism,” while Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum called for 10,000 U.S. ground troops to fight the militant Islamist movement.

Even Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator, sought to balance his skepticism of domestic surveillance and overseas military action with the need to confront Islamic State. “We must protect ourselves from jihadists without losing ourselves as a people in the process,” he said.

The red-meat rhetoric plays to a Republican strength as the improving economy eases public concerns about job creation.

According to Reuters/Ipsos polling, 49 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy in January, down from 55 percent in February of last year.

When Americans are asked which party has the better plan for dealing with terrorism, the Republican advantage over Democrats has widened from 2 percentage points to 8 percentage points over that period.

“When Americans are being beheaded on television it changes Americans’ perspective,” said Dave Bossie, president of Citizens United, a conservative group.

However, Republicans are not immune to overstepping on the issue.

Democrats have accused them of undermining national security by tying funding for the Department of Homeland Security to an effort to roll back Obama’s executive action to shield several million immigrants from the threat of deportation.

RISK OF ALIENATING VOTERS

The renewed focus on security also risks alienating voters who view Bush’s decisions to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 as costly mistakes. Bush’s approval ratings slumped in his final years in office as the Iraq War dragged on.

“I’ve seen too many American men and women dying for another country they don’t even care about,” said Daniel Jenkins, 28, an Iraq War veteran who handed out “Stand with Rand” buttons outside the hall.

Bush himself was not mentioned by name by any of the potential candidates – even his brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Several speakers, such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz, cast the conflict with Islamic State in religious terms, which could resonate in a party that counts evangelical Christians among its core supporters.

Though Republican candidates are likely to continue to call for tax cuts and a repeal of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the 2016 election may take on a tone not seen in years.

“Let’s recognize that 2016 could be the first foreign policy national election since 1980. The world seems to become more dangerous by the day,” said Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Caren Bohan and Frances Kerry)


Source: Newsjyoti Politics

Sierra Leone vice president places himself in Ebola quarantine

(Reuters) – Sierra Leone’s Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana said on Saturday that he had placed himself in a 21-day quarantine after one of his bodyguards died of Ebola amid a worrying recent surge in new infections in the West African nation.

Cases of Ebola, which has killed nearly 10,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea during a year-long epidemic, have fallen off sharply in recent weeks.

Of 99 new confirmed Ebola cases in the region during the week to Feb. 22, however, 63 were in Sierra Leone according to the World Health Organization’s weekly report.

Sam-Sumana’s bodyguard John Koroma died early this week.

“I have decided to be put under quarantine because I do not want to take chances and I want to lead by example,” the vice president told Reuters. “I am very well and showing no signs of illness.”

Sam-Sumana said his entire staff will also be placed under observation and anyone showing symptoms of the disease would be tested.

The vice president is the country’s first senior government figure to subject himself to a voluntary quarantine. However, officials in neighboring Liberia, including the chief medical officer and transport minister, were placed under observation late last year.

Faced with a wave of new infections, particularly in the capital Freetown and some districts in the north, the government reintroduced a number of restrictions that had been lifted earlier this year as the epidemic appeared to ease.

A statement from President Ernest Bai Koroma’s office late on Friday ordered public transport operators to reduce capacity by 25 percent to limit physical contact between passengers.

The government also placed a night-time curfew on unloading goods from commercial vehicles and limited the movements of water transport.

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Editing by Joe Bavier; editing by Ralph Boulton)


Source: Newsjyoti Health

UPDATE 1-Thousands protest against march of UK branch of German anti-Islam PEGIDA

(Adds arrests)

Feb 28 (Reuters) – Around 2,000 people
protested on Saturday in Newcastle, northeast England, against a
march held by the British branch of Germany’s anti-Islam group
PEGIDA which drew up to 400 people, a Reuters witness said.

Northumbria police, which kept the two protests apart, said
five people were arrested for alleged offences from assault to
being drunk and disorderly, but that largely both demonstrations
passed without any problems.

The German organisation ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the
Islamisation of the West’ (PEGIDA), has for months been warning
that Germany was being overrun by Muslims and held marches
mostly in the city of Dresden.

It has tried to spread to other cities and countries with
limited success. Although in Britain the local branch has had
little exposure in the national media, the Facebook page of
PEGIDA United Kingdom shows it has had over 17,000 “likes”.

Fears that anti-Islam sentiment is growing in Britain have
intensified as violence by Islamist militants in the Middle East
dominate the headlines and after actual and threatened attacks
in Europe.

Some Islamic groups have criticised the British authorities’
response to the threat from militants, saying it has demonised
Britain’s 2.7 million Muslims.

(Reporting by Peter Nicholls; Writing by Neil Maidment; Editing
by Raissa Kasolowsky and Stephen Powell)


Source: Newsjyoti

UPDATE 3-Warren Buffett says Berkshire has 'right person' as heir

* Buffett says internal successor lined up for top job

* Vice Chairman Munger praises Berkshire execs Abel, Jain

(Adds investor comment on letter, BNSF details and CEO
prerequisites from letter)

By Luciana Lopez and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Warren Buffett, the billionaire
chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, told
investors on Saturday that the company had found his successor,
and the company’s vice chairman, Charlie Munger, identified two
Berkshire executives as candidates.

In Berkshire’s annual report to shareholders, Greg Abel, the
head of Berkshire’s energy companies, and Ajit Jain, a top
insurance executive, were said by Munger to be “proven
performers who would probably be under-described as
‘world-class.'”

“‘World-leading’ would be the description I would choose,”
Munger said in a letter to Berkshire shareholders. “In some
important ways, each is a better business executive than
Buffett.”

Buffett’s son, Howard, would become non-executive chairman
after the departure of his father, who is also Berkshire’s
chairman.

In his previous letters to shareholders, the 84-year-old
Buffett has said Berkshire board had been fully aware of his
chosen successor but that he was keeping his options open.

Investors have long speculated about who would, or could,
succeed Buffett, particularly after he was diagnosed with, and
then beat, prostate cancer in 2012.

Munger, whom Buffett describes as “my partner,” is 91.

“Both the board and I believe we now have the right person
to succeed me as CEO – a successor ready to assume the job the
day after I die or step down,” Buffett said.

“In certain important respects, this person will do a better
job than I am doing,” Buffett added.

Berkshire on Saturday also reported a 17 percent drop in
fourth-quarter net income, but a 2 percent increase in full-year
profit. Operating profit rose in both periods.

Neither Buffett’s nor Munger’s letter on Saturday referred
by name to Matthew Rose, executive chairman of the BNSF railroad
unit, who has also been mentioned by investors as a possible
successor.

Buffett said BNSF is, by far, Berkshire’s most important
non-insurance unit but “was not good in 2014, a year in which
the railroad disappointed many of its customers” despite
capital outlays far exceeding those of Union Pacific Corp
, its main rival.

BUFFETT’S ABCs FOR NEW CEO

Buffett strongly suggested in his letter that his potential
successor already works within Berkshire and laid out the
challenges facing his successor as Berkshire grows ever larger.

He said Berkshire’s earnings and capital resources will
eventually reach a level where management will not be able to
intelligently reinvest all of the company’s earnings.

“At that time our directors will need to determine whether
the best method to distribute the excess earnings is through
dividends, share repurchases or both,” Buffett said.

Buffett said his successor will also need to avoid the
“debilitating forces” that decades ago befell companies such as
General Motors, IBM, Sears Roebuck and U.S. Steel.

“My successor will need one other particular strength: the
ability to fight off the ABCs of business decay, which are
arrogance, bureaucracy and complacency,” he said. “When these
corporate cancers metastasize, even the strongest of companies
can falter.”

Buffett has run Berkshire since 1965, transforming it from a
failing textile company into a conglomerate with a $363 billion
market value and more than 80 operating businesses in such areas
as insurance, railroads, energy, food and apparel.

The Omaha, Nebraska-based company also has more than $117
billion of equity investments.

ABEL, JAIN TOP CONTENDERS

Age will also be a factor, and Buffett said Berkshire may be
best off if his successor stays on for at least a decade.

“Our directors also believe that an incoming CEO should be
relatively young, so that he or she can have a long run in the
job,” Buffett wrote. “It’s hard to teach a new dog old tricks.
And they are not likely to retire at 65 either – or have you
noticed?”

Buffett also said Berkshire’s directors believe future CEOs
should be internal candidates they know well.

Abel, 52, leads Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and Jain, 63, has
been Buffett’s top insurance deputy for three decades.

In Saturday’s letter, Buffett said: “Ajit’s underwriting
skills are unmatched. His mind, moreover, is an idea factory
that is always looking for more lines of business he can add to
his current assortment.”

In last year’s letter, Buffett called Abel an “extraordinary
manager.”

Bill Smead, who oversees $1.3 billion at Smead Capital
Management in Seattle and invests $55 million in Berkshire,
called Jain a “brilliant” insurance executive but said Abel
could be a better fit as CEO.

“I think you want someone who is good at overseeing numerous
stand-alone companies,” he said. “That would be advantage Abel.”

Because Berkshire Hathaway Energy is a “mini-conglomerate”
itself, “you practice in the miniature and then ultimately that
puts you in the position to be the one,” Smead said.

(Editing by David Holmes and Jennifer Ablan; Editing by Steve
Orlofsky)


Source: Newsjyoti

Russian opposition mourns murdered leader Nemtsov

People lay flowers at the site where Boris Nemtsov was recently murdered, in central Moscow, February 28, 2015.  REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin


(Reuters) – Thousands of stunned Russians laid flowers and lit candles on Saturday on the bridge where opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot dead near the Kremlin, a murder that showed the risks of speaking out against President Vladimir Putin.

Nemtsov, 55, was shot four times in the back by killers in a white car late on Friday as he walked across the bridge over the Moskva River in central Moscow with a Ukrainian woman, who was unhurt, police said.

Police sealed off the blood-stained bridge close to the red walls of the Kremlin and Red Square for two hours overnight, then hosed it down as people came to pay tribute to one of Putin’s biggest opponents over Russia’s role in Ukraine.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which answers to Putin, said it was following several lines of inquiry, including that the opposition may have committed the crime to rally support for a march against Kremlin policies on the economy and Ukraine.

Flowers were piled at least a meter (three feet) high, about two meters deep and two meters wide. A piece of white paper saying “We are all Nemtsov” stood among the flowers.

“People are afraid to support our movement. Opposition activists receive threats every day and Boris was no exception. But they won’t stop us,” said opposition activist Mark Galperin.

No government or Kremlin official was seen paying tribute but many opposition figures did so, with some warning that the pro-war mood and anti-Western hysteria whipped up by Putin over Ukraine was leading Russia into a dark future.

“In our country there is demand for anger. In our country there is demand for hatred. In our country there is demand for aggression,” said Anatoly Chubais, late President Boris Yeltsin’s chief of staff and a liberal economic reformer.

Referring to a pro-Putin march last week, he said: “If just a few days ago here in this city people were marching with a poster “Kill off the fifth column” and then today Boris Nemtsov is killed – let’s just pause and think what will happen tomorrow. We all must stop.”

A former deputy prime minister who had feared Putin wanted him dead, Nemtsov was the most prominent opposition figure killed in Putin’s 15-year rule. At one time he had been widely seen as the man most likely to succeed Yeltsin as president.

His gangland-style murder was reminiscent of the chaotic 1990s after the Communist Soviet Union collapsed and raised further questions about the opposition’s ability to mount any challenge to Putin in such a dangerous environment.

The Kremlin deflected accusations that it was to blame and Putin put the investigation under presidential control, denouncing what he called a “provocation” before an opposition protest that had been planned on Sunday.

In a telegram to Nemtsov’s mother, he promised the killers would be found and punished.

But the killing focused attention on the tough treatment of opponents in Putin’s third term, during which several leading critics have been jailed or have fled Russia following mass rallies against the former KGB spy three years ago.

“I would say this is not only a blow to the opposition, it is a blow to all Russian society. It is a blow to Russia. If political views are punished this way, then this country simply has no future,” said Sergei Mitrokhin, an opposition leader.

FEW POLITICAL MURDERS SOLVED

Leading international condemnation of the murder, U.S. President Barack Obama called for a prompt, impartial and transparent investigation to ensure those responsible were brought to justice for the “vicious killing”.

Political murders often go unsolved in Russia. Police said they were investigating whether the murder was aimed at destabilizing the political situation in Russia or was committed by radical Islamists against Nemtsov, a Jew.

A car suspected of being used by the killers, and identified as coming from the mainly Muslim Ingushetia region, was found abandoned in central Moscow. Some Russian news outlets said surveillance footage showed two men leaving it.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev cautioned against jumping to conclusions but some opposition figures blamed Putin directly. Others said Russian society was in decline, describing an environment where Putin demands total loyalty and supporters go to great lengths to do what they think may please him.

“In Putin’s atmosphere of hatred and violence, abroad and in Russia, bloodshed is the prerequisite to show loyalty, that you are on the team,” another opposition leader, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, said on Twitter.

“If Putin gave (the) order to murder Boris Nemtsov is not the point. It is Putin’s dictatorship. His 24/7 propaganda about enemies of the state.”

ANONYMOUS THREATS

Nemtsov, who had been out walking on Great Moskvoretsky Bridge after a meal in a restaurant by Red Square, had said in a recent interview the president might want him dead because of his opposition to the conflict in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Nemtsov had told him a couple of weeks ago that he planned to disclose evidence of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine’s separatist conflict.

“Someone was very afraid of this … They killed him,” Poroshenko said in televised comments shown in Ukraine.

Kiev, the West and some Russians accuse Moscow of sending troops to support separatist rebels who have risen up in east Ukraine, an accusation Russia has denied.

The organizers of Sunday’s planned protest against the war decided to cancel it. Instead, Moscow city authorities agreed they could hold a march for up to 50,000 people to remember Nemtsov.

Nemtsov’s criticism of Putin won him support among Moscow’s intellectuals and the nascent middle class but he had little support outside the big cities.

Nemtsov was a fighter against corruption. In other reports, he condemned overspending on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics by the Russian authorities and listed the many state buildings, helicopters and planes that Putin has at his disposal.

He was also one of the leaders of the rallies in the winter of 2011-12 that became the biggest protests against Putin since he first rose to power in 2000.

Nemtsov briefly served as a deputy prime minister under Yeltsin in the late 1990s, after winning a reputation as a leading liberal economic reformer as governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region.

The opposition has failed to dent Putin’s popularity even though many people feel the pain of Western economic sanctions over Ukraine, low oil prices and poor economic management.

Opposition blogger Alexei Navalny is serving a 15-day jail term. Kasparov is based in the United States and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, freed in late 2013 after a decade in jail, lives in Switzerland.

Some opponents say they fear for their lives. Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist, was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment on Putin’s birthday in 2006. The person who ordered the killing has never been identified.

(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova, Vladimir Soldatkin, Denis Dyomkin, Polina Devitt and Thomas Grove, and by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and)


Source: Newsjyoti Top Trending

UPDATE 1-Death threats and a late night dinner before Russia's Nemtsov was shot dead

(Adds background)

By Thomas Grove

Feb 28 (Reuters) – It was near closing time on
Friday at the upscale Bosco restaurant that looks out onto the
illuminated red-brick walls of Moscow’s Kremlin. Boris Nemtsov
and his young, dark-haired girlfriend were finishing dinner.

A political reformer who had fallen foul of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov had been preoccupied for weeks
with details of an opposition march planned for Sunday.

Dinner at Bosco – dishes include beef with rocket salad and
balsamic sauce or duck liver with wild berries – had been
interrupted by telephone calls, a waiter told a Russian
newspaper. Nemtsov also broke off for an interview with a
Ukrainian radio station eager for the details of the rally.

Hopes were high that the demonstration, to condemn Putin’s
economic and foreign policies, would rekindle the flames of the
street protests that in 2011-12 posed the first public challenge
to Putin’s more than decade-long rule.

The pair were among the last to pay their bill in the
restaurant with its high airy ceilings and large windows. At
around 11 p.m. Nemtsov, 55, a tall athletic figure with a mop of
curly brown greying hair, escorted his girlfriend of some three
years, Anna Duritskaya, more than 30 years younger, out onto Red
Square.

Opposite them, across the cobbles stood the marble tomb that
still bears the body of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, whose
communist economic order Nemtsov helped dismantle after the 1991
collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nemtsov’s apartment was a half hour walk away at a leisurely
pace. The couple turned left, passing to their right the
candy-coloured onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral. Beyond that,
soared the Kremlin’s Spassky Gate topped with glowing crimson
five-pointed star, another reminder of the Soviet past.

Further down the slope, they walked onto the Great
Moskvoretsky Bridge; but Nemtsov never made it across.

Less than three hours later, policemen were washing his
blood from the masonry and onto the banks of the Moscow River.
He had been shot four times in the back and head in one of the
worst shootings Moscow has seen in years.

Nemtsov had enemies politically and personally. Even among
the opposition, his outsized character pulled some into his
orbit and pushed others away, at times polarising the fractious
team of oppositionists.

For Nemtsov, the biggest opponent sat in the Kremlin.

Putin condemned the killing as a “provocation” and said he
was placing the investigation under presidential control. In a
telegram to Nemtsov’s mother, he promised the killers would be
found and punished.

Only hours before the attack, Nemtsov had given one of his
last interviews, criticising Putin, comparing his rule to the
Nazi Third Reich and promising an uprising from the streets.

“We need to work as quickly as possible to show the Russians
that there is an alternative, that Putin’s policy leads to
degradation and a suicide of the state. There is less and less
time to wake up,” Nemtsov told a correspondent for the Polish
edition of Newsweek.

“PUTIN AND WAR”

There was a time when Nemtsov’s own sights were set on the
country’s top seat of power. Amidst the chaos of the 1990s,
president Boris Yeltsin had marked out Nemtsov, then a young,
reform-minded deputy prime minister who had made fast friends
with the country’s richest and most powerful oligarchs.

Yeltsin had considered handing him the reins of power, but
ultimately ceded the presidency to a little known ex-KGB
officer: Vladimir Putin.

Photographs from Nemtsov’s political career as a deputy
prime minister and opposition lawmaker show very formal
interactions with Putin, the two shaking hands at a distance
with fixed smiles.

But in recent years Nemtsov had become a greater thorn in
Putin’s side, compiling reports on sensitive topics – one that
tried to expose the scale of corruption at the 2014 Sochi Winter
Olympics.

Nemtsov’s friends said his latest effort was to expose the
presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, where NATO, Kiev
and Western governments say Russia has sent soldiers and weapons
to support an armed uprising there.

Moscow has denied the accusations repeatedly.

“Boris Nemtsov received threats in the past, mostly
anonymous ones. That was the nature of things,” said Nemtsov’s
fellow opposition leader Ilya Yashin.

While Nemtsov received threats, law enforcement sources said
he never went to the police to ask for protection. But as time
passed, his worries grew. In an interview on Feb. 10 with lesser
known Internet outlet Sobesednik, Nemtsov said that his mother
had started to worry that Putin could have Nemtsov killed for
his opposition politics.

The journalist asks: “After such conversations with your
mother did you begin to worry that Putin could kill you either
personally or through an intermediary?”

Nemtsov: “You know, yeah… a little. Not so much as mama,
but still.”

SURVEILLANCE

Investigators say the killers drove past Nemtsov and
Duritskaya in a white Ford as they turned from Red Square onto
the bridge, firing six bullets from a Makarov pistol, the kind
used for years by Soviet and Russian police officers.

Four of the bullets hit their mark in Nemtsov’s back and
head, killing him immediately.

In the minutes leading up to the shooting, a law enforcement
source told Russian news agency Interfax that a spotter for the
attackers watched the pair turn onto the bridge before giving
the signal to attack – proof that the killing had been planned.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose star had eclipsed
Nemtsov’s in the years that followed the 2011-12 street
protests, met with Nemtsov on an infrequent basis, and usually
just to discuss logistics of protests, as they did several weeks
previously.

Navalny wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday he knew
people were following the leaders of the demonstration, which
planned to protest against the political and economic policies
the opposition says are leading Russia to ruin.

Weeks previously he had met in private with Nemtsov only to
have the former governor later recount to him in a phone call
how he was later called by a pro-Kremlin reporter to ask about
the details of the secret meeting.

“We all saw many times the publication of (video and voice
recordings) of Nemtsov,” wrote Navalny.

“I practically exclude that surveillance was not being
carried out on Boris Nemtsov last night,” he wrote.

It was a ten minute car drive to Bosco from the radio
station facilities of Echo Moskvy, one of Moscow’s last
independent minded media outlets, where Nemtsov did an on air
radio interview right before dinner.

Following news of Nemtsov’s death, Echo Moskvy editor in
chief Alexei Venediktov tweeted a photo of himself and Nemtsov.

“Today ahead of broadcasting, Boris asked me ‘aren’t you
afraid of having me on air?’ It wasn’t me who should have been
afraid.”

(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt, Alex Winning and Denis
Dyomkin; editing by Ralph Boulton)


Source: Newsjyoti

UPDATE 2-Kurdish rebel leader in Turkey calls for disarmament congress

* From jail, Abdullah Ocalan calls for disarmament

* Erdogan cautiously welcomes call

* No date yet set for disarmament congress

(Adds Erdogan’s comments)

By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Jailed Kurdish militant leader
Abdullah Ocalan called on his followers to take a “historic”
decision to lay down their arms, according to a statement on
Saturday, a crucial step in Turkey’s drive to end a 30-year
insurgency by Kurdish rebels.

Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, welcomed the call but
cautioned the rebels had failed to deliver on previous pledges.

Sirri Sureyya Onder, a lawmaker from parliament’s
pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), read a statement
from Ocalan that urged the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to
attend a congress on disarmament in the spring months.

“I invite the PKK to attend an extraordinary congress in the
spring months in order to make the strategic and historic
decision to abandon the armed struggle,” Onder said, quoting
Ocalan, with whom an HDP delegation met this week.

Onder spoke live on television alongside Deputy Prime
Minister Yalcin Akdogan, who said the move towards disarmament
showed “an important phase in the resolution process has been
reached,” after the two sides met briefly in Istanbul.

“We view this statement as important to accelerate the work
on disarmament … and for democratic politics to come to the
forefront,” Akdogan said.

The statement also attributed to Ocalan 10 measures that
Kurds want to ensure peace, including a new constitution which
Erdogan is also seeking – to imbue his office with more
executive powers and to replace a charter drawn up by
technocrats after a 1980 military coup.

Erdogan has risked a nationalist backlash to pursue an end
to the insurgency that has claimed more than 40,000 lives,
mostly Kurdish, since 1984, launching jailhouse talks with
Ocalan — once derided as a “baby killer” — in late 2012.

“Of course calls are good, but what is most important is
implementation. How much will implementation will be reflected
in the field ahead of an election?” Erdogan said at a news
conference.

“I hope (they) will stand behind these statements.”

ELECTION

Facing a parliamentary election in June, the government has
said it expected Ocalan to declare an end to the PKK’s armed
struggle for greater autonomy and cultural rights for Turkey’s
estimated 15 million Kurds.

The PKK’s units have joined other Kurds to battle Islamic
State in Syria and Iraq. Kurdish victories, especially in the
Syrian town of Kobani, have raised worries in Ankara about an
emboldened PKK at the bargaining table.

Less than two weeks ago, the PKK warned the government
negotiations could break down unless it took concrete steps to
further the peace process.

“With today’s events a critical point has been reached in
Turkey’s democratisation, the expansion of freedoms and for
lasting peace,” said HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas, whose
deputies have shuttled from Ocalan’s island prison near Istanbul
to Qandil mountain in northern Iraq, where the PKK is based.

The disarmament congress would be held after consensus on
the measures outlined in the statement is reached, he said. It
was not clear who would attend the conference or whether PKK
forces outside of Turkey would be expected to lay down arms.

Turkey, the United States and the European Union list the
PKK as a terror organisation. The militants declared a ceasefire
in Turkey in 2013, but violence still sporadically erupts.

(Editing by Rosalind Russell)


Source: Newsjyoti

Death threats and a late night dinner before Russia's Nemtsov was shot dead

Feb 28 (Reuters) – It was near closing time on
Friday at the upscale Bosco restaurant that looks out onto the
illuminated red-brick walls of Moscow’s Kremlin. Boris Nemtsov
and his young, dark-haired girlfriend were finishing dinner.

A political reformer who had fallen foul of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov had been preoccupied for weeks
with details of an opposition march planned for Sunday.

Dinner at Bosco – dishes include beef with rocket salad and
balsamic sauce or duck liver with wild berries – had been
interrupted by telephone calls, a waiter told a Russian
newspaper. Nemtsov also broke off for an interview with a
Ukrainian radio station eager for the details of the rally.

Hopes were high that the demonstration, to condemn Putin’s
economic and foreign policies, would rekindle the flames of the
street protests that in 2011-12 posed the first public challenge
to Putin’s more than decade-long rule.

The pair were among the last to pay their bill in the
restaurant with its high airy ceilings and large windows. At
around 11 p.m. Nemtsov, 55, a tall athletic figure with a mop of
curly brown greying hair, escorted his girlfriend of some three
years, Anna Duritskaya, more than 30 years younger, out onto Red
Square.

Opposite them, across the cobbles stood the marble tomb that
still bears the body of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, whose
communist economic order Nemtsov helped dismantle after the 1991
collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nemtsov’s apartment was a half hour walk away at a leisurely
pace. The couple turned left, passing to their right the
candy-coloured onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral. Beyond that,
soared the Kremlin’s Spassky Gate topped with glowing crimson
five-pointed star, another reminder of the Soviet past.

Further down the slope, they walked onto the Great
Moskvoretsky Bridge; but Nemtsov never made it across.

Less than three hours later, policemen were washing his
blood from the masonry and onto the banks of the Moscow River.
He had been shot four times in the back and head in one of the
worst shootings Moscow has seen in years.

Nemtsov had enemies politically and personally. Even among
the opposition, his outsized character pulled some into his
orbit and pushed others away, at times polarising the fractious
team of oppositionists.

But for Nemtsov, the biggest opponent sat in the Kremlin.

Only hours earlier, Nemtsov had given one of his last
interviews, criticising Putin, comparing his rule to the Nazi
Third Reich and promising an uprising from the streets.

“We need to work as quickly as possible to show the Russians
that there is an alternative, that Putin’s policy leads to
degradation and a suicide of the state. There is less and less
time to wake up,” Nemtsov told a correspondent for the Polish
edition of Newsweek.

“PUTIN AND WAR”

There was a time when Nemtsov’s own sights were set on the
country’s top seat of power. Amidst the chaos of the 1990s,
president Boris Yeltsin had marked out Nemtsov, then a young,
reform-minded deputy prime minister who had made fast friends
with the country’s richest and most powerful oligarchs.

Yeltsin had considered handing him the reins of power, but
ultimately ceded the presidency to a little known ex-KGB
officer: Vladimir Putin.

Photographs from Nemtsov’s political career as a deputy
prime minister and opposition lawmaker show very formal
interactions with Putin, the two shaking hands at a distance
with fixed smiles.

But in recent years Nemtsov had become a greater thorn in
Putin’s side, compiling reports on sensitive topics – one that
tried to expose the scale of corruption at the 2014 Sochi Winter
Olympics.

Nemtsov’s friends said his latest effort was to expose the
presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, where NATO, Kiev
and Western governments say Russia has sent soldiers and weapons
to support an armed uprising there.

Moscow has denied the accusations repeatedly.

“Boris Nemtsov received threats in the past, mostly
anonymous ones. That was the nature of things,” said Nemtsov’s
fellow opposition leader Ilya Yashin.

While Nemtsov received threats, law enforcement sources said
he never went to the police to ask for protection. But as time
passed, his worries grew. In an interview on Feb. 10 with lesser
known Internet outlet Sobesednik, Nemtsov said that his mother
had started to worry that Putin could have Nemtsov killed for
his opposition politics.

The journalist asks: “After such conversations with your
mother did you begin to worry that Putin could kill you either
personally or through an intermediary?”

Nemtsov: “You know, yeah… a little. Not so much as mama,
but still.”

SURVEILLANCE

Investigators say the killers drove past Nemtsov and
Duritskaya in a white Ford as they turned from Red Square onto
the bridge, firing six bullets from a Makarov pistol, the kind
used for years by Soviet and Russian police officers.

Four of the bullets hit their mark in Nemtsov’s back and
head, killing him immediately.

In the minutes leading up to the shooting, a law enforcement
source told Russian news agency Interfax that a spotter for the
attackers watched the pair turn onto the bridge before giving
the signal to attack – proof that the killing had been planned.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose star had eclipsed
Nemtsov’s in the years that followed the 2011-12 street
protests, met with Nemtsov on an infrequent basis, and usually
just to discuss logistics of protests, as they did several weeks
previously.

Navalny wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday he knew
people were following the leaders of the demonstration, which
planned to protest against the political and economic policies
the opposition says are leading Russia to ruin.

Weeks previously he had met in private with Nemtsov only to
have the former governor later recount to him in a phone call
how he was later called by a pro-Kremlin reporter to ask about
the details of the secret meeting.

“We all saw many times the publication of (video and voice
recordings) of Nemtsov,” wrote Navalny.

“I practically exclude that surveillance was not being
carried out on Boris Nemtsov last night,” he wrote.

It was a ten minute car drive to Bosco from the radio
station facilities of Echo Moskvy, one of Moscow’s last
independent minded media outlets, where Nemtsov did an on air
radio interview right before dinner.

Following news of Nemtsov’s death, Echo Moskvy editor in
chief Alexei Venediktov tweeted a photo of himself and Nemtsov.

“Today ahead of broadcasting, Boris asked me ‘aren’t you
afraid of having me on air?’ It wasn’t me who should have been
afraid.”

(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt, Alex Winning and Denis
Dyomkin; editing by Ralph Boulton)


Source: Newsjyoti