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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Former top general calls on Obama to wipe out Isis in wake of Foley killing” was written by Spencer Ackerman in New York and Dan Roberts in Washington, for The Guardian on Thursday 21st August 2014 17.42 UTC

An influential retired US general has called on Barack Obama to order the destruction the militant group responsible for murdering American journalist James Foley amid conflicting views in the administration on how to respond to the atrocity.

As Obama’s foreign policy team debates expanding its renewed air war in Iraq after the killing of Foley by the Islamic State (Isis), John Allen, a retired marine general who commanded the Afghanistan war from 2011 to 2013, urged Obama to “move quickly to pressure its entire ‘nervous system’, break it up, and destroy its pieces.”

Allen’s argument, presented in an op-ed for the DefenseOne website, echoes remarks by secretary of state John Kerry and comes amid internal dispute in the Obama administration over the future course of its two-week air war in Iraq. Much diplomatic effort is said to be spent broadening and hardening a region-wide effort against Isis, something Allen endorsed, with Turkey and Qatar being a particular near-term focus for Kerry.

The debate is said to be fluid. At present, a US official anticipated more continuity than change in future military operations against Isis, but said: “It may ultimately evolve.”

On Wednesday, six new airstrikes continued to hit Isis positions near the Mosul Dam, three days after Obama declared that it was no longer under Isis control. Nearly two-thirds of the 90 US strikes since 8 August have taken place near the critical dam.

In a grisly video produced by Foley’s captors, his killer says Foley’s death came as revenge for US airstrikes in Iraq. Soon after the video was released, the US confirmed that it had recently mounted a failed rescue bid for Foley. Elite US military forces secretly invaded Syria earlier this summer in a mission that involved dozens of special operations forces from all US military services, including the 160th special operations aviation regiment.

US forces flew into Syria in defiance of air defence batteries that senior military officials have described as highly threatening to pilots. Modified Black Hawk helicopters were involved, and “armed fixed-wing aircraft and drones” provided cover to forces on the ground, said an administration official. No hostages were found at the targeted location.

It emerged on Thursday that Foley’s family received a message from Foley’s captors on 13 August, warning them that he would be killed. They passed the message on to the US government, which helped with a response. Phil Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, the Boston-based online news publication that had published work by Foley, told Reuters: “It was an appeal for mercy. It was a statement that Jim was an innocent journalist,” and that he respected the people of Syria, where he was held.

Foley’s family and friends hoped the militants were bluffing and wanted a ransom, he said. The group had last year demanded a ransom of 2m for his rescue, Balboni said.

Wary of overcommitment to a new Iraq war, the Obama administration has sent mixed signals about how far it is willing to go against Isis. Kerry, who has been hawkish against Isis, said the jihadist organization “must be destroyed/will be crushed”, a goal beyond the one Obama has thus far set.

Allen proposed attacking Isis in Syria as well as Iraq “across its entire depth”, an option the Pentagon has studied after the group overran Iraq’s second largest city in June but is yet to implement.

In an interview on Thursday with National Public Radio, one of Obama’s closest advisers opened the door for attacking Isis in Syria, which would represent a significant expansion of a bombing effort whose missions have slowly evolved.

“We would not restrict ourselves by geographic boundaries,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “We haven’t made decisions to take additional actions at this time.”

Rhodes indicated that the administration believes that the incoming government of Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad will aid US efforts in assembling and deepening an anti-Isis coalition. Rejecting a recent suggestion, Rhodes ruled out a rapprochement with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to confront a mutual foe.

Writing for the DefenseOne website, Allen conspicuously praised Obama, who is wary of expansive promises made by the military. He did not propose a return to ground combat, but urged a “focused advise and assist” mission to bolster Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers and non-jihadist Syrian rebels, a commitment that would require a reintroduction of significantly more US military advisers.

Obama has ruled out US ground combat, preferring to rely on proxies, something his critics have not challenged, with memories of a bloody US occupation still fresh. The US official said working through vetted Syrian opposition groups and Iraqi and Kurdish forces “will continue to be the foundation of the US approach going forward”.

Though entire divisions of the Iraqi army fled from Isis in June, “they’ve shown a lot more capability in the last two weeks than in the previous two months,” the official said.

At the State Department, officials said the US is pressuring Qatar and Turkey to help cut off flows of financing and foreign fighters to Isis, even as they cautioned that they did not see evidence of either government supporting the extremist group officially.

“We are working with governments in the region where we believe there are private citizens funding [Isis] to get them to clamp down even further to cut off those sources of funding,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf.

“We need to attack [Isis] on a variety of fronts, one of which is the bombs that the Pentagon folks are dropping on them right now. One of them is not letting them have access to resources.”

Kerry also spoke directly to the Qatari foreign minister on Wednesday, during which Foley’s death was “likely” to have come up, according to US officials, although the call was primarily about Gaza.

Asked whether Qatar, Turkey or Saudi Arabia – another alleged source of funding – were “fully on board”, Harf responded: ”Well, look, we’re talking to them every day about what more we can all do. We know there’s more that needs to be done. We know this is a long-term fight, and we know it’s a tough one. So we’re having those conversations.”

Allen said Foley’s killing “embodies” the threat from Isis, which he called “an entity beyond the pale of humanity”. The US official said Allen’s article “serves a purpose in helping explain to the American people how dire it is”.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “How common are plane crashes?” was written by Aisha Gani, for The Guardian on Thursday 24th July 2014 16.20 UTC

There have been three aviation disasters in the last week: the shooting down last Thursday of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew, the crashing of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 while trying to land at a Taiwanese airport on Wednesday, killing 48 and injuring 10, and the crashing today of Air Algérie flight AH5017‬ from Burkino Faso to Algiers, which was carrying 110 passengers and six crew members.

It seems as though such crashes are happening very frequently at present – but, statistically, how common are plane crashes?

Last year, while more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights, there were 81 aviation accidents, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). That was below the five-year average of 86 accidents per year, and the equivalent of one accident per 2.4 million flights.

Last year, while more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights, there were 81 aviation accidents, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata). That was below the five-year average of 86 accidents per year. (Iata says that for western-built jet aircraft, there were 0.41 "hull loss" accidents per million flights in 2013, equivalent to one such accident per 2.4m flights; a "hull loss" is an accident in which the aircraft is destroyed or substantially damaged and not subsequently repaired).

Only 20% of the 81 accidents recorded by Iata last year caused fatalities; there were 210 fatalities from commercial aviation accidents in 2013, a reduction from the 414 people who lost their lives in 2012 – despite there being a record low of 75 accidents that year.

There were 490 deaths in 2011 and a total of 92 accidents. There was a much higher figure of 786 fatalities in 2010, and 94 accidents. In 2009, there were 685 fatalities and 90 accidents.

This year's high-profile disasters have put the number of fatalities for 2014 at above 700 already – indicating that this is a particularly bad year for air crashes.

Nevertheless, flying has become safer over the last two decades. Between 2001 and 2010 the accident rate was cut by 42%, and two decades ago there were around 2,000 deaths and 250 crashes per year.

The single worst aviation disaster in history before 9/11 was the 1977 Tenerife airport disaster, in which 583 people were killed in a runway collision between two Boeing 747s at Los Rodeos Airport.

• This article was amended on 25 July 2014. An earlier version suggested that the 81 accidents recorded by Iata in 2013 were the equivalent of one accident per 2.4 million flights.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The Guardian view on America’s botched executions” was written by Editorial, for The Guardian on Thursday 24th July 2014 18.37 UTC

On Wednesday, Arizona took an hour and 58 minutes to execute Joseph Wood, a convicted murderer. Injected with a lethal mix of sedatives and painkillers, Wood was seen to be “gasping and snorting” for more than an hour and was confirmed to be still alive after 70 minutes. One eyewitness counted 660 gasps. Another said Wood was “like a fish on shore gulping for air”. Wood’s death took so long that his lawyers had time to file an emergency appeal while the procedure was taking place.

The eighth amendment to the US constitution outlaws the use of cruel and unusual punishment, but the US supreme court has ruled that the death penalty does not violate that ban. Many would disagree. Penal Reform International classes the death penalty as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and more than two-thirds of the world’s nations have now abolished it either in law or in practice, as have 18 US states. Whatever one’s opinion in principle about capital punishment, it is hard not to see Wood’s killing as anything other than needlessly cruel and unusual punishment. It was a shameful act for a civilised country.

Yet it was not exceptional. The Wood execution has many echoes of the botched execution by injection of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in April. Similar distress marked the execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio in January. There have been several other cases – including of botched electrocutions and asphyxiations – since the US restarted executions in 1977.

Amnesty International classes the United States as one of the world’s nine “persistent executioner” states – those which have executed criminals in each of the past five years. The others are Bangladesh, China (which is estimated to execute more prisoners than the whole of the rest of the world put together – all in secret, unlike those in the US), Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Executions in the US have fallen by half in the past 15 years and the US kills far fewer prisoners than China, Iran and Iraq in particular. But this is not a club to which America should be comfortable belonging. It does massive international damage to the US’s reputation.

Capital punishment remains destructively entangled in America’s culture wars. If it is to continue, the US will have to devise a swifter form of licensed execution. The current shambles, much of it the result of desperation in the face of welcome global campaigns against the suppliers of lethal drugs, has created an intolerable situation for prisoners and the nation alike. Until it is fixed, US states should suspend the death penalty. What the US really needs, though, is to find dignified ways to face up to, as a nation, the failure and damage that are associated with a punishment that is now so clearly, in and of itself, both cruel and unusual.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Obama: US and China will co-ordinate response to North Korea rocket launch” was written by Justin McCurry in Osaka, for The Guardian on Monday 26th March 2012 13.39 UTC

The US and China have agreed to co-ordinate their response if North Korea goes through with a planned rocket launch next month, a day after Barack Obama urged Beijing to use its influence to rein in its unpredictable ally.

Speaking at the start of a two-day summit on nuclear security in the South Korean capital, Seoul, the US president said China and the US had a shared interest in preventing nuclear proliferation.

“We both have an interest in making sure that international norms surrounding non-proliferation, preventing destabilising nuclear weapons, is very important,” he said.

Obama and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, did not elaborate on how they would respond to a North Korean missile launch, which is expected to take place between 12 and 16 April to coincide with the centenary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

“The two leaders agreed to co-ordinate closely in responding to this potential provocation, and if necessary consider what steps need to be taken following a potential launch,” a senior White House aide told Reuters.

But the early show of unity is a step forward after the US leader chided China, North Korea’s biggest benefactor, on Sunday for failing to exert more pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

During bilateral talks on Monday, Hu told Obama that the North Korean issue remained “very sensitive”, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency. “We do not hope to see a reversal of the hard-won momentum of relaxation of tension on the [Korean] peninsula,” Hu was quoted as saying.

But Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said North Korea had previously ignored Chinese concerns about its nuclear and missile programmes.

“China has expressed those concerns before and North Korea has continued on with its behaviour,” he said. “China needs to look at whether it needs to be doing more above and beyond the types of messages and warnings it’s been giving to the North Koreans.”

South Korea and Japan have said they will shoot down the missile if it passes over their territory. “We are preparing measures to track the missile’s trajectory and shoot it down if, by chance, it deviates from the planned route and falls into our territory,” a South Korean defence ministry spokesman said.

The North insists that the rocket, whose main component has reportedly been moved to a launch site in the country’s north-west, is designed to carry an observation satellite into orbit.

The US, South Korea and Japan, however, say the launch would violate a UN ban on missile activity as the same technology could be used to develop long-range missiles, including those capable of striking the US mainland, possibly within five years.

The show of unity by the US and China, however ambiguous, will not be welcomed in Pyongyang, according to North Korea experts.

Shin Jong Dae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says North Korean provocations are partly motivated by a desire to divide the US and China over their response.

“North Korea doesn’t want to see an improvement in Sino-US relations, so to rupture relations between China and US, it opts for military adventurism, just as it did with the sinking of the Cheonan, bombing Yeonpyeong island and conducting missile tests,” he said.

Shin added that China’s main concern was avoiding political instability in the North. “The best-case scenario for China is a stable North Korea without nuclear weapons. The worst-case scenario is an unstable North Korea. But if China can’t achieve that ideal, then it will at least try to avoid the worst possible alternative. That means it will tolerate a North Korea with nuclear weapons, as long as it remains stable.”

The planned launch has put on hold a deal reached last month that would have required North Korea to suspend long-range missile tests and its uranium enrichment programme in return for 240,000 tonnes of US food aid.

In a speech to students at Hankuk University in Seoul, Obama warned North Korea’s new leadership under Kim Jong-un not to invite “more isolation” by developing nuclear weapons.

“By now it should be clear,” he said. “Your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they have undermined it. Instead of the dignity you desire, you are more isolated.”

His comments may also have been directed at Republicans who are seeking to exploit what they see as Obama’s failure of diplomacy on North Korea in an election year.

“The United States doesn’t want to do anything that will result in North Korea conducting nuclear tests or missile launches or anything that would be detrimental to the Obama administration,” said Kim Hyun Wook, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul.

“If that happens, there could be criticism from Republicans of Obama that his diplomatic efforts with North Korea have failed. Obama doesn’t want that; it would make his re-election more difficult.”

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Budget 2012: young entrepreneurs to get student-style loans” was written by Juliette Garside, for The Guardian on Wednesday 21st March 2012 18.46 UTC

The government will lend young entrepreneurs money to start their own business on similar terms to student loans, under a pilot scheme to be launched later this year.

Sir Richard Branson, who has been lobbying alongside young businesspeople for a £10m youth enterprise loan scheme, welcomed the announcement in Wednesday’s budget.

“The entrepreneurs of today will be the job creators of tomorrow so I’m delighted that the government has listened to those at the very start of their careers,” said the Virgin founder. “The country is full of gifted and enterprising people so this pilot, which crucially has business mentoring and support at its heart, will help prevent a lost generation of talent.”

An online information-sharing community for 2,000 startups, organised by Virgin Media, has been arguing that loans should be available for young businesspeople on the same terms as those for university studies.

Students are able to borrow at an interest rate based on RPI inflation and have to make repayments only when their earnings exceed £21,000 a year.

Other measures to tackle youth unemployment announced on Wednesday included £20m of new money to support 19,000 degree-level apprenticeships, topping up £180m committed last year.

“Young people get a loan to go to university or college,” said the chancellor, George Osborne. “Now we want to help them get a loan to start their own business.”

Abdul Khan, founder of ratethatcurry.com and a member of the Virgin Media Pioneer startup community, described the scheme as “just the sort of financial help young entrepreneurs need in this tough economic climate”.

The business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk said: “This government thinks that everyone should have a chance to turn their idea for a business into reality. That’s why in the budget this year we announced we are setting up a youth enterprise loan scheme.”

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