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Winter storm weakens but thousands still without power

Author: 
AP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875515135471900

CHICAGO: The fury of the winter storm that swept into the northern Great Plains on Christmas Day weakened heading into on Tuesday, but thousands remained without power in the Dakotas and Michigan.
High winds and drifting snow continued to make travel hazardous in the Dakotas, even as vast stretches of highways that had been closed reopened to traffic.
The storm has caused extensive power outages in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Michigan.
The National Weather Service (NWS) reported 19,000 homes or businesses without power in South Dakota, and Montana-Dakota Utilities Co said almost two dozen areas were without electricity. Service in some areas was not expected to be restored for days.
More than 260 flights were delayed or canceled at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and highways across much of Minnesota were covered or partly covered with snow and ice, according to state transportation officials.
The storm also shut some highways in South Dakota, with snow and low visibility cutting speeds on Interstate 90, the state Department of Transportation said.
The South Dakota Rural Electric Association said roughly 13,700 of its customers were without power as of 1 a.m. Tuesday. In Nebraska, winds gusting up to 70 mph were cited for hundreds of power outages in central and eastern portions of the state Sunday, although by Monday morning, utilities reported that power had been restored to most customers.
High winds knocked out power to thousands of customers in Michigan on Monday.
Consumers Energy spokesman Brian Wheeler told WOOD-TV that more than 20,000 customers in the state were without power Monday evening. Most of the outages occurred between 7 and 8 p.m., he said.
The Traverse City Record Eagle reported that customers of several utilities in northern Michigan were without power Monday afternoon.
The combination of freezing rain, snow and high winds that bore down on the northern plains starting on Christmas Day led to no-travel warnings for much of North Dakota. The National Weather Service’s blizzard warning for western and central portions of the state expired Monday afternoon, but the agency warned that drifting snow still blocked some roads.
Interstate 94 remained closed west of Jamestown, North Dakota.
In South Dakota, Interstate 90, which had been closed for 260 miles between the Wyoming border and Chamberlain, was reopened to traffic Monday.
Severe whiteout conditions led to the closure of Minot International Airport, which wasn’t expected to reopen until 3 a.m. Tuesday. The airports serving Fargo and Bismarck also listed flight cancelations on their websites.
Winds gusting 40 mph to 50 mph also led to delays and cancelations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

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Romania president rejects first female, Muslim PM ‘without any reason’

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875515115471600

BUCHAREST: Romania’s president sparked fresh political turmoil on Tuesday after rejecting a proposal by the election-winning leftist party to name the EU country’s first female and first Muslim prime minister.
Klaus Iohannis gave no reasons for his rejection of Sevil Shhaideh, put forward by the Social Democrats (PSD), but there was speculation that it may be due to her Syrian husband’s background.
“I have properly analyzed the arguments for and against and I have decided not to accept this proposal,” the president told reporters in a televised statement.
“I call on the PSD coalition to make another proposal,” Iohannis said.
The PSD had suggested the previously little-known Shhaideh, 52, after its thumping poll victory on Dec. 11 when it won 45 percent of the vote. The leader of the PSD, Liviu Dragnea, had withdrawn his own bid to become prime minister because he is serving a two-year suspended sentence for fraud in a previous election.
Shhaideh’s political experience is limited, having served as development minister for just five months before the previous PSD-led government resigned in late 2015.
This and her personal closeness to Dragnea — he was a witness at her wedding — have stoked opposition accusations that she would merely be his puppet.
Shhaideh is from Romania’s small and long-established Turkish minority, but her Muslim faith is not thought to have been a problem for Iohannis.
Instead the focus may have been on her Syrian husband, whom she married in 2011.
According to non-profit investigative journalism group the Rise Project, he has several times expressed his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and for Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
The 54-year-old worked in the Syrian Agriculture Ministry for 20 years before emigrating in 2011, according to media reports and Dragnea. He then served as an adviser to the Romanian Agriculture Ministry and gained citizenship in 2015.
Former Romanian Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu, from the center-right National Liberal Party, said on Facebook that he “can’t see how” the PSD candidate could get the necessary security clearance needed to be prime minister.
Being premier would “give her access to defense information classified as secret, including from NATO,” the Western military alliance that Romania has belonged to since 2004, Predoiu wrote.
“In the absence of any explanations by the president, I suppose that his rejection is linked to questions of national security and because the United States would not have been very keen,” political analyst Andrei Taranu told AFP.
website HotNews cited unnamed sources as saying that the security services had “strongly cautioned” against Shhaideh’s nomination because of the closeness to the Assad regime of her husband and his two brothers.
All eyes Tuesday were on how the PSD would respond, with some in the party calling for Iohannis to be suspended. Party leader Dragnea was due to make a statement in the afternoon.
“Either the PSD shows its wisdom by making a new proposal (for prime minister) or we move toward fresh elections,” Taranu said.
But he added that an attempt by the PSD to remove the president was problematic because under the constitution Iohannis is entitled to request a second proposal for premier.
The PSD’s election triumph came barely a year since anger over a deadly nightclub fire that killed 64 people forced it and Prime Minister Victor Ponta from office.
The inferno inside the Colectiv club was blamed on corrupt officials turning a blind eye to a lack of fire precautions. Poor medical care exacerbated the death toll.

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Romania president rejects first female, Muslim PM ‘without any reason’

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875515115471600

BUCHAREST: Romania’s president sparked fresh political turmoil on Tuesday after rejecting a proposal by the election-winning leftist party to name the EU country’s first female and first Muslim prime minister.
Klaus Iohannis gave no reasons for his rejection of Sevil Shhaideh, put forward by the Social Democrats (PSD), but there was speculation that it may be due to her Syrian husband’s background.
“I have properly analyzed the arguments for and against and I have decided not to accept this proposal,” the president told reporters in a televised statement.
“I call on the PSD coalition to make another proposal,” Iohannis said.
The PSD had suggested the previously little-known Shhaideh, 52, after its thumping poll victory on Dec. 11 when it won 45 percent of the vote. The leader of the PSD, Liviu Dragnea, had withdrawn his own bid to become prime minister because he is serving a two-year suspended sentence for fraud in a previous election.
Shhaideh’s political experience is limited, having served as development minister for just five months before the previous PSD-led government resigned in late 2015.
This and her personal closeness to Dragnea — he was a witness at her wedding — have stoked opposition accusations that she would merely be his puppet.
Shhaideh is from Romania’s small and long-established Turkish minority, but her Muslim faith is not thought to have been a problem for Iohannis.
Instead the focus may have been on her Syrian husband, whom she married in 2011.
According to non-profit investigative journalism group the Rise Project, he has several times expressed his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and for Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
The 54-year-old worked in the Syrian Agriculture Ministry for 20 years before emigrating in 2011, according to media reports and Dragnea. He then served as an adviser to the Romanian Agriculture Ministry and gained citizenship in 2015.
Former Romanian Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu, from the center-right National Liberal Party, said on Facebook that he “can’t see how” the PSD candidate could get the necessary security clearance needed to be prime minister.
Being premier would “give her access to defense information classified as secret, including from NATO,” the Western military alliance that Romania has belonged to since 2004, Predoiu wrote.
“In the absence of any explanations by the president, I suppose that his rejection is linked to questions of national security and because the United States would not have been very keen,” political analyst Andrei Taranu told AFP.
website HotNews cited unnamed sources as saying that the security services had “strongly cautioned” against Shhaideh’s nomination because of the closeness to the Assad regime of her husband and his two brothers.
All eyes Tuesday were on how the PSD would respond, with some in the party calling for Iohannis to be suspended. Party leader Dragnea was due to make a statement in the afternoon.
“Either the PSD shows its wisdom by making a new proposal (for prime minister) or we move toward fresh elections,” Taranu said.
But he added that an attempt by the PSD to remove the president was problematic because under the constitution Iohannis is entitled to request a second proposal for premier.
The PSD’s election triumph came barely a year since anger over a deadly nightclub fire that killed 64 people forced it and Prime Minister Victor Ponta from office.
The inferno inside the Colectiv club was blamed on corrupt officials turning a blind eye to a lack of fire precautions. Poor medical care exacerbated the death toll.

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Obama, Abe seek reconciliation at Pearl Harbor

Author: 
AP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875438695460300

HONOLULU: Putting 75 years of resentment behind them, the leaders of the United States and Japan came together at Pearl Harbor for a historic visit to the site where a devastating surprise attack sent America marching into World War II.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit Tuesday with President Barack Obama is powerful proof that the former enemies have transcended the recriminatory impulses that weighed down relations after the war, Japan’s government has said. Although Japanese leaders have visited Pearl Harbor before, Abe is the first to visit the memorial constructed on the hallowed waters above the sunken USS Arizona.
For Obama, it’s likely the last time he met with a foreign leader as president, White House aides said. It’s a bookend of sorts for the president, who nearly eight years ago invited Abe’s predecessor to be the first leader he hosted at the White House.
For Abe, it’s an act of symbolic reciprocity, coming six months after Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in Japan, where the US dropped an atomic bomb in hopes of ending the war it entered after Pearl Harbor.
“This visit, and the president’s visit to Hiroshima earlier this year, would not have been possible eight years ago,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, Obama’s top Asia adviser in the White House. “That we are here today is the result of years of efforts at all levels of our government and societies, which has allowed us to jointly and directly deal with even the most sensitive aspects of our shared history.”
More than 2,300 Americans died on Dec. 7, 1941, when more than 300 Japanese fighter planes and bombers attacked. More than 1,000 others were wounded. In the ensuing years, the US incarcerated roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps before dropping atomic bombs in 1945 that killed some 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki.
Abe will not apologize for Pearl Harbor, his government has said. Nor did Obama apologize at Hiroshima in May, a visit that he and Abe used to emphasize their elusive aspirations for a nuclear-free future.
After a formal meeting in the morning, Obama and Abe laid a wreath aboard the USS Arizona Memorial, which is accessible only by boat. Abe’s visit is not without political risk given the Japanese people’s long, emotional reckoning with their nation’s aggression in the war.
Though the history books have largely deemed Pearl Harbor a surprise attack, Japan’s government insisted as recently as this month that it had intended to give the US prior notice that it was declaring war and failed only because of “bureaucratic bungling.”
Since the war, the US and Japan have built a powerful alliance that both sides say has grown during Obama’s tenure, including strengthened military ties. Both Obama and Abe were driving forces behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping free trade deal now on hold due to staunch opposition by Congress and President-elect Donald Trump.
Moving beyond the painful legacy of the war has been easier for Japan and the US than for Japan and its other former foes, such as South Korea and China. As Abe arrived in Hawaii, Beijing dismissed as “wishful thinking” the notion that Japan could “liquidate the history of World War II” by visiting Pearl Harbor.
“Japan can never turn this page over without reconciliation from China and other victimized countries in Asia,” said Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman.
As Obama’s presidency ends, there are questions about how US-Japan ties will fare under Trump.
During the campaign, Trump suggested that Japan and South Korea should obtain nuclear weapons so the US would no longer be burdened with the costs of defending them, a disquieting notion in many Asian capitals. But after Trump’s election, Abe became the first foreign leader to meet with him, sitting down in Trump Tower with the business mogul and Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

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No Picture

Obama, Abe seek reconciliation at Pearl Harbor

Author: 
AP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875438695460300

HONOLULU: Putting 75 years of resentment behind them, the leaders of the United States and Japan came together at Pearl Harbor for a historic visit to the site where a devastating surprise attack sent America marching into World War II.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit Tuesday with President Barack Obama is powerful proof that the former enemies have transcended the recriminatory impulses that weighed down relations after the war, Japan’s government has said. Although Japanese leaders have visited Pearl Harbor before, Abe is the first to visit the memorial constructed on the hallowed waters above the sunken USS Arizona.
For Obama, it’s likely the last time he met with a foreign leader as president, White House aides said. It’s a bookend of sorts for the president, who nearly eight years ago invited Abe’s predecessor to be the first leader he hosted at the White House.
For Abe, it’s an act of symbolic reciprocity, coming six months after Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in Japan, where the US dropped an atomic bomb in hopes of ending the war it entered after Pearl Harbor.
“This visit, and the president’s visit to Hiroshima earlier this year, would not have been possible eight years ago,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, Obama’s top Asia adviser in the White House. “That we are here today is the result of years of efforts at all levels of our government and societies, which has allowed us to jointly and directly deal with even the most sensitive aspects of our shared history.”
More than 2,300 Americans died on Dec. 7, 1941, when more than 300 Japanese fighter planes and bombers attacked. More than 1,000 others were wounded. In the ensuing years, the US incarcerated roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps before dropping atomic bombs in 1945 that killed some 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki.
Abe will not apologize for Pearl Harbor, his government has said. Nor did Obama apologize at Hiroshima in May, a visit that he and Abe used to emphasize their elusive aspirations for a nuclear-free future.
After a formal meeting in the morning, Obama and Abe laid a wreath aboard the USS Arizona Memorial, which is accessible only by boat. Abe’s visit is not without political risk given the Japanese people’s long, emotional reckoning with their nation’s aggression in the war.
Though the history books have largely deemed Pearl Harbor a surprise attack, Japan’s government insisted as recently as this month that it had intended to give the US prior notice that it was declaring war and failed only because of “bureaucratic bungling.”
Since the war, the US and Japan have built a powerful alliance that both sides say has grown during Obama’s tenure, including strengthened military ties. Both Obama and Abe were driving forces behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping free trade deal now on hold due to staunch opposition by Congress and President-elect Donald Trump.
Moving beyond the painful legacy of the war has been easier for Japan and the US than for Japan and its other former foes, such as South Korea and China. As Abe arrived in Hawaii, Beijing dismissed as “wishful thinking” the notion that Japan could “liquidate the history of World War II” by visiting Pearl Harbor.
“Japan can never turn this page over without reconciliation from China and other victimized countries in Asia,” said Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman.
As Obama’s presidency ends, there are questions about how US-Japan ties will fare under Trump.
During the campaign, Trump suggested that Japan and South Korea should obtain nuclear weapons so the US would no longer be burdened with the costs of defending them, a disquieting notion in many Asian capitals. But after Trump’s election, Abe became the first foreign leader to meet with him, sitting down in Trump Tower with the business mogul and Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

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No Picture

Somalia swears in new lawmakers amid criticism

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875438685460000

MOGADISHU: Somalia on Tuesday swore in new lawmakers after weeks of voting in a complex political process seen as its most democratic election in nearly five decades, despite significant flaws.
The new Parliament was inaugurated under tight security in Mogadishu two months after voting began. Lawmakers are expected to elect a president by secret ballot, however it was unclear when that would take place.
The vote for president has been put off several times as a result of delays in the election of lawmakers due to clan disputes, accusations of fraud, and organizational challenges.
Top election official Omar Mohamed Abdulle said 284 members of parliament were sworn in. Some lawmakers were absent while other seats were still subject to disputes.
Somalis had been promised a national election this year, however infighting, insecurity and lack of institutional infrastructure meant they had to settle for a “limited” political process.
This process saw clan elders pick 14,025 special delegates who voted for 275 seats in the lower house of parliament. The country also saw the introduction of an upper house and a quota reserving 30 percent of seats for women.
While the very existence of the process is seen as somewhat of a miracle in the shattered nation, it has been riddled with vote buying, corruption and the usual clan disputes.
A last minute decision by Somali authorities to add an extra 18 seats to the upper house after complaints of insufficient representation by some clans — bringing it to 72 members — drew the ire of the international community.
“International partners believe that the integrity of the 2016 electoral process hangs in the balance,” read a statement by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNISOM) issued Tuesday.
The statement also took aim at the decision by officials to re-instate candidates who had been disqualified. The number of investigations into disputed seats were dropped from 11 to five without explanation.
“This fails to address a number of other egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process, including seats reserved for women candidates only that were ultimately taken by male candidates,” read the statement.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of President Siad Barre’s military regime which ushered in decades of anarchy and conflict in a country deeply divided along clan lines.
The clan rivalries and lawlessness provided fertile ground for the Al-Qaeda linked Shabab group to take hold and seize territory, frustrating efforts to set up a central administration.

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No Picture

Somalia swears in new lawmakers amid criticism

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875438685460000

MOGADISHU: Somalia on Tuesday swore in new lawmakers after weeks of voting in a complex political process seen as its most democratic election in nearly five decades, despite significant flaws.
The new Parliament was inaugurated under tight security in Mogadishu two months after voting began. Lawmakers are expected to elect a president by secret ballot, however it was unclear when that would take place.
The vote for president has been put off several times as a result of delays in the election of lawmakers due to clan disputes, accusations of fraud, and organizational challenges.
Top election official Omar Mohamed Abdulle said 284 members of parliament were sworn in. Some lawmakers were absent while other seats were still subject to disputes.
Somalis had been promised a national election this year, however infighting, insecurity and lack of institutional infrastructure meant they had to settle for a “limited” political process.
This process saw clan elders pick 14,025 special delegates who voted for 275 seats in the lower house of parliament. The country also saw the introduction of an upper house and a quota reserving 30 percent of seats for women.
While the very existence of the process is seen as somewhat of a miracle in the shattered nation, it has been riddled with vote buying, corruption and the usual clan disputes.
A last minute decision by Somali authorities to add an extra 18 seats to the upper house after complaints of insufficient representation by some clans — bringing it to 72 members — drew the ire of the international community.
“International partners believe that the integrity of the 2016 electoral process hangs in the balance,” read a statement by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNISOM) issued Tuesday.
The statement also took aim at the decision by officials to re-instate candidates who had been disqualified. The number of investigations into disputed seats were dropped from 11 to five without explanation.
“This fails to address a number of other egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process, including seats reserved for women candidates only that were ultimately taken by male candidates,” read the statement.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of President Siad Barre’s military regime which ushered in decades of anarchy and conflict in a country deeply divided along clan lines.
The clan rivalries and lawlessness provided fertile ground for the Al-Qaeda linked Shabab group to take hold and seize territory, frustrating efforts to set up a central administration.

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Manila searches for crewmen of ship sunk by typhoon

Author: 
AP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875438665459700

MANILA: The Philippine coast guard pressed its search Tuesday for 18 crewmen from a cargo ship that sank at the height of Typhoon Nock-Ten, which struck the country on Christmas Day.
Coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said 14 other crewmen have been rescued and one died after the M/V Starlite Atlantic sank off Mabini town in Batangas province, where the powerful typhoon passed Monday on its way out of the country into the South China Sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte flew to typhoon-hit provinces and warned in a speech in Camarines Sur that he’ll throw out of a helicopter anybody who would steal the financial aid he brought for storm survivors. “I’ve done that, why won’t I do it again?” Duterte said in a threat that won applause from typhoon survivors.
The Starlite Atlantic sought cover in an anchorage area as the typhoon passed and its crew decided to move to safer waters but encountered huge waves and fierce winds, causing their ship to sink, Balilo said, adding that another passenger and cargo ship ran aground in Mabini, south of Manila.
At least seven people died from the typhoon, including the sunken ship’s crewman and villagers who drowned from flooding or were pinned by fallen trees or a collapsed wall in Albay and Quezon provinces.
Duterte flew to the hard-hit town of Virac on the eastern island province of Catanduanes, where the typhoon made landfall on Sunday night, to witness the distribution of food packs to residents. Ahead of the president’s visit, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and top military officials flew to Virac and were stunned by the extent of devastation.
“Their common perception is that Virac is completely devastated,” military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said of the coastal town of more than 70,000 people. The province’s coconut plantations, the primary industry, were destroyed and may take five to 10 years to recover, he said.
From a helicopter, “we saw the devastation of coconuts, abaca and the forests. There are lots of houses without roofs,” Lorenzana said by text message. “There is no electricity yet in all of Catanduanes.”
The president’s past extreme comments against suspected drug pushers and corrupt officials have left many wondering if he was exaggerating, and administration officials have said he often uses hyperbole as a scare tactic.

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No Picture

Manila searches for crewmen of ship sunk by typhoon

Author: 
AP
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875438665459700

MANILA: The Philippine coast guard pressed its search Tuesday for 18 crewmen from a cargo ship that sank at the height of Typhoon Nock-Ten, which struck the country on Christmas Day.
Coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said 14 other crewmen have been rescued and one died after the M/V Starlite Atlantic sank off Mabini town in Batangas province, where the powerful typhoon passed Monday on its way out of the country into the South China Sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte flew to typhoon-hit provinces and warned in a speech in Camarines Sur that he’ll throw out of a helicopter anybody who would steal the financial aid he brought for storm survivors. “I’ve done that, why won’t I do it again?” Duterte said in a threat that won applause from typhoon survivors.
The Starlite Atlantic sought cover in an anchorage area as the typhoon passed and its crew decided to move to safer waters but encountered huge waves and fierce winds, causing their ship to sink, Balilo said, adding that another passenger and cargo ship ran aground in Mabini, south of Manila.
At least seven people died from the typhoon, including the sunken ship’s crewman and villagers who drowned from flooding or were pinned by fallen trees or a collapsed wall in Albay and Quezon provinces.
Duterte flew to the hard-hit town of Virac on the eastern island province of Catanduanes, where the typhoon made landfall on Sunday night, to witness the distribution of food packs to residents. Ahead of the president’s visit, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and top military officials flew to Virac and were stunned by the extent of devastation.
“Their common perception is that Virac is completely devastated,” military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said of the coastal town of more than 70,000 people. The province’s coconut plantations, the primary industry, were destroyed and may take five to 10 years to recover, he said.
From a helicopter, “we saw the devastation of coconuts, abaca and the forests. There are lots of houses without roofs,” Lorenzana said by text message. “There is no electricity yet in all of Catanduanes.”
The president’s past extreme comments against suspected drug pushers and corrupt officials have left many wondering if he was exaggerating, and administration officials have said he often uses hyperbole as a scare tactic.

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Russia wants to boost air force presence in Tajikistan

Author: 
REUTERS
Wed, 2016-12-28
ID: 
1482875402905456700

DUSHANBE: Russia wants to expand its air force deployment to Tajikistan and is in talks with Dushanbe for joint use of an air base in the former Soviet republic, the Russian ambassador to Dushanbe said on Tuesday.
Russia already has an infantry base near Dushanbe with up to 7,000 troops stationed there and last year deployed four attack and transport helicopters to a nearby Ayni air base.
Ambassador Igor Lyakin-Frolov told reporters the Russian and Tajik governments were in talks over an agreement that would allow Russia joint use of the Ayni base and to expand its presence there.
Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, is seen by Russia and the West as a possible conduit for militants. The Ferghana Valley, a fertile and densely populated strip of land that straddles Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, is considered to be the heart of militancy in Central Asia.
Moscow last year launched a campaign of air strikes in Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad take on various rebel groups as well as the Islamic State militant group.
In November Russia’s security service said it had arrested 10 people from Central Asia with links to Islamic State who planned to carry out attacks with firearms and explosives in Moscow and St Petersburg.

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