- Created on 29 October 2013
(CNN) -- As a country, Turkey is often described as a bridge between Europe and Asia. On Tuesday, for the first time, the two continents will be officially connected by a multi-billion dollar underwater railway tunnel.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta and numerous transport and trade ministers gathered to inaugurate the giant rail system, on the country's republic day.
The Marmaray link, named by combining the Sea of Marmara with "ray," meaning rail in Turkish, is a part of $4.5 billion, 76-kilometer mega-project launched by the government in 2004.
Erdogan, speaking at the event, said the project "connects history and future, past and the future, as well as connecting continents, Marmaray connects people, nations and countries."
Its scale, along with designs for a third airport, a parallel canal for the Bosphorus river and a third suspension bridge, are seen as overly ambitious plans by Erdogan to build his legacy and hark back to days of the Ottoman Empire.
The bold project brings the dreams of Sultan Abdul Medjid, first outlined more than a century ago, to reality as the Turkish Republic celebrates its 90th anniversary.
It is finally being completed by Erdogan after he faced intense protests for the redevelopment plans of a central Istanbul park with Ottoman-era military barracks and a mosque. The 13.6 kilometer (8.5 miles) tunnel -- the deepest of its kind -- passes under the Bosphorus Strait, one of the busiest shipping arteries in the world.
The financial capital of Istanbul, with a population of nearly 15 million people, is often snarled with traffic, with some two million residents making the crossing between continents on a daily basis.
According to Erdogan, Marmaray "is not a project only for Istanbul Marmaray is a project for whole humanity."
The rail system, built by a Turkish-Japanese consortium, is expected to have a capacity of one and a half million people a day, connecting the two continents in about four minutes.
The Marmaray is being described as a vital link on the modern Silk Road, which will provide seamless rail transport from Turkey to China.
Turkey, under Erdogan, has looked east to tap emerging markets for growth. More than half its exports go to the European Union, and that slowdown has cut Turkey's annual growth in half after it peaked above 8% before the 2008-09 financial crisis.
Beyond the size of such an undertaking, digging for the Marmaray uncovered some 40 thousand artefacts and helped archaeologists trace Istanbul's history back 8,500 years, 2,500 more than ever believed before.
However the discoveries delayed the project for four years, which frustrated the prime minister who, analysts and businessmen say, wants to put a permanent imprint on Turkey's financial capital.
The project also had to account for Turkey's long history of violent earthquakes, and the tunnel's position parallel to a major fault line. Transport minister Binali Yildirim has outlined the precautions, including that the tunnel is designed handle a quake of 9.0 magnitude due to construction that allows movement.
With these infrastructure projects Erdogan is aiming high, striving to increase Turkey's impact as the republic heads towards its 100th anniversary.
Erdogan believes Turkey can double its gross domestic product to $2 trillion, and by doing so stake its claim as one of the top ten economies internationally.
But obtaining the financing for this activity after such fierce public resistance may stand in the way of this government's master plan.
Tuesday, however, was a day in which Erdogan could point to his pride in Marmaray. It is, he said, "an artwork that will find its place in history as an environmentalist project as well as being a project of precision and excellence."
- Created on 29 October 2013
Accused member of Afrikaner extremist group Boeremag Tom Voster, front, and co-accused Andre du Toit, left, go down to the holding cells after their sentencing at High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. (AP Photo / Themba Hadebe)
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- A South Africa court on Tuesday sentenced members of a white extremist group to jail terms ranging from five to 35 years for high treason, plotting to kill Nelson Mandela and other charges in one of the country's biggest post-apartheid treason trials.
Twenty members of the Afrikaner extremist group Boeremag, or white farmer force, last year were found guilty of treason for a plot, in the late 1990s and early 2000, to violently overthrow the country's government. The African National Congress formed the country's government when Mandela was elected to office in 1994 to bring an end to white minority rule.
Some members were also convicted of culpable homicide and conspiring to murder for a thwarted plan to kill Mandela. The group also claimed responsibility for a series of bombings that killed a woman and caused damage throughout the Johannesburg township of Soweto in 2002.
Judge Eben Jordaan handed out the sentences in Pretoria to end the decade-long trial. Some sentences were suspended due to time served, according to reports by South African TV channel EnCA.
The leader of the group and four members of its bomb squad were given some of the longest sentences. They planted a bomb on a road Mandela was going to take for a visit to a school in Limpopo Province, but the plot was foiled when the anti-apartheid leader changed plans to take a helicopter to the school. Having already served 10 years, those getting the heaviest sentences will serve 25 more, according to the South Africa Press Association. Another member of the squad was given 20 years, with 10 suspended, SAPA reported.
Two of the accused died during trial and another was sentenced to 12 years in prison following a plea agreement, according to local TV reports.
This was one of South Africa's longest running trials and it was one of the most expensive costing the country about 36 million rand ($3.6 million), according to the non-governmental group, Legal Aid.
Boeremag is an extreme group of Afrikaners, the white South Africans of Dutch, French and German descent who ruled the country under the racist apartheid regime that ended in 1994. The guilty include former engineers, medical doctors and military officers.
- Created on 28 October 2013
In this Monday, March 5, 2012 file photo, members of Somalia's al-Shabab militant group patrol on foot on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. (AP Photo, File)
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- A United States military strike hit a vehicle carrying senior members of an al-Qaida-linked militant group in Somalia on Monday, killing at least two people including the group's top explosives expert, a militant and a government intelligence official said.
A senior United States military official says there was a U.S. counterterrorism strike against a terrorist target in Somalia Monday but would give no further details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no authorization to discuss the strike publicly.
An al-Shabab member who gave his name as Abu Mohamed said one of those killed was al-Shabab's top explosives expert, known as Anta. He said a drone fired at the car in Somalia's Middle Juba region. It was not clear how Mohamed would know it was a drone strike, except that he said no attack helicopters were seen.
A Somali intelligence official in Mogadishu said the attack occurred as al-Shabab members went to intervene in a clan dispute. The official insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to share intelligence.
Earlier this month, United States Navy SEALs raided a coastal Somali town to take down a Kenyan al-Shabab member. The SEALs withdrew before capturing or killing their target. The target of that attack - Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, known as Ikrima - was identified as the lead planner of a plot by al-Shabab to attack Kenya's parliament building and the United Nations office in Nairobi in 2011 and 2012.
If a drone strike in southern Somalia is confirmed, it will add evidence of the increasing importance Western powers view the counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia. The East African nation has seen several military attacks - often reported as drone strikes - in recent years.
Al-Shabab militants attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, in neighboring Kenya, on Sept. 21 with guns and grenades, killing at least 67 people. Al-Shabab promised more attacks on Kenyan soil unless Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia.
- Created on 28 October 2013
Photo: AP Photo/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin
JUBA, South Sudan (AP) -- Hundreds of people in the disputed border region of Abyei voted Sunday in a referendum that they hope will decide whether they join Sudan or South Sudan, a local leader said, but the exercise lacked the official backing of either of the governments.
The exercise was proceeding peacefully Sunday, said Luka Biong, spokesman for the Abyei Referendum High Committee, a civic group that is organizing the vote. He said the results of the three-day vote will be announced on Oct. 31.
"This reminds me of what happened in January 2011 when the people of South Sudan voted for their independence," he said. "This was a special moment, a historic moment. This was like crowning the history of the struggle of the people of Abyei. I saw my people so determined."
Both Sudan and South Sudan claim ownership of the oil-rich Abyei area, whose status was unresolved after South Sudan became independent from its northern neighbor in 2011.
The region's majority Ngok Dinka people are believed to be in favor of joining South Sudan. The Sudan-allied Misseriya nomads, who come to Abyei to find pasture for their cattle, are not participating in the referendum.
The voting was "going on very smoothly" across Abyei, confirmed Zacharia Deng Majok, a member of the Abyei Referendum High Committee.
"People are in a jovial mood here," he said. "The morale of the people is very high because they know they are making a choice for their future."
Up to 100,000 people are expected to participate in the vote despite warnings that the event might trigger violence in the border region. The African Union had warned against holding a referendum, saying such action could increase the risk of violence between the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya. The Misseriya have warned that a referendum in which they are not participants should not take place.
The Abyei region is rich in oil, one of the reasons both Sudans are reluctant to give it up. An African Union panel mediating talks between the countries last year proposed a referendum to be held in Abyei this month to determine which country the region would join. The AU proposal said only the permanent residents of Abyei would be allowed to vote in the referendum. That proposal was rejected by Sudan, which says the nomadic Misseriya people - who spend up to six months each year in the Abyei area - should be eligible to vote.
The Sudan government in Khartoum has argued against any unilateral action in Abyei, with Foreign Minister Ali Karti saying the dispute can only be resolved through negotiations between the two countries.