Airlines join fight for newly available flights to Cuba

Four major airlines want more flights to Cuba. In the past couple of days, American, JetBlue, Southwest and Delta have applied for additional flights to the island nation.

The airlines want to fill the void left by Spirit, Frontier and Silver Airways — smaller airlines that decided to leave the Cuba market.

“The airlines that went into Cuba first were all pioneers,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry consultant. “They’re risk takers. They have revenues and profitability that allow them to take a long time look at Cuba.”

The airlines left 21 weekly slots for three new daily flights to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. The aviation agreement allows for 20 daily flights between the two countries.

Harteveldt added that the pricing will depends on demand. A good sign is that two of the four airlines asking for more flights are low fare carriers.

“It’s a good thing for consumers to have a selection of airlines especially if they’re adding flights,” Harteveldt said. 

More flights means more seats that have be filled and airlines have to compete to get you to book a ticket. Marlene Mokracek was visiting Cuba from Tampa and paid $177 for round-trip flights on Southwest. 

“I think it’s going to increase … I have mentioned I was going to Cuba and they sounded very interested,” Mokracek said. 

Harteveldt believes the rigorous process of traveling to the island could be dissuading tourists. 

“If the U.S. and Cuba are able to link up financially and so it’s easier for American travelers there for example to withdraw cash at Cuban bank ATM or use their U.S.-issued credit cards at the Cuban merchants that will help with travel to Cuba,” Harteveldt said. 

Changes related to financial regulations between both countries are in the hands of the U.S. Congress.


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Kia invests $1 billion to build cars in India

The allure of India’s growing car market is becoming too strong to resist.

South Korean automaker Kia Motors on Thursday became the latest company to try and grab a slice of the pie, announcing a $1.1 billion investment in a manufacturing plant in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Construction is due to begin later this year, and the plant is expected to become operational in 2019. Kia says it will produce 300,000 vehicles a year.

“It will enable us to sell cars in the world’s fifth largest market,” Kia Motors president Han-Woo Park said in a statement.

Kia, which operates in over 160 countries and territories worldwide, said it plans to develop a new compact sedan and SUV specifically for the Indian market.

More than three million passenger vehicles were sold in India in the financial year ended March 31, nearly 10% more than the previous year, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

India’s potential as an automotive powerhouse has attracted a long line of foreign carmakers in recent months. Industry experts predict the South Asian nation will be the world’s third-largest car market by 2020.

Volkswagen — the world’s biggest automaker — announced a “strategic alliance” with India’s Tata Motors last month, while Japanese rivals Toyota and Suzuki plan to team up to develop new technologies in the country.

French brands Peugeot and Citroen are returning to India after a two-decade hiatus. Their parent company PSA announced a $107 million investment in January. Also entering the fray: electric vehicle giant Tesla.

Meanwhile, Shanghai-based SAIC Motor is aiming to become the first Chinese manufacturer to sell cars in India.

Kia is part of the Hyundai group, which is already India’s second biggest car maker with 20% of the market.

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Erdogan shuns West with strikes on US allies, mass detentions

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is feeling bold.

To the irritation of the U.S., Turkey carried out airstrikes against U.S. allies in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday. A day later, it was revealed that his government has detained more than 1,000 “opposition” figures, in an ongoing purge that has outraged Europe.

Basking in his referendum win this month, which altered the constitution to give him sweeping new powers, Erdogan appears intent on testing the limits of his opponents, and some of his allies, too.

Erdogan has taken his referendum victory as a sign that Turks are happy with his government’s crackdown following a failed military coup in July last year, which has gutted the opposition, civil society and the free press.

And the emboldened President appears to be taking this newfound confidence abroad. The airstrikes in Syria and Iraq mark an escalation by Turkey and put it in direct conflict with the US-led coalition’s mission against ISIS there.

Erdogan vows more airstrikes

Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the US’ main ally the fight against ISIS in Syria, and the Iraq-based Kurdish Peshmerga both said more than 20 of their fighters together were killed in the airstrikes Tuesday.

But Turkey’s air force claimed it was targeting members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Ankara deems a terrorist organization. Seventy people were killed in the raid, the air force said.

Turkey’s military described the strikes as a “counterterrorism” operation “within the scope of the international law” to prevent the PKK from sending “terrorists, arms, ammunition and explosives” to Turkey, according to state media.

Erdogan was unapologetic about the strikes, telling the Reuters news agency that he would not let northern Iraq’s Sinjar region become a base for PKK militants and that Turkey would continue military operations there and in northern Syria “until the last terrorist is eliminated.”

The strikes have caused a rift with the US. The two countries have in the past coordinated strikes, but their cooperation has faltered on several occasions.

“We are very concerned, deeply concerned, that Turkey conducted airstrikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS,” acting US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

“We have expressed those concerns to the government of Turkey directly.”

A senior US defense official told CNN that the US was given around an hour’s notice of the strikes by the Turkish military, adding that no US or coalition advisers were in the vicinity.

The Turkish government has been conducting a decades-long fight against the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has carried out attacks in Turkey.

Erdogan locks horns with Europe over detentions

Turkey detained 1,009 people in raids in 72 cities across the country, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a televised statement Wednesday, adding that some of them were from the country’s police force.

He said the detainees were connected to Fethullah Gulen, the reclusive cleric accused by Turkey of being behind the coup attempt.

“It is an important step for Turkish republic,” Soylu said, describing those detained as “secret imams.”

Turkey accuses Gulen of orchestrating the failed coup attempt.

Authorities have detained over 47,000 people in the country since then, in what Europe has slammed as an autocratic clampdown on civil freedoms.

The new round of detentions come as European leaders discuss relations with Turkey Wednesday.

And on Tuesday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace) placed Turkey back on a human rights watchlist, claiming the referendum was conducted on an “uneven playing field” and that Erdogan had ruled undemocratically through decrees following the attempted coup.

Erdogan dismissed the decision as “entirely political,” and in an earlier interview with CNN, he denied accusations that he had become a dictator.

He also responded with a threat to drop his country’s bid to join the EU.

Talks over Turkey’s application to join the union have continued for more than five decades and have gone nowhere.

“Why should we wait any longer? We are talking about 54 years,” Erdogan said in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

“In Europe, things have become very serious in terms of the extent of Islamophobia. The EU is closing its doors on Turkey and Turkey is not closing its doors on anybody.”

Turkey has welcomed more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world, with around 3 million now living there.

It has agreed to a people-swap deal to keep a large number of refugees from leaving its shores to EU countries, which it has used as a bargaining chip to try and win visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens.

The Turkish President said he wasn’t against a referendum on dropping the EU bid, pointing to the British vote last year to leave the union as a positive decision for the country’s future.

“They have peace of mind, they are walking towards a new future,” Erdogan said.

The President has already shown he has lost interest in the EU, suggesting his country may reintroduce the death penalty, which would automatically disqualify the country from membership.

But Erdogan does not appear to want Turkey to be solely inward looking. As he shuns the West, he is finding new allies north and east.

Turkey is a co-broker with Russia and Iran in ceasefire talks in the Syrian conflict.

Ankara’s once-troubled relationship with Moscow has been extraordinarily repaired to a large extent, despite Turkish forces shooting down a Russian warplane in 2015 and the countries’ different stances on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey has said it wants Assad removed from power, while Russia is Assad’s closest and most powerful ally.

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Venezuelans march in memory of those killed during protests

Thousands of Venezuelans dressed in white marched in the capital Saturday to pay homage to the at least 20 people killed in anti-government unrest in recent weeks.

Protests have been roiling Venezuela on an almost daily basis since the pro-government Supreme Court stripped congress of its last powers three weeks ago, a decision later reversed amid a storm of international rebuke.

But for the first since the protests began, demonstrators managed to cross from the wealthier eastern side of Caracas to the traditionally pro-government west without encountering resistance from state security.

Opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara, relishing the feat, likened the protesters’ arrival in the city’s more humble neighborhoods as “crossing the Berlin wall.”

Once assembled outside the headquarters of the Roman Catholic bishops’ confederation, religious leaders led the crowd in a moment of silence and asked God for strength. Then a string of political leaders passed around a megaphone and from the back of a pick-up truck repeated their demand of recent days for immediate elections and freedom for dozens of jailed government opponents they consider political prisoners.

“Let it be heard: The dictatorship is in its final days,” said Maria Corina Machado, who was stripped of her seat in congress in 2014. The crowd responded with shouts of “Freedom! Freedom!”

Many Venezuelans blame the socialist policies of President Nicolas Maduro’s administration for triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of food and medical supplies.

Among the demonstrators gathered in Caracas was Andres Ramirez, a 34-year-old agricultural engineer who marched with a giant cross draped in the Venezuelan flag.

“I am here carrying this cross for the peace of all Venezuelans,” he said beneath a punishing sun. “We ask God to protect us in these moments of crisis and suffering.”

Elsewhere in the city, smaller pockets of violent protesters, some of them with their faces covered and throwing rocks, clashed with riot police, who responded with tear gas.

The opposition contends rogue armed pro-government groups have been fomenting the violence that has swirled around protests. Government leaders claim the violence is generated by right-wing opposition forces working with criminal gangs in an attempt to remove them from power.

“These are terrorist groups on a mission to sow hate and death,” Diosdado Cabello, leader of the ruling socialist party, told supporters this week.


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