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Human rights violations by Syrian government
2014.04.10 03:07:32

Human rights violations by Syrian government forces "far outweigh" those by armed opposition groups, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Tuesday, prompting the Syrian UN envoy to accuse her of acting like an irresponsible "lunatic."

Pillay briefed the 15-member UN Security Council on the human rights situations in Syria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Mali and Libya. She again called for the situation in Syria, which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war, to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Pillay said monitors in her office and investigators with the UN commission of inquiry in Syria, led by Paulo Pinheiro, had consistently blamed both parties to the Syrian conflict for human rights violations "but you cannot compare the two."

"Clearly the actions of the forces of the government far outweigh the violations (by rebels)," Pillay told reporters.

It's the government that is mostly responsible for the violations and all these perpetrators should be identified and can if there's a referral to the International Criminal Court.

The council has so far been unable to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court because Russia is opposed to the move, diplomats say. Russia, supported by China, has shielded ally Syria from council action during the civil war.

Tags: Syria

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Russian President Vladimir Putin
2014.04.10 02:40:52

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he hoped Kiev would not take any irreversible steps amid the crisis in Ukraine and Russia's diplomatic efforts would be successful.

"I hope that the acting (authorities) will not do anything that can't be fixed later," Putin said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Putin also said he hoped Russian efforts to calm tensions through talks would "have consequences" and a "positive" result. [AFP]

Tags: Ukraine | Russia | Vladimir Putin

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Ukrainian security service building
2014.04.10 02:39:47

Armed activists who have been holed up inside of the Ukrainian security service building in the eastern city of Luhansk for days said on Wednesday they were Ukraine's "last hope" and pleaded for supporters to gather outside of the building in larger numbers for them to be successful.

"I understand that we will be trying to resolve all this by ourselves. But we may fail," said Vitaly, who called himself the group's commandant.

He then addressed Russia's President Vladimir Putin, asking him to help: "Mr. Putin, have mercy on your fighters. If you lose us then you will lose the last hope to create a good neighbour."

"This is out last chance. Kharkiv is lost, Donetsk is lost, Mykolaiv has been lost long ago, Odessa is almost lost. That's it, we are the last remaining hope of all Ukraine," Vitaly added.


Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Russian gas exports to Europe
2014.04.10 02:38:39

Russian gas exports to Europe through Ukraine were stable on Wednesday and Ukraine has been importing gas as usual despite a standoff between Moscow and Kiev, said a spokesman for state-controlled gas producer Gazprom.

Russia increased the price it charges Ukraine for gas to $485 per 1,000 cubic metres last week. On Tuesday, Gazprom said Ukraine had failed to pay for its March gas supplies on time and had not reduced its gas debt of $2.2 billion.

Gazprom ships about half its gas flows to Europe via Ukraine. The Russian company caters of about 30 percent of Europe's gas consumption.


Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Ukraine's Security Service
2014.04.10 02:37:36

Ukraine's Security Service said that 56 people held inside an agency's local headquarters in the eastern city of Luhansk occupied by pro-Russian separatists have been allowed to leave the premises.

The Luhansk security services building was among several government offices seized by pro-Moscow groups Sunday in an escalation of protests against the interim government in power since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

All the cities affected by the uprisings are in Ukraine's industrial heartland in the east, which has a large population of ethnic Russians and where hostility is strong toward the government that took power in February after the ouster of Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.

As of Wednesday morning, protesters in Luhansk had erected high barricades along a thoroughfare running in front of the security service premises.

Security services said on Tuesday that separatists inside the building, armed with explosives and other weapons, were holding 60 people hostage. It was not immediately clear if the 56 allowed to leave Wednesday were among that number, or how many people were still being held.


Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Kiev counts on NATO allies
2014.04.10 02:35:51

Ukraine, locked in a confrontation with Russia, is counting on the United States and other NATO members to supply equipment ranging from uniforms to aircraft fuel but is not asking for weapons, Ukraine's ambassador to NATO said on Tuesday.

Ihor Dolhov said Kiev had handed a "tentative list" of its army's equipment needs to NATO.

"The US government have already decided and delivered some part of this list," he said, declining to give details of what the United States had supplied.

Dolhov added that more was needed:

Fuel for airplanes or spare parts or some equipment or uniforms. Basic things, and the list is unfortunately rather long because what we discovered when the extraordinary situation in Crimea, when we faced this situation, that preparedness of Ukrainian defence forces was not as high as it was expected. So we need to implement additional measures.

"We expect to receive more assistance from NATO. And of course we started to work on more precise and concrete measures what can be expected and received from NATO," Dolhov said.


Tags: Ukraine | Russia | NATO

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Tea in Indian politics
2014.04.09 18:57:01

By being undiplomatic in his language in a talk he delivered at a recent All India Congress Committee session Mani Shankar Ayer, a Cambridge graduate, a former career diplomat and a Tamil Brahmin to boot brought chai (tea) back into politics. Ayer promised to the gathering that the BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi would never become prime minister of the country in the 21st Century. And, he went on to add, “But if he wants to distribute tea here, we will find a place for him."

Tags: india

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Pro-Russian activists
2014.04.09 02:05:17

Ukraine's security service (SBU) says pro-Russian activists have placed explosives in seized building in the eastern city  of Luhansk, holding around 60 people against their will.

"The anti-terror group of the security services of Ukraine (SBU) .. has established that the criminals have mined the building ... and are holding around 60 people, threatening them with weapons and explosives."

"These actions are extremely dangerous and endanger the lives of people both inside and outside of the building. They are using terrorist measures,"  the SBU said in a statement.

Luhansk protesters quickly denied the claims.

"There are no explosives,  no hostages. We do not need hostages to get what we want," said Anton, one of the protesters who described himself as a coordinator of the action. [Reuters]

Tags: Ukraine | Russia

Hits: 186 |

France: Assad policy to 'wipe out' his people
2014.04.09 02:03:56

France said on Tuesday Syrian President Bashar al Assad had a policy to "wipe out" his people in his bid to stamp out a three-year uprising, but this would leave Syria at a total impasse.

Assad has forecast that much of the fighting in the Syrian civil war will be over by the end of the year, a former Russian prime minister was quoted on Monday as saying.

Responding to those remarks, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal appeared to acknowledge that the international community may have to accept the new status quo.

A military victory against his own people? The only objective of Bashar al Assad is to wipe out his own people.

Nadal said. "Maybe he will remain the sole survivor of this policy of mass crimes, but it is a total impasse for Syria."

France was was also the first Western power to recognise the opposition National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

However, Nadal said there was now no other way to reach a solution in Syria other than a proposed peace plan which he admitted was "very slow" in developing.

"The only plan of the international community is a political transition. There is no other path. The Geneva process must continue.Military action will only lead to further violence."

The Syrian government made clear on Tuesday it had no intention of delaying an election that is likely to hand Assad a third term, regardless of war or politics.

Tags: Syria | France

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American missile strike
2014.04.09 01:06:38

A threatened, but averted, American missile strike to punish Syria's government for a chemical weapons attack last summer would not have been powerful enough to change the course in the Syrian civil war, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday, in an attempt to deflect criticism that the US hasn't done enough to stem the violence there.

Under pointed questioning by a Senate panel he used to chair, Kerry said the scrubbed strike would have been limited, and would have been aimed only at preventing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from delivering more chemical weapons to his forces.

It would not have had a devastating impact by which he had to recalculate, because it wasn't going to last that long.

Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Kerry predicted that the war will end only through a negotiated political agreement, not a military strike by outside forces.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican who has long pushed for more lethal aid for Syrian rebels, scoffed.

"Any objective observer will tell you that Bashar al-Assad is winning on the battlefield," McCain said.


Tags: Syria | United States | John Kerry

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Syrian army offensive against Rankus
2014.04.09 01:01:25

Syrian government forces have shelled the Rankus area ahead of an operation to retake the town, one of the last rebel-held regions in the Qalamun area, a monitoring group said Tuesday.

Al-Manar television, which belongs to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, also reported that the Syrian army had begun an offensive against Rankus.

A military source, meanwhile, told AFP news agency that government forces had taken a hilltop position by Rankus and were surrounding the town.

"The area of Rankus in Qalamun has been under heavy shelling and continuous air raids since Monday, ahead of a plan to storm it," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Tags: Syria

Hits: 217 |

Telephone and Internet shut down in Egypt
2014.04.09 01:00:03

Security officials in Egypt say they shut down telephone and Internet networks to the southern province of Aswan for several hours, as authorities moved to try to end a bloody tribal feud that killed 25 people the past week.

The officials say the shutdown Tuesday was part of a plan aimed at preventing contacts while security forces prepare operations to disarm the two feuding sides, an Arab clan and a Nubian family.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to reporters.

The shutdown lasted about three hours, during which attempts to reach Aswan residents by phone were unsuccessful. By the afternoon, communications at least partially returned.

One of the officials said the fighting, which began Friday, had become a "national security issue."


Tags: Egypt

Hits: 165 |

Elections in Syria
2014.04.09 00:57:47

Candidates for presidential elections in Syria this year will be able to submit their applications during the last 10 days of April, state media reported, quoting Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi.

The minister also insisted that the elections would proceed on time, despite a raging civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people.

"The door for candidacy will open in the last 10 days of this month," state news agency SANA quoted Zoabi as saying in an interview with Al-Manar, the channel of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, late on Monday.

"The overwhelming majority of Syrians are pressing and calling for President Bashar al-Assad to continue to lead the country as president of the republic," he said.

Zoabi insisted that the elections, due to be held before June, would proceed on schedule.

The elections "will be held on time and we will not allow them to be delayed for any reason, whether security, military, political, internal or external," he said.

Zoabi also denied there was any contradiction between staging the vote and efforts to hold peace talks, despite criticism by UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.


Tags: Syria

Hits: 155 |

Kerry blames Russian agents
2014.04.09 00:31:24

US Secretary of State John Kerry squarely blamed Russian agents on Tuesday for separatist unrest in eastern Ukraine, saying Moscow could be trying to lay the groundwork for military action like in Crimea.

"It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours," Kerry told US lawmakers, adding this "could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea."

Kerry said the US and European allies were united and willing to impose tough new penalties on Russian energy, banking and mining if Moscow fails to honor a sovereign Ukraine.

He said he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov next week in Europe. [Reuters]

Tags: Ukraine | Russia | John Kerry

Hits: 150 |

Putin to meet senior government officials
2014.04.09 00:29:35

President Vladimir Putin will meet senior Russian government officials on Wednesday to discuss Russia's economic ties with Ukraine, including on energy, his spokesman said.

The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave no further details.

State-controlled natural gas producer Gazprom says Ukraine missed a deadline to pay its March gas bill by midnight on Monday and owes the Russian company $2.2bn.

Peskov said:

A meeting is planned with the leaders of the government to discuss the extraordinary situation that has developed in economic cooperation with Ukraine, including in ... energy dialogue.

Gazprom has nearly doubled the price it charges Ukraine for gas, to $485 per 1,000 cubic meters since President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted by protesters in February and a pro-Western government was installed.

Gazprom has not said whether it will punish Kiev for failing to pay the March bill but has suggested previously that it might ask Kiev to pay in advance for its gas if it fails to pay its bills. [Reuters]

Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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EU and Ukraine hold talks on cutting reliance on Russian gas
2014.04.09 00:26:25

Ukraine's energy minister, EU officials and industry representatives held talks on Tuesday on cutting reliance on Russian gas as tension with Moscow drove home the urgency of finding alternative energy sources and supply routes.

The European Commission, the EU executive, said Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger was chairing two meetings in Brussels.

One was of the EU "gas coordination group", at which experts debate storage levels, and one brought together industry and Ukraine's energy minister to discuss security of supply.

A copy of an invitation to industry, seen by Reuters, says Oettinger invites "relevant gas companies for a frank and open discussion" to contribute to EU energy security for the next winter and over the mid-term.

In particular, it cites the importance of including liquefied natural gas operators. Super-cooled LNG, which can be brought by ship from sources around the world, is one way to cut reliance on pipeline gas from Russia. [Reuters]

Tags: Ukraine | Russia | European Union

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NATO chief warns Russia
2014.04.09 00:25:05

NATO's chief has warned Russia against intervening further in Ukraine, urging Moscow to "step back" after pro-Kremlin militants seized government buildings in several cities in the east.

"Russia's illegal aggression against Ukraine is the greatest challenge to Europe's security in a generation," Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters on Tuesday.

"I urge Russia to step back and not escalate the situation in east Ukraine," he said in Paris, where he was attending a seminar on NATO reforms.

"If Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine it would be a historic mistake. It would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia and it would further isolate Russia internationally," Rasmussen said. [AFP]

Tags: Ukraine | Russia | NATO

Hits: 119 |

Ukraine launches 'anti-terror' raid in Kharkiv
2014.04.09 00:24:01

Ukraine has launched an "anti-terrorist" operation in the southeastern city of Kharkiv and about 70 "separatists" have been arrested for seizing the regional administration building, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said.

On his Facebook page, Avakov said on Tuesay: "An anti-terrorist operation has been launched. The city centre is blocked along with metro stations. Do not worry. Once we finish, we will open them again."

Ukraine's Interior Ministry was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine news agency that those detained were suspected of "illegal activity related to separatism, the organization of mass disorder, damage to human health" and breaking other laws.

In response, Russia's foreign ministry issued a statement calling on Kiev to stop the operation, warning that it "could lead to an outbreak of civil war."

Earlier, acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov had pledged that "anti-terrorist measures" will be taken to stop the protesters, who had taken up weapons.

Tags: Ukraine

Hits: 89 |

Moldova region seeks independence
2014.04.08 12:14:19

The Transnistria region of Moldova wants independence and to eventually join Russia, according to a separatist leader.

Evgheny Shevciuk, president of the self-proclaimed republic, said Monday the "Transnistria people" want to be recognized as an independent state. "Our dream is to have a successful, independent Transnistria, together with Russia," he said.

The region voted in a 2006 referendum to join Russia, but these were the strongest words on secession in recent months.

Transnistria is a strip of land that borders Russian-speaking Ukraine, hundreds of kilometers from Russia.

The region, which broke away from Moldova in 1990, is not officially recognized, but is supported by Russia which has 1,500 troops stationed there.


Tags: Ukraine | Russia | Moldova

Hits: 188 |

US and Russia discuss possible talks on Ukraine
2014.04.08 04:26:05

The United States said on Monday it wants to see talks between Washington, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union to seek a way to calm the political crisis in Ukraine.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said US Secretary of State John Kerry had discussed holding such four-way talks in a call with his Russian opposite number Sergei Lavrov.

But she also echoed an earlier warning that Washington sees the hand of Moscow behind some of the unrest in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Kremlin separatists have seized government buildings. [AFP]

Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States

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