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Syria's presidential election
2014.04.18 02:15:55

Candidates for Syria's presidential election can begin registering on April 21, when the date for the vote will be announced, a government source told AFP on Thursday.

"On Monday April 21, the Council of the People (parliament) will meet to open registration for presidential candidates and set a date for the election," the source said.

Syria's government has insisted it will go ahead with presidential elections this year before the end of President Bashar al-Assad's term on July 17.

But it is unclear how it will do so during a raging civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people over the past three years, displaced nearly half the population and seen the regime lose control of large swathes of territory.

The vote will be Syria's first multi-candidate elections, after a new constitution did away with the old process of presidential referendums.

Assad has all but said he will stand, and is expected to easily win the vote.

New electoral regulations, including a requirement stating that candidates must have been living in Syria for the last decade, will exclude prominent opposition figures who live in exile.

The government's plan to hold the vote has drawn criticism from much of the international community, with UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warning it could jeopardize further peace talks.

Syria's opposition has insisted that Assad can have no role in the country's future and his departure from office is one of their key demands.

[AFP]



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Snowden questions Putin on surveillance
2014.04.18 02:15:01

Snowden asks Putin question on surveillance in phone-in session via video. Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), has been living in Russia since he leaked his country's extensive internet and phone surveillance program to the media. [AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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United Nations envoy to Syria
2014.04.18 02:13:44

The United Nations envoy to Syria says the besieged central city of Homs has become a "theater of death and destruction," urging both sides in the country's civil war to return to negotiations.

In a statement Thursday, Lakhdar Brahimi called on Syrian government officials and opposition leaders to resume talks that broke off in February.

The central city has seen some of the worst fighting in the 3-year-old conflict.

An agreement on a weeklong cease-fire that allowed more than 1,000 civilians to leave Homs' rebel-held areas was hailed as the only achievement of the recent Geneva peace talks that Brahimi mediated.

The deal did not hold, however, and fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and the rebels trying to overthrow him has raged for weeks in Homs.

[AP]



Tags: Syria | Lakhdar Brahimi

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French President Francois Hollande
2014.04.18 02:12:40

French President Francois Hollande warned Thursday that EU sanctions on Russia could be strengthened if there is no progress at talks in Geneva on the Ukraine crisis.

"We could raise the level of sanctions if no solution emerges (in Geneva), but that is not our desire," Hollande said at a joint press conference with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. [AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | France

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Chlorine gas bombs
2014.04.18 02:11:43

The Syrian regime has been accused of new attacks on civilians with improvised chlorine gas bombs, in the latest reports of chemical weapons use in the Syrian war.

To read the full article click here.



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The case against Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail
2014.04.18 01:26:12

An Egyptian court convicted an ultraconservative Islamist and ally of ousted President Mohammed Morsi of forging official documents to conceal that his mother was a US citizen, and sentenced him Wednesday to seven years in prison.

The case against Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, a lawyer turned TV preacher, dates back to his failed 2012 presidential bid. Abu-Ismail was at one point seen as a strong contender in the race, riding in part on his popularity as a preacher.

Allegations about his mother's citizenship ultimately derailed his campaign hopes, but he remained a popular figure, particularly among young Islamists.

The presiding judge has also slapped Abu-Ismail with two additional one-year sentences after twice finding him in contempt of court. [AP]



Tags: Egypt | Muslim Brotherhood | Mohamed Morsi

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Russian special forces
2014.04.18 01:13:28

Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Thursday dismissed claims that Russian special forces were fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine as "nonsense," but expressed hope for success of four-way talks on settling the crisis.

Speaking in a televised call-in show with the nation, Putin said that people in eastern Ukraine have risen against the authorities in Kiev who ignored their rights and legitimate demands.

A wave of protests, which Ukraine and the West said was organized by Russia and involved Russian special forces, have swept eastern Ukraine over the past weeks, with gunmen seizing government offices and police stations in at least 10 cities [AP]



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Pro-Russian militants
2014.04.18 01:12:26

Ukraine on Thursday disbanded an army unit that lost six armored vehicles to pro-Russian militants, as Kiev's military reeled from a disastrous attempt to oust separatists in its eastern regions.

"The 25th parachute brigade, members of which showed cowardice and gave up their weapons, will be demobilized and the guilty servicemen brought before court," acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament [AFP]



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Ukrainian troops repelled
2014.04.18 01:11:19

Ukrainian troops repelled an overnight attack on their base in the southeast city of Mariupol, killing three of the assailants and wounding 13, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Thursday.

Around 300 people mounted the attack using guns and petrol bombs on the interior ministry troops, none of whom was hurt, Avakov said on his Facebook page. [AFP]



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Pro-Russian separatists were killed in shooting
2014.04.18 01:10:34

Ukraine's interior minister said on Thursday that three pro-Russian separatists were killed in shooting that broke out overnight in the town of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

"According to preliminary data, three attackers were killed, 13 wounded and 63 detained," Arsen Avakov said in a post on Facebook. [Reuters]



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Diplomats are due to start high-level talks
2014.04.18 01:02:28

Diplomats are due to start high-level talks on how to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, as pro-Russian separatists tightened their grip over the country's eastern regions.

To read the full article click here.



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Ukrainian national guard
2014.04.17 07:26:09

Ukrainian national guard soldiers fired shots in the air when a crowd of pro-Russian separatists attacked their base in the east of the country on Wednesday, the interior ministry said.

A crowd of armed protesters arrived at the base and demanded that the national guard troops back their revolt against the country's new pro-Western government, the ministry said.

When the crowd refused to disperse and tried to enter the base, the national guard troops shot into the air. The ministry did not say whether anyone was injured in the attack.

[Reuters]



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NATO strengthening its military presence
2014.04.17 07:25:20

NATO stated today that it was strengthening its military presence in the east of Europe. The alliance's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said: "You will see deployments at sea, in the air, on land to take place immediately, that means within days."

Here's an analysis of what was announced:

  • More air patrols over the Baltic region. The Baltic is a couple of countries over from Ukraine.
  • More ships deployed to the Baltic.
  • No mention of more naval patrols in the Black Sea although, according to Rasmussen, "more will follow if needed". Any increase in the Black Sea would be taken by Russia as an act of aggression.
  • More allied military staff - that's staff, rather than grunts on ground - to be sent to unspecified areas to improve training and exercises.


None of this will affect the situation in Ukraine, but NATO's hands are tied in that respect. As Adrian Croft of Reuters reports, NATO is focusing instead on boosting temporarily its presence in eastern Europe in a drive to reassure allies, such as the ex-Soviet Republics in the Baltics, that NATO would protect them if they ever faced Russian aggression.



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | NATO

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Ukraine crisis
2014.04.17 07:23:48

Ukraine crisis will be discussed in Geneva between Washington, Brussels, Kiev and Moscow on Thursday:

Russia: Moscow says it wants Ukraine to become a federalized state in order for ethnic Russians to be more protected, but it really wants Kiev to be cooperate with Russia and abandon aspirations of joining the EU and NATO.

Ukraine: Kiev says it will never recognize annexation of Crimea by Russia and demands from Moscow withdrawal of troops from border with Ukraine. However, Ukrainian government is believed to be seeking to find a compromise with the Kremlin to prevent losing more territory and does not hold hopes about getting Crimea back.

US: Washington says it wants Russia to give up its claims on Crimea, but is not expected to push the issue behind the curtains in order to prevent more action from Moscow in not only Ukraine, but also in neighboring Moldova and Georgia.

EU: Brussels says it just wants to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine. It seeks to lessen Ukraine's economic dependency on Russia and keeping it on the track of closer ties with the EU.



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States

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Russian military activity increases near Ukraine border
2014.04.17 01:49:30

Russia's military moved equipment and weaponry around the border area on Wednesday but there was no clear evidence they were preparing either to pull back or advance.

A Reuters team went independently to three locations where Russian units are temporarily deployed, first visiting at the end of last week and again on Wednesday.

On the second visit on Wednesday there was a marked increase in activity, with more military trucks on the roads in the area, and more service personnel in evidence at the deployment sites.

At one location, in open country near the village of Valuyki, in Belgorod region about 20 km from the Russian-Ukrainian border, a squadron of Mi-24 attack helicopters that was there on Friday had flown away. Local people said the helicopters left on Monday evening.

But at the same site new forces had arrived. The Reuters reporters saw 10 large army tents and 20 trucks, significantly more than last week. The trucks had their hoods up and soldiers were inspecting the engines. The site was surrounded with a barbed wire fence which was not there last week. [Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Ukrainian troops
2014.04.17 01:48:30

A column of Ukrainian troops in the restive east on Wednesday began disabling their guns on the demands of a crowd of pro-Russian activists that had surrounded their armored vehicles, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

The soldiers in the town of Kramatorsk handed over the firing mechanisms of their rifles to a pro-Moscow protest leader in return for a promise that they would be allowed to leave in their vehicles.



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Eastern Ukraine
2014.04.17 01:47:38

DONETSK
In Donetsk, a city of one million inhabitants and the secessionist hotspot, demonstrators stormed the government building on April 6, and are still holed up there. On April 7 they proclaimed the "Donetsk People's Republic" and vowed to hold a referendum on joining Russia. On Wednesday, pro-Russian gunmen entered the mayor's office in the city center.

SLOVYANSK
In the run-down industrial town of Slovyansk (100 km north of Donetsk), pro-Russian gunmen dressed in camouflage uniforms and balaclavas took over the police station and local security services building on Saturday. On Tuesday, authorities in Kiev launched an "anti-terrorist" operation to oust the separatists, sending some 20 tanks towards the town of some 100,000. On Wednesday, six armored vehicles and light tanks displaying Russian flags appeared on the streets of Slovyansk and were greeted warmly by pro-Moscow locals.

KRAMATORSK

On Saturday, in neighboring Kramatorsk (70 km north of Donetsk), masked and uniformed gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs attacked the police and municipal headquarters. On Tuesday, Kiev helicoptered in reinforcements to a key airbase on the outskirts of the town and tightened its controls over the installation. On Wednesday, 14 Ukrainian armored vehicles and tanks entered the center of Kramatorsk after pro-Russian gunmen vacated the police station.

LUHANSK
In Luhansk, an industrial city of 400,000 people, armed pro-Russian militants forced their way into and occupied a building belonging to Ukraine's security services on April 6. They demanded that separatist leaders arrested days earlier be released. They have dug in despite the rising risk of an assault to dislodge them. On Wednesday, Kiev's defense ministry pledged a firm response after two Ukrainian servicemen were allegedly taken hostage by pro-Russian forces near Luhansk.

KHARKIV
In the main eastern city, which has 1.5 million inhabitants, clashes erupted on April 6 between more than 2,000 pro-Russian protesters who took over the offices of the regional governor and nationalists loyal to Kiev. A day later they were made to leave the building. Three days of riots followed. On Sunday, demonstrations unsuccessfully tried to enter the town administration headquarters. [AFP]



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Jordan's airforce destroyed military vehicle
2014.04.17 01:27:02

Jordan's airforce hit and destroyed military vehicles trying to cross from Syria, Jordanian state television said on Wednesday.

"The Royal Airforce destroyed a number of military vehicles which tried to cross the Jordanian-Syrian border," the television said, without giving more details. [Reuters]



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Egyptian court sentenced 119
2014.04.17 01:25:52

An Egyptian court sentenced 119 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood of former president Mohamed Morsi to three years each in prison on Wednesday in connection with protests last October against his overthrow, judicial sources said.

More than 50 people were killed in the October 6 protests called by Morsi supporters.

Judge Hazem Hashad acquitted six people in the case. They faced charged including unlawful assembly and thuggery.

[Reuters]



Tags: Egypt | Muslim Brotherhood | Mohamed Morsi

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Syrian airstrikes kills four people
2014.04.17 01:24:30

Activists say that Syrian airstrikes have killed at least four people in the town of Zabadani, one of the last rebel-held towns on the Lebanese border.

Activist Ammar al-Hassan says the strike occurred early on Wednesday, Associated Press reported. He says shelling also had increased on the town lying in the rugged hills of the Qalamoun region. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on the strikes.

Zabadani protrudes into the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. The town and the nearby community of Madaya are effectively the last rebel strongholds in the Qalamoun, serving as an opposition supply route. [AP]



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