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Syrian refugees in Jordan
2014.04.19 02:37:31

AFP's Mussa Hattar writes that Syrian refugees in Jordan are so miserable that they would rather face "inevitable death" in their war-torn country than live in conditions that have sparked riots.

With Syria's war now in its fourth year, many of the 100,000 refugees in the sprawling desert Zaatari camp in northern Jordan feel the world has forgotten their struggle to survive.

"Syrian refugees would rather go home and face inevitable death than swallow the bitterness of displacement," Abu Isam, 52, told AFP before his cousins and other refugees boarded a bus back to Syria.



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Pro-Russian militia
2014.04.19 00:43:51

Pro-Russian militiamen who control government buildings in eastern Ukraine are showing no sign of relenting despite a deal between Moscow and Kiev.

Ukraine and Russia agreed on Thursday to take tentative steps toward calming tensions along their shared border after more than a month of bloodshed. The surprise agreement, brokered by the United States and the European Union, appeared to tamp down the immediate crisis but offered no assurances for a long-term resolution.

The deal calls for the immediate return of all government buildings seized by pro-Russian militia. But none of the government buildings seized across eastern Ukraine has yet been vacated, according to local media on Friday. [AP]



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Russian shares surged
2014.04.19 00:33:46

Russian shares surged on Friday after a deal struck by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union boosted hopes of a peaceful resolution
to the crisis in Ukraine.

At 0700 GMT the dollar-denominated RTS index was up 2.8 percent at 1,206 points while the ruble-denominated MICEX rose 2.3 percent to 1,360 points.

The gains were broad-based, with gas giant Gazprom up 2.9 percent, Sberbank 2 percent, oil major Lukoil 1.9 percent, and telco MTS 3.2 percent. [Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Obama conveyed skepticism
2014.04.19 00:31:41

President Barack Obama conveyed skepticism Thursday about Russian promises to de-escalate a volatile situation in Ukraine, and said the United State and its allies are ready to impose fresh sanctions if Moscow doesn't make good on its commitments.

"My hope is we do see follow-through," Obama said at an impromptu news conference at the White House a few hours after Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a meeting in Geneva with diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. [Associated Press]



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Donetsk residents rally
2014.04.19 00:18:06

Donetsk residents held a rally on Thursday to support unity with Kiev and national integrity of Ukraine as pro-Russia activists continue to occupy government buildings in the eastern Ukrainian city.

Over 2,000 residents took part in the rally to express their Ukrainian patriotism.

"We are gathering here and want to say that Donetsk is a part of Ukraine, we love our country. Ukraine is indivisible and independent, and most importantly, it is united," said Anton, a Donetsk resident.

Residents like Anton say they don't want to see the federalization of Ukraine, and they also don't think a referendum should be conducted in Donetsk.

"The decision of a referendum should be made by the whole country, not only in Donetsk," said Anton.

"Basically, no one worries about the deterioration of our relationship with Russia. All people here hope for peace, and they want to live peacefully with people from Russia, western Ukraine and any other countries," said Vlad, another Donetsk resident.

Security forces were strengthened out of concern for potential clashes between residents and pro-Russia activists, but no conflict broke out in the rally which lasted for one hour and 15 minutes.

Unrest erupted earlier this month in the country's east after pro-Russia activists seized administrative buildings in several eastern cities, demanding a referendum on autonomy and closer ties with Russia.

[Reuters]



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Obama uncertain on Ukraine deal
2014.04.19 00:17:05

The United States, European Union, Russia and Ukraine have reached an agreement on immediate steps to be implemented to ease the crisis in Ukraine, but US President Barack Obama cautioned it was uncertain if Moscow would stand by the deal.

"The question now becomes, will in fact they use the influence that they've exerted in a disruptive way to restore some order so that Ukrainians can carry out an election, move forward with the decentralization reforms that they've proposed, stabilize their economy and start getting back on the path of growth and democracy and that their sovereignty will be respected?"

Click here to continue reading this story



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States | Barack Obama

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Kerry met U.N. Special Representative
2014.04.18 11:39:18

S. Secretary of State John Kerry met U.N. Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in Switzerland on Thursday, where talks focused on Syria's devastating civil war.

Brahimi said that a deal between trapped fighters and civilians in Homs city and the Syrian authorities had broken down, as government forces appeared close to retaking the besieged opposition area.

Homs, a religiously-mixed city, was the scene of early protests against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 and has become a symbol of the destructive nature of Syria's civil war, with many of its neighborhoods leveled by army shells.

A deal agreed at peace talks in Geneva this year allowed some civilians to leave but further negotiations broke down following heavy fighting this week.

Brahimi issued a statement Thursday, apologizing for the break down in talks.

"It is a matter of deep regret that negotiations were brutally stopped and violence is now rife again when a comprehensive agreement seemed close at hand," Brahimi said in a statement.

"It is alarming that Homs, whose people have suffered so much throughout these past three years is again the theater of death and destruction."

[AP]



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Canada voices concern on Brotherhood
2014.04.18 11:38:06

Canada has expressed concern about the Muslim Brotherhood just months after British Prime Minister, David Cameron, ordered an inquiry in to the group.

"We are tremendously concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood" Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird told a press conference in Cairo.

[AFP]



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US decries anti-Semitic leaflets in Ukraine
2014.04.18 05:09:57

The United States on Thursday condemned as "grotesque" the distribution of leaflets demanding that Jews in eastern Ukraine register with a self-proclaimed local authority or face consequences.

"In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it's grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that."

Kerry also denounced apparent threats to members of the Russian Orthodox Church from members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He noted that the agreement signed on Thursday "strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism."

[AP]



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Kerry asked on Eastern Ukraine's autonomy
2014.04.18 02:36:02

"We were impressed on what the interim government in Kiev are prepared to do. it is quite extensive."

Including election of local officials and management of budget, education and other elements of government.

"It is far more extensive an offer of autonomy than anything that exists in Russia."

"Our goal is not to come here and be threatening, we're just trying to express a reality.

"Our hope is we have opened a door so that all the entities in Ukraine who have the ability to make a difference will respond."

Responsibility for the laying down of weapons will be on those who equipped and encouraged the various armed groups to begin with says Kerry.

"These next days will be very important. If there is not progress then there will be additional sanctions and costs as a consequence."

Kerry reiterates that the promise of autonomy is not because of Russian pressure - that it was always on the table as a means of managing differences in culture within Ukraine.

Kerry responding to a question about whether Crimea has been 'given up on' says there is a significant difference over Crimea.

"Today we didn't come to talk about Crimea. We came here to reduce the violence and move away from a downward spiraling situation."



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States | John Kerry

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Catherine Ashton speaking
2014.04.18 02:33:39

"The OSCE special monitoring mission will play a leading role in this."

"We welcome the Ukrainian commitment to conduct a transparent constitutional process."

"We want to see all [presidential] candidates behaving well and being treated with respect during [the election] process."

Catherine Ashton



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | European Union

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Kerry speaking
2014.04.18 02:31:46

"We agreed today that all illegal armed groups must be disarmed. All illegally occupied buildings must be returned to their owners."

"The government of Ukraine will grant amnesty to protesters with the exception of those found guilty of capital offenses."

"We wanted to find concrete steps so we agreed the OSCE undertake a special role in assisting Ukrainian authorities in an immediate implementation of de-escalation measures."

"US, EU and Russia committed to this."

"Ukraine's leaders are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to give regions greater autonomy and the protection of minority rights."

There will be extensive constitutional reform to address legitimate grievances.

"Words on paper will only mean what the actions taken as a result of those words produce. What is important is that these words are translated immediately into action."

"We intend to be watching extremely carefully that our monitors are able to verify the actions on the ground."

"We fully expect the Russians to demonstrate their seriousness that armed groups lay down their weapons."


Kerry says if promises of de-escalation not followed through then there will be consequences for Russia.

He praises the actions of the Ukraine government. "Ukrainian  people now have a right to chose their own future."



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States | John Kerry

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Travel restriction warning
2014.04.18 02:29:25

Russia's national flag carrier Aeroflot issued a statement on Thursday warning passengers that Ukraine restricted entry to the country of Russian men between the ages of 16 and 60.

It indicated that men between the ages of 16 and 60 would be denied entry unless they had proof of a reason to visit, such as family ties or an invitation from a business or individual, or were traveling with their families.



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Moscow to consider retaliation
2014.04.18 02:28:27

Moscow is ready to respond to the Kyiv authorities' decision to bar Russian men from entering Ukraine.

"Russia insists on immediate official explanations by Ukraine of the steps made by the State Border Service of Ukraine. Upon receipt of such information from Kyiv, we shall consider possible retaliatory measures," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

[Interfax]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Conscription to be considered in Ukraine
2014.04.18 02:19:27

Ukraine's parliament voted Thursday to have acting President Oleksandr Turchynov urgently consider bringing back conscription to boost military readiness in the face of Russian "aggression".

The move came as tensions ratcheted up in Ukraine's east, where separatist rebels have taken control of public buildings in nearly 10 towns and rebuffed attempts by the army to oust them.

Politicians in Kiev approved a text "to recommend to the acting president to restart conscription into the Ukraine armed forces without delay" in order to "bolster Ukraine's defense capabilities in connection with aggression from  the Russian Federation".

[AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Syrian rebels attack
2014.04.18 02:18:20

Syrian rebels on Thursday attacked one of the largest military barracks in the country, in northern Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"Rebels, including fighters from Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic Front, launched an assault today on the barracks in Hanano in Aleppo," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that the fighting was ongoing.

State media, meanwhile, reported that the army had "foiled an attempt by terrorist groups to infiltrate the barracks" and killed a number of them.

Abdel Rahman said the barracks is one of the largest in Syria.

"It's strategically important because it's on a hill that overlooks parts of northern Aleppo," he added.

Once Syria's economic hub, Aleppo has been divided between regime control in the west and rebel control in the east since shortly after combat began there in mid-2012.

Abdel Rahman said the attack began when "rebels detonated explosives in tunnels they had dug beneath army positions around the barracks".

State television also reported that the rebels had "detonated explosives in three tunnels around the barracks".

[AFP]



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Ukraine PM says Putin is trying to sabotage election
2014.04.18 02:17:09

Ukraine's prime minister on Thursday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to sabotage the country's upcoming presidential election and said Moscow was responsible for deaths in recent clashes in eastern Ukraine.

"Russia is playing only one game: further aggravation, further provocation, because the task, that Putin today officially announced, is to wreck the presidential election on May 25."

Arseny Yatseniuk

[Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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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]



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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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