Daily Archives: February 27, 2014

Crossroads of Crimea : Facts you need to know about Ukraine region

Ukrainian police separate ethnic Russians (L) and Crimean Tatars during rallies near the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol February 26, 2014.

With its multinational society and a long history of conquests, the Crimean peninsula has always been a crossroads of cultures – and a hotbed of conflicts. Amid Ukrainian turmoil, every ethnic group of Crimeans has its own vision of the region’s future.

What is Crimea?

Now known as Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the picturesque peninsula shooting out into Black Sea from mainland Ukraine was for centuries colonized and conquered by historic empires and nomadic tribes. Greeks, Scythians, Byzantians and the Genoese have all left traces of their presence in Crimean archeological sites and placenames. Nomadic invasions, such as that of the Goths and the Huns, oftentimes redrew the ethnic picture of the region.

The most long-lived, however, proved to be the conquest of the peninsula by Turko-Mongols, who settled in the region, mixing with indigenous and other Turkic people already living there and in 1441 formed the Crimean Khanate. The local Turkic-speaking population became known as the Crimean Tatars. While the Khanate proclaimed its independence from the Golden Horde, it soon became a Turkish protectorate.

How does Russia come into picture?

The Crimean Khanate became notorious for its brutal and perpetual slave raids into East Slavic lands, in which tens of thousands of people were captured annually on Russian, Polish-Lithuanian and later Ukrainian territories. The Crimean-Nogai raids made up the Khanate’s economy through a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. They also caused vast steppe territories, known as the Wild Fields, to be unpopulated for centuries.

As the Tsardom of Russia grew stronger, one of the most vital issues for its rulers was to protect the southern borders against the raids. For this purpose, Moscow accepted the loyalty of Cossack-ruled Zaporizhian Sich, which also proved to be a defining moment in the formation of present-day Ukraine.

The Russian Empire eventually did away with its historical rival in the 18th century as a result of several victorious Russo-Turkish wars. As part of the 1774 Kuchuk-Kainarji peace treaty the Crimean Khanate aligned itself with Russia, but Catherine the Great soon annexed its lands, giving them a historic Greek name of Taurida.

The City of Sevastopol on the Black Sea shore, the Crimea.

During the Crimean War of 1853–1856, the peninsula again became a major theater of war. The Russian Empire lost the war to Ottoman Empire’s British and French allies following the bloody Siege of Sevastopol, but retained Crimea due to success on Turkish front. Despite the defeat and total devastation of the city, the heroic 11-month long defense of Sevastopol became known as an iconic event in Russian history, which has ever since been associated with the courage of the Russian military.

Later on during World War II, Sevastopol’s heroic struggle against Nazi Germany earned it the title of Hero City, reinforcing its special historic status for the Russians. As the war ended, the city had to be completely rebuilt for the second time in its history.

Ethnic controversy

By the beginning of the 20th century, Russians and the Crimean Tatars were equally predominant ethnic groups in Crimea, followed by Ukrainian, Jewish and other minorities. Crimea was both a royal resort and an inspiration for some of the great Russian poets, writers and artists, some of whom lived or were born there.

The turmoil of the Russian Civil War gravely affected the region, bringing both the notorious “Red Terror” and a severely weakened economy, which caused the Crimean population to be unable to cope with the great famine of 1921–1923. Of the famine’s 100,000 victims some 75,000 were Crimean Tatars, mainly because they relied on livestock breeding in mountainous areas with very limited lands and did not grow many crops.

Still, even more disastrous for Crimean Tatars was the aftermath of the WWII, in which some 20,000 of them allied with the Nazi German occupants, but many others also fought the Germans within the Soviet Army. Citing the collaboration of Crimean Tatars with the Nazis, Joseph Stalin ordered the whole ethnic group to be deported from Crimea to several Central Asian Soviet republics. Officially, 183,155 people were deported from Crimea, followed by about 9,000 Crimean Tatar WWII veterans. That made up about 19 percent of the Crimean population on the eve of war, almost half of which was by then Russian.

While the move was officially criticized by the communist leadership as early as in 1967, the Tatars were de-facto unable to return to Crimea until the late 1980s. The tragic events surrounding Stalin’s deportation obviously shaped the ethnic group’s detestation of the Soviet regime.

Other Soviet citizens got to know Crimea as an “all-Union health resort,” with many of those born in the Soviet Union sharing nostalgic memories of children’s holiday camps and seaside.

How was Crimea separated from Russia?

Another controversial decision involving Crimea followed in 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, himself an ethnic Ukrainian, transferred the peninsula to the Ukrainian SSR, extracting it from Russian territory.

The health resort Krym (formerly Frunzenskoye), 1980.

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev’s “present” has been widely criticized by many Russians, including the majority of those living in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Adding to the confusion was also the status of Soviet-times Sevastopol, which not only remained the largest Crimean city, but also retained its special strategic and military profile. In 1948, Sevastopol was separated from the surrounding region and made directly subordinate to Moscow. Serving as an important Soviet naval base, it used to be a “closed city” for years.

In the 1990s, the status of Sevastopol became the subject of endless debates between Russia and Ukraine. Following negotiations, the city with the surrounding territories was granted a special “state significance” status within the Ukrainian state, and some of the naval facilities were leased to Russia for its Black Sea Fleet until at least 2047. However, the city’s Russian majority and some outspoken Russian politicians still consider it to be a part of Russia.

Referendums and hopes

In 1991, the people of Crimea took part in several referendums. One proclaimed the region an Autonomous Republic within the Soviet Union, with 93.26 percent of the voters supporting the move. As the events unfolded fast, another one was already asking if the Crimeans supported the independence of Ukraine from the Soviet Union – a question that gathered 54 percent support. However, a referendum on Crimea’s independence from Ukraine was indefinitely banned from being held, leading critics to assert that their lawful rights were oppressed by Kiev authorities.

A rally in support of the Crimea independence referendum, 1992.

Complicating the issue was the return of the Crimean Tatars, who not only started to resettle in tens of thousands, but also rivaled local authorities. The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People was formed to represent the rights and interests of the ethnic minority. Although it was never officially recognized as an official organization, the body has enjoyed undisputed authority over most of Crimean Tatars and has successfully pushed for some concessions for the ethnic group in local laws.

While the Crimean Tatar re-settlers and the peninsula’s current Russian majority have learned to understand one another as neighbors, hardcore politicians from both ethnic groups also created grounds for a heated standoff. Calls for wider autonomy and aggressive lobbying for Crimean Tatar rights have prompted several pro-Russian Crimean political leaders to call the Mejlis an “organized criminal group” leading “unconstitutional” activities. The remarks sparked furious claims of “discrimination” from the Crimean Tatar community.

Who lives there now?

The majority of those living in Crimea today are ethnic Russians – almost 1,200,000 or around 58.3 percent of the populations, according to the latest national census conducted back in 2001. Some 24 percent are Ukrainians (around 500,000) and 12 percent are Crimean Tatars. However, in the Crimea’s largest city of Sevastopol, which is considered a separate region of Crimea, there are almost no Crimean Tatars and around 22 percent of Ukrainians, with over 70 percent of the population being Russians.

An absolute majority of the Crimean population (97 percent) use Russian as their main language, according to Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll. One of the first decisions of the interim Kiev government directly hit Crimea, as it revoked a law that allowed Russian and other minority languages to be recognized as official in multi-cultural regions.

What’s happening now?

After the Ukrainian President was ousted and an interim government was established in Kiev, the Russian majority started protesting outside the regional parliament, urging local MPs not to support it. They want the Autonomous Region to return to the constitution of 1992, under which Crimea briefly had its own president and independent foreign policy.

The parliament of the Crimea autonomous region was due to declare on Wednesday the region’s official position toward the new authorities in Kiev. The Tatar community has spoken out sharply against holding a parliamentary session on the issue, expressing their support for the new central authorities.

Ukrainian men help pull one another out of a stampede as a flag of Crimea is seen during clashes at rallies held by ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars near the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol February 26, 2014

Two separate rallies, consisting of several thousand protesters, faced each other in front of the parliament building in the Crimea capital Simferopol. Two people have died as a result of scuffles and stampede and about 30 were injured, before the head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, Refat Chubarov, called for the participants of the rally to go home peacefully.

Following the example of Kiev, vigilante groups are being formed, with about 3,500 people already patrolling the streets of Crimea along with police to prevent any provocations.

After the central government in Kiev disbanded the Berkut special police task force, new authorities in Sevastopol have refused to comply and welcomed all Berkut officers who feel intimidated to come to live in Crimea with their families. Sevastopol earlier elected a new mayor after the popular gathering ousted the Yanukovich local government, which tried to cling to power by pledging allegiance to Kiev’s new rulers.

What happens next?

The ultimate goal of the ethnic Russian population protesting in Crimea is to hold a referendum on whether the region should retain its current status as an autonomous region in Ukraine, to become independent, or become part of Russia again. In the meantime they claim to have a right to disobey orders of the “illegal” central government.

The Tatar minority meanwhile feels that ethnic Russians are trying to “tear Crimea away from Ukraine” excluding them from deciding the land’s fate.

Right-wing radicals from Western Ukraine earlier threatened to send the so-called “trains of friendship” full of armed fighters in order to crush any signs of resistance to the revolution they were fighting so hard for.

The Kiev authorities busy with appointing roles in the revolutionary government in the meantime embraced a soft approach towards Crimea. The interim interior minister even did not undertake any “drastic measures” to arrest fugitive ousted president Yanukovich, fearing that may spark unrest.

Russia repeatedly confirmed it does not doubt Crimea is a part of Ukraine, even though it understands the emotions of the residents of the region. This week Russian MPs initiated a bill that will allow Russian citizenship within six month if the applicant successfully proves his or her Russian ethnicity. It is prepared especially to save Russian speaking Ukrainians from possible infringement of their rights.

Ukrainian police try and separate ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars (R) during rallies near the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol February 26, 2014.

Ukrainian police try and separate ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars (R) during rallies near the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol February 26, 2014.

via Crossroads of Crimea: Facts you need to know about Ukraine region — RT News.

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Egypt – Abu Simbel’s sun festival

At dawn the rays of the sun illuminate three of the statues in the inner temple, while the fourth, depicting the god of darkness, remains in the shadows

At dawn the rays of the sun illuminate three of the statues in the inner temple, while the fourth, depicting the god of darkness, remains in the shadows

The bi-annual sun festival at Abu Simbel is definitely the highlight of the touristic season in Aswan. The temples were carved out of the mountain in 13th century BCE and the temples were discovered in the 1800s after they had been buried in the sand for about 2,000 years.

The monument serves as a memorial for Ramses II and his wife Queen Nefertari to commemorate his victory in the Battle of Kadesh. The battle is believed to have occurred in 1274 BCE between the Egyptians and the ancient Anatolians, who made up the Hittite empire, which included parts of modern day Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.

In 1968, the temples had to be relocated for fear of flooding caused the Aswan High Dam. They were moved to an artificial hill to be high above the water’s reach. The relocation was overseen by UNESCO and it is estimated that it cost about $40m. The complex was divided into blocks, which were then moved to the new site where they were reassembled. The whole complex was divided into 10,000 blocks, with each piece weighing up to 30 tonnes. Due the composition of the rock, which is sandstone, the use of explosives was out of question. Instead, the engineers used a collection of drills and other tools to cut up the temples into blocks.

The relocation process took around four years to complete. The new location was 65 metres higher than the old one and the engineers were careful to place the temples in the same north-south orientation as the old complex, to produce the same effect when it comes to the sun’s penetration of the temples.

The two temples are dedicated to several deities, namely Ra, Ptah, Amun and Hathor. It is believed that the Great Temple took about 20 years to build.

The sun festival occurs at two distinct dates, on 22 October and 22 February. These dates are believed to signify the birthday of the Ramses II and the day he ascended to the throne. On each of these two days, when the sun enters the temple at dawn, the rays illuminate the statues at the back wall only, except for Ptah, the god of the underworld. It is quite a feat that this was achieved in ancient Egypt, considering the technology and knowledge of astronomy that was available.

On these two days of the year, the Ministry of Tourism, along with the local people of Aswan, team up to create the sun festival, which starts right before sunrise. Musicians and local dancers gather to perform some traditional dances to entertain visitors and celebrate the unique solar phenomenon.

 

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100 rockets rain on Libyan power plant as militias battle

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(Reuters) – More than 100 rockets fired in clashes between rival government-paid militia have knocked out a power plant in southern Libya, heightening the risk of summer blackouts, the electricity minister said on Tuesday.

“This is the chaos Libya lives in,” the visibly-annoyed minister, Ali Mohammed Muhairiq, told a televised news conference. “The plant was hit by dozens of rockets, by 120 rockets. I don’t know whether we will be able to repair it before summer and Ramadan.”

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan begins at the end of June this year. Libya, an OPEC oil producer, suffers frequent blackouts in summer due to heavy use of air-conditioners.

Muhairiq said the power station in Sarir, in the remote south, had been put out of action by days of fighting between militias on the payroll of the defense and interior ministries.

He said parliament had approved a loan for the repairs, since the government had no budget to meet the bill of up to 300 million Libyan dinars ($242 million), but gave no details.

Libya’s official news agency LANA said the central bank would lend the state electricity company 1 billion dinars “to help solve the difficulties it faces”.

Budget worries are mounting in Libya, where protests and blockades at oil fields and ports have choked state revenue.

The government has sought to co-opt unruly militias that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi three years ago by putting them on the payroll of the security forces, but they remain loyal to their own commanders who often have business interests such as smuggling and who vie with other groups for local power.

Some are heavily armed with rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns obtained from military depots during the NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

Muhairiq said militia fighting had also damaged oil facilities and power stations on which hospitals and water supplies in the eastern city of Benghazi depend.

In separate violence, gunmen stole equipment from a power station in Khoms, east of Tripoli, which supplies the capital and western Libya, Muhairiq said.

“I warn the gunmen against damaging it,” he said, reading out names of those he believed were behind the robbery.

Libya’s oil output has fallen to 230,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 1.4 million bpd last year when various groups began disrupting facilities to back political and financial demands.

The government said on Sunday it had curbed spending at several ministries because the 2014 budget had been delayed.

“We face a very big danger,” Mohammed Abdallah, head of the parliamentary budget committee, told LANA, saying the government had already incurred a deficit of 3.785 billion dinars in the first two months of 2014. No comparative figures were available.

He said the budget planned for spending of 68.6 billion dinars in the next six months, around 2 billion more than last year, with 27.1 billion going on public sector wages, 6 billion more than in 2013.

The government increased salaries for oil workers by 67 percent in January in what has so far proved a futile attempt to placate them and discourage them from joining protests.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the government had submitted a budget proposal for six months instead of the whole year because it only had a temporary mandate. A parliamentary election is expected this year.

 

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‘The Imperial Presidency’

House holds hearing on executive overreach

Members of Congress and constitutional law experts testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, warning that the legislative branch is in danger of ceding its power in the face of an “imperial presidency.”

The hearing, “Enforcing the President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws,” focused on the multiple areas President Barack Obama has bypassed Congress, ranging from healthcare and immigration to marriage and welfare rules.

Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, testified that the expansion of executive power is happening so fast that America is at a “constitutional tipping point.”

“My view [is] that the president, has in fact, exceeded his authority in a way that is creating a destabilizing influence in a three branch system,” he said. “I want to emphasize, of course, this problem didn’t begin with President Obama, I was critical of his predecessor President Bush as well, but the rate at which executive power has been concentrated in our system is accelerating. And frankly, I am very alarmed by the implications of that aggregation of power.”

“What also alarms me, however, is that the two other branches appear not just simply passive, but inert in the face of this concentration of authority,” Turley said.

While Turley agrees with many of Obama’s policy positions, he steadfastly opposes the method he goes about enforcing them.

“The fact that I happen to think the president is right on many of these policies does not alter the fact that I believe the means he is doing [it] is wrong, and that this can be a dangerous change in our system,” he said. “And our system is changing in a very fundamental way. And it’s changing without a whimper of regret or opposition.”

Elizabeth Price Foley, a law professor at Florida International University College of Law, agreed, warning that Congress is in danger of becoming “superfluous.”

“Situations like this, these benevolent suspensions as they get more and more frequent and more and more aggressive, they’re eroding our citizens’ respect for the rule of law,” she said. “We are a country of law and not men. It’s going to render Congress superfluous.”

Foley said Congress is not able to tackle meaningful legislation out of fear that Obama would “simply benevolently suspend portions of the law he doesn’t like.”

“If you want to stay relevant as an institution, I would suggest that you not stand idly by and let the president take your power away,” she said.

Panelists and members of Congress dismissed the idea of impeachment, and instead focused on lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of the president’s unilateral moves.

Four House members testified on the first panel during the hearing to highlight legislation they have sponsored to thwart the administration’s executive overreach.

Impeachment would “surely be extremely divisive within the Congress and the nation generally, and would divert the attention of Congress from other important issues of the day,” said Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.).

Gerlach, who testified before the committee, introduced H.R. 3857, the “Enforce the Take Care Clause Act,” which would expedite the review and injunction process for federal courts to challenge executive actions. Such a challenge would have to pass a supermajority in both chambers in order to be fast-tracked.

“Given the growing number of examples where this President has clearly failed to faithfully execute all laws, I believe it is time for Congress to put in place a procedure for a fast-track, independent review of those executive actions,” he said.

Gerlach said he proposed the bill due to Obama’s repeated alterations to his signature law, the Affordable Care Act.

“The ACA has been revised, altered and effectively rewritten by the president and his administration 23 times since July,” he said.

“When we have these constant changes at the president’s whim think about what that does to businesses’ planning capabilities and hiring capabilities and their expansion capabilities,” Rep. Tom Rice (R., S.C.) said. “We shouldn’t wonder why our economy is struggling.”

Rice has proposed the “Stop This Overreaching Presidency (STOP) Resolution” as a remedy. The resolution, which has 114 cosponsors, would direct the House to file lawsuits against four of the president’s unilateral actions, including the employer mandate delay in Obamacare and deferred action program for illegal immigrants.

Turley said Congress must take action to regain their power as the “thumping heart of our system.”

“The fact is, we’re stuck with each other,” Turley said. “Whether we like it or not in a system of shared powers. For better or worse we may deadlock, we maybe despise each other. The framers foresaw such periods, they lived in such a period.”

via ‘The Imperial Presidency’ | Washington Free Beacon.

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CBS : 59 percent of Americans disappointed in Obama presidency

President Obama’s approval rating has dipped to 41 percent, and a full 59 percent polled said they were “disappointed” in his performance, CBS Evening News reported Wednesday.

CBS reports:

Disappointment with Barack Obama’s presidency has grown since the summer of 2012, and much of that rise has been among independents. Forty percent of independents say they are very disappointed today, up from 27 percent in August 2012.

President Obama’s overall approval rating is now 41 percent, a dip of five points from last month and similar to what it was in December. Fifty-one percent disapprove of the job he is doing, up four points from last month.

More specifically, Mr. Obama gets low marks for his handling of both foreign policy (39 percent approve) and the economy (38 percent approve).

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New leaked recording reveals Erdoğan allegedly unhappy about $10 mln bribe

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A second audio recording, presented as the voice of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan asking his son not to accept an amount of money on offer in a business deal but to hold out for more, was published on YouTube by an anonymous poster using a pseudonym on Wednesday.

In the leaked voice recording, uploaded to YouTube and announced on Twitter by Haramzadeler, an unidentified Twitter user who has been leaking voice recordings of high-level state authorities, Erdoğan is allegedly heard talking with his son Bilal Erdoğan and telling him to reject $10 million from Sıtkı Ayan, the owner of Som Petrol, which had been granted tax-free incentives by the government to build new oil pipelines from Iran, saying that the amount was too low.

“Don’t take it. Whatever he has promised us, he should bring this. If he is not going to bring that, there is no need,” the voice on the latest recording, presented by a user under the pseudonym Haramzadeler as that of Erdoğan, says.

“The others are bringing. Why can’t he bring? What do they think this business is? … But don’t worry they will fall into our lap,” the voice says.

“We are going to check whether the tapes are fake or not and no statement is planned at the moment,” a senior government official told Reuters.

The recordings, which appeared within days of the ruling AK Party‘s official launch of a campaign for local elections at the end of March, are the latest and potentially most damaging allegations in a graft scandal that Erdoğan has cast as concocted to unseat him.

Late on Monday, his office released a statement describing the first recordings as “completely untrue and the product of an immoral montage.”

Full transcript of voice recording purportedly of Turkish PM Erdoğan and his son – Today’s Zaman, your gateway to Turkish daily news.

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Thousands across Turkey take to streets against graft, call on gov’t to resign

Protesters march during a demonstration against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in İstanbul on Tuesday. Riot police came out in force, firing water cannon and teargas to quell the protests.

Thousands of outraged people took to the streets on Tuesday evening with calls on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Cabinet to resign in response to a recently leaked voice recording allegedly of the prime minister instructing his son to dispose of vast amounts of cash amid an ongoing and deepening corruption scandal that has implicated Erdoğan’s close associates and family.The country was shaken on Monday evening by the voice recording of what is claimed to be Erdoğan briefing his son about recent police raids and asking him to “zero” at least $1 billion in cash stashed at five hou

ses. The conversation allegedly took place on Dec. 17, 2013, the day on which police raided a number of venues as part of a corruption investigation that has implicated the sons of three ministers, businessmen, several high-level bureaucrats and the chief of a state-run bank.

The İstanbul branch of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) staged a protest against the corruption scandal in Taksim Square on Wednesday. A crowd of protesters from the CHP gathered on İstiklal Street and chanted slogans against the government, saying, “We will ‘zero’ [erase] corruption” and “There are thieves [around us].” They attempted to march into Taksim Square itself, but the police did not allow it, as they have prohibited the act of protesting there since the Gezi Park protests of June 2013. The group stopped at the end of İstiklal Street and staged their protest there, distributing fake banknotes symbolizing the money mentioned in the most recent voice recording leak.

The first speech at the protest was delivered by CHP İstanbul provincial chairman Oğuz Kaan Salıcı, followed by a speech by Mustafa Sarıgül, the CHP’s candidate for İstanbul mayor in the local elections on March 30. Sarıgül reportedly condemned a number of media outlets — excluding Halk TV — for failing to broadcast the party’s protests. During his speech, Sarıgül said that in no democratic country are people banned from staging demonstrations, promising that he will open Taksim Square to the public if elected.

Furthermore, CHP deputies attended Parliament’s General Assembly meeting on Wednesday with banners that read “Gazi mecliste Hırsızlara yer yok” (There is no place for thieves in Parliament) in protest of the voice recording.

Nearly 4 million people listened to the voice recording on YouTube over the course of one day. Thousands of people staged demonstrations to protest the government corruption scandal in 11 cities across Turkey on Tuesday evening.

Led by various civil society organizations and leftist parties, people gathered in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district to express their dismay and deepening anger over the corruption allegations sweeping across the country. Nearly 500 people gathered at 7 p.m. in central Kadıköy and started marching towards Bahariye Street, shouting “Her yer rüşvet, her yer yolsuzluk” (Bribery is everywhere, corruption is everywhere).

A group that was calling on the government to resign headed toward the Kadıköy district branch office of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). However, riot police intervened, using pressurized water, teargas and rubber bullets. The protesters responded to the police intervention by throwing firecrackers, stones and bottles. The protesters then built barricades on a number of side streets and set the barricades on fire. Police detained nine protesters during the incidents.

İstanbul’s Bakırköy district was also filled with anti-corruption demonstrators on Tuesday evening. Gathering in Özgürlük Square at 7 p.m., a group of protesters marched down İncirli Street and shouted slogans such as “Hırsız var!” (There is a thief [around us]!). The group then read a press release in front of the AK Party’s Bakırköy district branch office. After the press release, the group dispersed without incident.

Nearly 500 demonstrators shouted slogans at Gündoğdu Square in the western city of İzmir on Tuesday evening, and police tried to disperse the group with pressurized water and teargas. The police have implemented strict security measures across the city.

A group of protesters held a large-scale demonstration in Ankara on Tuesday evening. Gathering at Kuğulu Park, the group shouted anti-government slogans and tried to close Kennedy Street to traffic, but police intervened with pressurized water to disperse the crowd. The protesters escaped by dispersing into the side streets.

Short-lived tensions erupted in the province of Eskişehir on Tuesday evening when a number of pro-AK Party supporters reacted to a group of protesters shouting anti-government slogans. A shop owner, S.Ö., reacted to the protesters while they were shouting slogans and was beaten up by the group. According to media reports, S.Ö.’s head is seriously injured and he is currently being treated in a hospital. The police, who are investigating the incident, are examining security camera footage from nearby shops to identify those responsible for the assault.

Over 200 protesters shouted slogans in Sakarya province on Tuesday evening calling on the government to resign. The police did not intervene in this protest, and the group dispersed without incident.

Groups of protesters in Aydın, Antalya, Bursa, Muğla, Çanakkale, Kocaeli and Trabzon held demonstrations in which they also called on the government to resign.

In reaction to the recording, a Twitter campaign called “Hırsız Var” was launched on Tuesday evening. The campaign calls on people to write “Hırsız Var” on banknotes. Some Twitter users taking part in the campaign shared photos of their banknotes on their pages.

The public has been riveted by sordid details of the alleged corruption as more and more information is leaked via social media and the Internet, the primary sources of information for the public given the government’s tightening grip on the press.

With recent legislation concerning the Internet, the government has cemented its firm control over websites after much wrangling between political parties in Parliament, as President Abdullah Gül signed a law last week granting the executive branch almost immediate authority to block websites without a court order.

Combined with anger over government crackdowns on the press and dissenting voices, the Internet law and a controversial national intelligence bill have given more ammunition to critics of the government, who accuse the AK Party of turning Turkey into an authoritarian state and who are wary of the direction the country has taken under Erdoğan’s administration.

There is also ongoing tension at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), where a group of students clashed with police ahead of the opening of a highway in Ankara on Tuesday. Police fired teargas and water cannons to disperse several hundred people gathered in front of ODTÜ’s main gate. Erdoğan and several ministers attended the opening of “1071 Malazgirt Boulevard” on Tuesday. Students on campus chanted slogans saying, “Resign, government” and “Tayyip Erdoğan is a thief”; they even set up a roadblock. Police intervention dispersed the crowd but the students reportedly gathered again in front of the rector’s office to continue their protest.

Thousands across Turkey take to streets against graft, call on gov’t to resign – Today’s Zaman, your gateway to Turkish daily news.

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NATO Urges Intact Ukraine as Russia Holds Army Exercise

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NATO and the Obama administration made a plea for keeping post-revolutionary Ukraine in one piece as tensions mounted in the Crimea and the Kremlin ordered a test of combat readiness of nearby Russian military units.

Defense ministers of the 28-nation U.S.-led alliance called for a “sovereign, independent and stable” Ukraine, emphasizing the “principle of inviolability of frontiers.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the warning was addressed “to whom it may concern.”

Allied defense ministers issued the statement at a meeting in Brussels today after Interfax reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military drills involving around 150,000 troops in Russia’s central and western military districts, including areas bordering Ukraine.

Scuffles between Ukrainian nationalists and pro-Russian demonstrators in the Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that was part of Russia until 1954 and remains home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, underscored the unpredictable outcome of the popular uprising that swept away Ukraine’s president last week.

“NATO is trying to send a very strong message that Russia should be very careful and not intervene in Ukraine,” Jan Techau, head of the Brussels office of the Carnegie Endowment and a former research adviser at the NATO Defense College in Rome, said by telephone. “It’s telling the Russians that there will be a very high price if they do intervene. It’s a unified Western message.”

Soviet Collapse

Russia notified western governments of the military drills via the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna. Rasmussen said he learned of the maneuvers during today’s meeting. “I suppose the Russians have lived up to all their obligations as regards transparency,” he said.

Ukraine, home to 45 million people, has been caught between Russia and the West since the dissolution of the Soviet Union made it independent in 1991. Putin in 2008 blunted an effort by Ukraine’s then pro-western government to seek NATO membership and is trying to bind it to his planned Eurasian economic union.

Last week’s ouster of Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych set back Putin’s designs and left a divided Ukrainian opposition to form a government to steer the country away from economic calamity and try to better ties with the West without alienating Russia.

‘Outside Actors’

U.S. officials stressed non-interference. Traveling with President Barack Obama to Minnesota, Josh Earnest, deputy White House press secretary, told reporters that “outside actors” must “end provocative rhetoric and actions.”

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Russia to live up to a commitment to respect Ukraine’s independence, saying it would be a leading beneficiary of a democratic, economically restored Ukraine.

“We’re hoping that Russia will not see this as a sort of a continuation of the Cold War,” Kerry said on MSNBC, according to a transcript. “This is not Rocky IV, believe me.”

Russian rhetoric veered between reaffirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity and preparing for military contingencies. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia will gird for “crisis situations, posing a danger to the country’s military security,” Interfax reported. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said the plans and timing for the drills weren’t triggered by events in Ukraine, Interfax reported.

Whether Ukraine holds together will hinge on Crimea, site of the port that has been a key Russian naval and trading lifeline since the age of the tsars. Demonstrators for and against a referendum on becoming part of Russia faced off today in the regional capital, Simferopol.

Techau of the Carnegie Endowment questioned whether Russia’s military has the strength to intervene in a country of Ukraine’s size. Putin’s main goal, he said, is to maintain influence by “stirring up fears and resentment among Russian speakers in Ukraine.”

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U.S. warns Russia against Ukraine intervention

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WASHINGTON/KIEV : The U.S. warned Russia Wednesday it would be a “grave mistake” to intervene militarily in Ukraine, after President Vladimir Putin put 150,000 combat troops on high alert for war games near the turmoil-ridden country.

“For a country that has spoken out so frequently … against foreign intervention in Libya, in Syria and elsewhere, it would be important for them to heed those warnings as they think about options in the sovereign nation of Ukraine and I don’t think there should be any doubt whatsoever that any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge – a grave mistake,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a small group of reporters.

Moscow denied that the previously unannounced drill in the western military district near Ukraine was linked to events in its neighbor but it came amid a series of increasingly strident statements about the fate of Russian citizens and interests.

With the political turmoil hammering Ukraine’s economy, the central bank said it would no longer intervene to shield the hryvnia currency, which tumbled 4 percent and is now down a fifth since Jan. 1. The abrupt abandonment of Ukraine’s currency peg sent ripples to Russia where the ruble fell to five-year lows and bank shares fell.

Also, thousands of ethnic Russians, who form the majority in Ukraine’s Crimea region, demonstrated for independence and scuffled with rivals supporting the new Kiev authorities.

One person died in the Crimea protest, apparently of a heart attack during a crush of the crowd, Interfax news agency reported. A Reuters correspondent on the scene reported surging crowds and scuffles but no major violence.

In Kiev, protest leaders named former Economy Minister Arseny Yatseniuk as their choice to head a new national unity government.

NATO defense ministers, meeting in Brussels, issued a statement supporting “Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, and the principle of inviolability of frontiers.”

Their statement made no direct mention of the Russian war games.

The Russian and German foreign ministers, meanwhile, called for steps to improve security, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The importance of taking urgent measures to restore law and order and to immediately cease violence was stressed,” it said in a statement after Sergey Lavrov and Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke by telephone. “Agreeing on the need for close monitoring of ongoing events in Ukraine, the German minister argued in favor of intensive interaction between Russia and the EU on Ukraine,” the ministry said.

Russia has repeatedly expressed concern for the safety of Russian citizens in Ukraine, using language similar to statements that preceded its invasion of Georgia in 2008.

“In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on alert at 2 p.m. today,” Interfax news agency quoted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a meeting while visiting the airborne troops in the city of Ryazan, some 100 km southeast of Moscow, Russia. President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, ordered massive exercises involving most of its military units in western Russia amid tensions in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a meeting while visiting the airborne troops in the city of Ryazan, some 100 km southeast of Moscow, Russia. President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, ordered massive exercises involving most of its military units in western Russia amid tensions in Ukraine.

Shoigu also said Russia was also “carefully watching what is happening in Crimea” and taking “measures to guarantee the safety of facilities, infrastructure and arsenals of the Black Sea Fleet,” in remarks reported by state news agency RIA.

Since Yanukovich’s downfall Friday all eyes have been on Putin, who ordered the invasion of neighboring Georgia in 2008 to protect two self-declared independent regions with many ethnic Russians and others holding Russian passports, and then recognized the regions as independent states.

Any military action in Ukraine would be far more serious – the closest the West and Russia have come to outright confrontation since the Cold War.

Despite the alarm raised by the saber-rattling, many analysts expect Putin will pull back before taking armed action.

The war games would cause tension in Ukraine and Europe but were probably for show, said Moscow-based military analyst Alexander Golts: “Any rational analysis says that Russia would get nothing out of military intervention – it would become an international outcast.”

Ukraine’s new authorities say they are worried about separatism in Crimea, the only part of Ukraine where the majority is ethnic Russian.

Demonstrators poured into the regional capital Simferopol, where the provincial parliament was debating the crisis.

Pro-Russian crowds, some cossacks in silk and lambswool hats, shouted “ Crimea is Russian!”

U.S. warns Russia against Ukraine intervention | News , International | THE DAILY STAR.

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