Daily Archives: March 8, 2014

Female activists scuffle with Istanbul police on Int’l Women’s Day

A Turkish woman shouts in front a barricade of riot policemen as she and other protesters march towards Taksim square as part of the "International Women's Day" on March 8, 2014, in Istanbul.

A Turkish woman shouts in front a barricade of riot policemen as she and other protesters march towards Taksim square as part of the “International Women’s Day” on March 8, 2014, in Istanbul.

Some 2,000 people marched peacefully in central Istanbul on International Women’s Day, protesting the Turkish government’s policies and violence against women. A small group of protesters later clashed with officers who blocked them from Taksim Square.

The demonstrators, mostly women, marched down the city’s landmark pedestrian Istiklal Street on Saturday towards Gezi Park at Taksim Square – the cradle of last year’s massive anti-government protests.

As riot police cordoned off the area, some protesters tried to break the police line, hitting officers with the sticks of the banners they were carrying, Ruptly news agency reported. Police used shields and batons to disperse the crowd.

The protesters shouted, “Police go home, the streets are ours” and “Tayyip (Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan) run away the women are coming,” Xinhua news agency reported.

According to a survey conducted by the Turkish Health Union, more than 79 percent of respondents believe there is gender inequality in the country, which has caused poverty and disadvantages among women.

Turkish women clash with riot policemen as they march towards Taksim square as part of the “International Women’s Day” on March 8, 2014, in Istanbul.

Turkish women are blocked by a barricade of riot policemen as they march towards Taksim square as part of the “International Women’s Day” on March 8, 2014, in Istanbul.

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Malaysia Airlines : four passengers’ identities under investigation

No trace of plane found and airline ‘fearing the worst’ as scrutiny of two passengers who travelled on stolen passports widens

Malaysia Airlines staff at a media conference in Beijing on Sunday. Photograph: Feature China/Barcroft Media

The identities of four passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight are under investigation, the country’s transport minister said on Sunday, as the company confirmed that it was “fearing the worst”.

Investigators are examining the entire passenger manifest after European diplomats said late on Saturday that two of the 227 passengers were travelling on stolen passports. Hishamuddin Hussein, who is also defence minister, said Malaysia would work with the FBI and other international agencies and that two more names were being checked.

“All the four names are with me,” he said, according to Reuters.

He spoke as the multinational hunt for any sign of the Malaysia Airlines flight missing with 239 people on board widened on Sunday, with officials saying search and rescue teams had so far found no trace of it.

Hishammuddin also said there was a chance the aircraft had turned back in mid-air.

“We are looking at the possibility of an aircraft air turn back, in which case different locations will have to be identified,” he said.

Citizens from 14 nations were on board, though the vast majority were Chinese. The 12-strong flight crew were all from Malaysia.

On Saturday night, diplomats confirmed that two Europeans listed on the passenger manifest – an Italian, Luigi Maraldi and an Austrian, Christian Kozel – had not been on the flight and were safe and well. Maraldi had his passport stolen in Thailand last year and Kozel’s was stolen in the region two years ago.

The flight was a codeshare with China Southern and the two people named as Maraldi and Kozel on the list booked together via the Chinese airline, Chinese media reported.

The company said it had CCTV footage of the two people who checked in as Maraldi and Kozel.

The Boeing 777 disappeared from radar screens just 40 minutes into its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in the early hours of Saturday morning. It was last detected over the seas between Malaysia and Vietnam.

On Sunday morning the Malaysian director-general of civil aviation, Azaruddin Abdul Rahman, told reporters the search had expanded to a larger area of the South China Sea area and west coast of Malaysia, the Straits Times reported.

Warships from Singapore and China were heading to the area and the United States also offered vessels and aircraft.

In a statement issued on Sunday morning, Malaysia Airlines said: “More than 24 hours after the loss of contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the search and rescue teams are still unable to detect the whereabouts of the missing aircraft.

“In fearing for the worst, a disaster recovery management specialist from Atlanta, USA will be assisting Malaysia Airlines in this crucial time.”

An earlier statement began with the words: “Malaysia Airlines humbly asks all Malaysians and people around the world to pray for flight MH370.”

Vietnam’s deputy transport minister, Pham Quy Tieu, said no wreckage had been seen in the vicinity of two oil slicks detected late on Saturday, but that the search continued.

The pilot of another flight told a Malaysian newspaper he had made brief contact with the plane via his emergency frequency, at the request of Vietnamese aviation authorities who had been unable to reach it as expected. Vietnam has said it believes the flight never entered its airspace.

The unnamed man said his Japan-bound plane was deep into Vietnamese airspace when officials asked him to relay to MH370 to establish its position, and that he succeeded at about 1.30am local time.

“The voice on the other side could have been either Captain Zaharie [Ahmad Shah, 53,] or Fariq [Abdul Hamid, 27], but I was sure it was the co-pilot.

“There were a lot of interference … static … but I heard mumbling from the other end.

“That was the last time we heard from them, as we lost the connection,” he told the New Straits Times.

He sakd he did not think any more of it at the time, as losing connections was common.

Malaysia Airlin

es executives have said the flight was at 35,000 feet when it vanished and had given no indication of problems when last in contact.

William Waldock, who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical university in Arizona, told Associated Press the lack of a distress call ‘‘suggests something very sudden and very violent happened”.

Both Malaysia Airlines and Boeing-777s have strong safety records.

CNN reported that an FBI team was flying to Malaysia to assist in the investigation because three Americans were on board. It cited an unnamed official.

via Malaysia Airlines: four passengers’ identities under investigation | World news | theguardian.com.

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Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight: Stolen Passports Deepen Mystery

U.S. officials are working to find out as much as possible about two apparently stolen passports connected with the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished this morning near Vietnam.

Confirmation of the safety of two passengers, one Italian and one Austrian national, whose names appeared on the plane’s passenger manifest but were not in fact on board the flight, has added to the mystery surrounding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which was carrying 239 people.

The fact that there were apparently two males on board the flight posing as an Austrian and an Italian is tantalizing and suspicious, and could be meaningful, or it could have nothing at all to do with what happened to the plane, sources said.

An Austrian Foreign Ministry press spokesperson confirmed via Twitter today that the Austrian passenger supposedly on the flight was in fact “safe and sound in Austria,” and had his passport stolen in 2012.

Meanwhile, an Italian Foreign Ministry press office official told ABC News that no Italian was on the plane. The parents of Italian Luigi Maraldi, whose name is also on the passenger manifest, told Italian TV station RAI that their son had called them early this morning from Thailand where he is vacationing. Maraldi’s passport was stolen about a year ago while he was on vacation in Thailand, his parents said.

Official sources told ABC News today they are investigating the two stolen passports and hoping that the Malaysian airport has security cameras that recorded passengers headed to the flight. Those images can be compared to various databases, provided they exist and the Malaysians will share them.

Flight path of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China

The U.S. government is also planning to review all the names of passengers and crew on the flight manifest, sources said. The names, which are available through open source, will be run through all relevant terrorism and criminal databases the government has access to. A formal request may have already been made through the TSA or State Department, one official said.

U.S. officials emphasized that there is no evidence of terrorism, but it is conducting the review to check for any potential leads. They are not ruling anything out at this stage, especially considering so few facts have been revealed in the case and no wreckage has been recovered, sources said.

Authorities volunteered tonight that stolen passports and counterfeit passports are often used for drug smuggling in that area of the world.

Meanwhile, a massive search and rescue operation is currently under way for the Boeing 777-200 aircraft, more than 24 hours after air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane.

Boeing 777: 1 of the Most Popular, Safest Jets

A spokesman for Malaysia Airlines said Friday that the passengers included travelers from America, Canada, Britain, Australia, France, India, the Netherlands, Russia and several other countries.

“An international search and rescue mission from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam was mobilized this morning. At this stage, they have failed to find evidence of any wreckage. The sea mission will continue overnight while the air mission will recommence at daylight,” Malaysia Airlines said in a statement posted on its website at 2 a.m. local time Sunday.

The three Americans on board the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing in Southeast Asia have been identified as Philip Wood, 51; Nicolechd Meng, 4; and Yan Zhang, 2, according to the flight’s manifest.

The Vietnamese government reported today that air force pilots spotted large oil slicks off the country’s southern coast, according to The Associated Press. There was no confirmation that the slicks were related to the missing plane, but the statement said the slicks were consistent with the kinds expected to be left by a crashed jetliner.

China has dispatched two maritime rescue ships and the Philippines deployed three air force planes and three navy patrol ships to help. The Navy’s USS Pinckney is also on its way to help the search effort, the 7th Fleet announced on Twitter this morning.

Flight MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:55 a.m. local time Saturday, and was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m., the airline said. It went missing two hours into the flight and disappeared off the radar.

The plane’s route would take the aircraft from Malaysia across to Vietnam and China. Vietnam said on its official website that its air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane “in Ca Mau province airspace before it had entered contact with Ho Chi Minh City air traffic control.” Ca Mau is near the southern tip of Vietnam.

The plane was meant to transfer to Ho Chi Minh City air traffic control at 1722 GMT but never appeared, the statement said, citing a senior Ministry of Defense official.

Malaysia’s defense minister told a news conference, “We are trying to do everything in our power to [determine] where the plane is.”

Malaysia Airlines said the captain of the airliner, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was an experienced 53-year-old pilot who had 18,365 hours of flying since joining the airline in 1981. The first officer on the flight was identified as Fariq Hamid, 27, and had about 2,800 flight hours since 2007.

Meanwhile, the flight information board at the airport in Beijing indicated the flight was delayed.

An airport official wrote on a white board near the arrivals customer service desk that families of the missing passengers should go to the Lido Hotel. The notice was put up about four hours after the plane was overdue.

“Friends and families should go to the Lido Hotel for more information,” Eric Yangchao, customer service representative for Beijing International Airport, told ABC News. Family members took a shuttle bus to the hotel.

In a statement on Twitter, Boeing said it was watching the situation closely. The Malaysian aircraft, a Boeing 777-200, is 11 years and 10 months old. The 777 model had not had a fatal crash in its 20-year history until the Asiana crash in San Francisco in July 2013.

via Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight: Stolen Passports Deepen Mystery – ABC News.

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Man-portable air defense systems could be stolen in Ukraine amid turmoil

Mobile missile set 9K38 Igla operator engaged in tactical training exercises

Highly dangerous type of weaponry – man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs) – have gone missing from two Ukrainian military units, according to a high-ranking official in Kiev.

Several, and maybe even several dozen 9K38 Igla (Needle) air defense systems (SA-18 Grouse in NATO’s classification) have been stolen, a Ukrainian military official, who wished to remain anonymous, told RIA Novosti.

The shortage was, according to him, registered in Ukraine’s 80th airmobile regiment, which had 54 MANPADs, and the 27th airmobile brigade, stationed 45 km away from Lvov, which possessed 90 Iglas.

The new leadership of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry is, according to the RIA source, taking measures to “camouflage the grave situation” by adding old and experimental items of the weapon to the stockpile.

The Igla MANPADs are designed to strike down low-flying targets. Their distribution is regulated by a number of international agreements since it’s highly undesirable that this type of weapon gets into the hands of terrorists. Russia and the US have an agreement on MANPADs’ distribution.

A large number of such weaponry was reported stolen from a military base in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, following the coup, which saw Muammar Gaddafi overthrown and killed.

There later appeared reports that Libyan MANPADs could have been obtained by insurgents, fighting against Assad in Syria.

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Egypt passes presidential election law

President Adly Mansour

Interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour announced a presidential election law on Saturday, setting the stage for polls to take place later this year to elect a new president to replace ousted leader Mohamed Morsi. The election is seen as a major step to restore order and stability in Egypt after the military deposed of Mosrsi in July. Army chief Abdel Fattah Sisi has emerged as Egypt’s most popular political figure but has not yet announced his candidacy, though his aides have confirmed that he intends to run.

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7 Reasons Why America Will Never Go To War Over Ukraine

U.S. Marine Corps vehicle during amphibious assault exercise.

U.S. Marine Corps vehicle during amphibious assault exercise.

Michael Peck – Forbes

America is the mightiest military power in the world. And that fact means absolutely nothing for the Ukraine crisis. Regardless of whether Russia continues to occupy the Crimea region of Ukraine, or decides to occupy all of Ukraine, the U.S. is not going to get into a shooting war with Russia.

This has nothing to do with whether Obama is strong or weak. Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan would face the same constraints. The U.S. may threaten to impose economic sanctions, but here is why America will never smack Russia with a big stick:

Russia is a nuclear superpower. Russia has an estimated 4,500 active nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Unlike North Korea or perhaps Iran, whose nuclear arsenals couldn’t inflict substantial damage, Russia could totally devastate the U.S. as well as the rest of the planet. U.S. missile defenses, assuming they even work, are not designed to stop a massive Russian strike.

For the 46 years of the Cold War, America and Russia were deadly rivals. But they never fought. Their proxies fought: Koreans, Vietnamese, Central Americans, Israelis and Arabs. The one time that U.S. and Soviet forces almost went to war was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Neither Obama nor Putin is crazy enough to want to repeat that.

Russia has a powerful army. While the Russian military is a shadow of its Soviet glory days, it is still a formidable force. The Russian army has about 300,000 men and 2,500 tanks (with another 18,000 tanks in storage), according to the “Military Balance 2014″  from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Its air force has almost 1,400 aircraft, and its navy 171 ships, including 25 in the Black Sea Fleet off Ukraine’s coast.

U.S. forces are more capable than Russian forces, which did not perform impressively during the 2008 Russo-Georgia War. American troops would enjoy better training, communications, drones, sensors and possibly better weapons (though the latest Russian fighter jets, such as the T-50, could be trouble for U.S. pilots). However, better is not good enough. The Russian military is not composed of lightly armed insurgents like the Taliban, or a hapless army like the Iraqis in 2003. With advanced weapons like T-80 tanks, supersonic AT-15 Springer anti-tank missiles, BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launchers and S-400 Growler anti-aircraft missiles, Russian forces pack enough firepower to inflict significant American losses.

Ukraine is closer to Russia. The distance between Kiev and Moscow is 500 miles. The distance between Kiev and New York is 5,000 miles. It’s much easier for Russia to send troops and supplies by land than for the U.S. to send them by sea or air.

The U.S. military is tired. After nearly 13 years of war, America’s armed forces need a breather. Equipment is worn out from long service in Iraq and Afghanistan, personnel are worn out from repeated deployments overseas, and there are still about 40,000 troops still fighting in Afghanistan.

The U.S. doesn’t have many troops to send. The U.S. could easily dispatch air power to Ukraine if its NATO allies allow use of their airbases, and the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush and its hundred aircraft are patrolling the Mediterranean. But for a ground war to liberate Crimea or defend Ukraine, there is just the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit sailing off Spain, the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Germany and the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

While the paratroopers could drop into the combat zone, the Marines would have sail past Russian defenses in the Black Sea, and the Stryker brigade would probably have to travel overland through Poland into Ukraine. Otherwise, bringing in mechanized combat brigades from the U.S. would be logistically difficult, and more important, could take months to organize.

The American people are tired. Pity the poor politician who tries to sell the American public on yet another war, especially some complex conflict in a distant Eastern Europe nation. Neville Chamberlain’s words during the 1938 Czechoslovakia crisis come to mind: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

America‘s allies are tired. NATO sent troops to support the American campaign in Afghanistan, and has little to show for it. Britain sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and has little to show for it. It is almost inconceivable to imagine the Western European public marching in the streets to demand the liberation of Crimea, especially considering the region’s sputtering economy, which might be snuffed out should Russia stop exporting natural gas. As for military capabilities, the Europeans couldn’t evict Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi without American help. And Germans fighting Russians again? Let’s not even go there.

This doesn’t mean that war is impossible. If Russia invades the Baltic States to “protect” their ethnic Russian minorities, the guns could indeed roar. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO members. What would Ronald Reagan have done if the Soviets had invaded West Germany? Barack Obama would face more or less the same question in a Baltic crisis, or if a Ukraine conflict spills over into fellow NATO member Poland.

However, talk of using military force against Russia over Ukraine is just talk. It will stay that way.

via 7 Reasons Why America Will Never Go To War Over Ukraine – Forbes.

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US warship in Black Sea as Ukraine’s Crimea readies for referendum

The “USS Truxtun” destroyer

US Navy destroyer, the USS Truxtun, has crossed Turkey’s Bosphorus and entered the Black Sea. With the Crimea Peninsula getting ready to hold a referendum on independence from Ukraine in a week, the US is ramping up its military presence in the region.

USS Truxton is heading to “previously planned” training exercises with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies, AFP reported earlier. At the same time, Fox News declared that NATO’s bolstering presence in the Black Sea is a “defensive” measure to counter “Russian military aggression” in Ukraine.

Facts you need to know about Crimea and why it’s in turmoil

Russia’s 25,000-troop allowance & other facts you may not know about Crimea

USS Truxton, with a crew of about 300, is an Arleigh Burke class destroyer equipped with the Aegis combat system, which integrates the ship’s radar, sensors and missile weapons to engage anti-ship missile threats. The warship is part of the USS George W. Bush Carrier Strike Group currently stationed in Greece. The carrier is not expected to move into the Black Sea in respect of the Montreux Convention of 1936, which closed Turkish Bosphorus and Dardanelles for ships with deadweight over 45,000 tons. With its 97,000 tons, the USS George W. Bush is the world’s largest warship.

USS Truxton has taken up the baton of American military presence in the region from frigate USS Taylor, which ran aground in the Turkish port of Samsun in the Black Sea last month, with a broken propeller hub and blades. On Friday, a tugboat began to tow the damaged warship to Greece’s island of Crete, where it will be repaired at the US Navy base in Souda Bay.

USS Truxton will reportedly stay in the Black Sea till mid-March. The Montreux Convention allows a warship of any non-Black Sea country to stay in the region for 21 day only.

During the military conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, an American ship was also present in the Black Sea with reconnaissance and an officially proclaimed humanitarian mission. In September 2008, the US costal guard ship, Dallas, docked at Sevastopol harbor with a secret mission and had to leave in haste because of mass local protest.

Given the present conditions, an American battleship is highly unlikely to get anywhere near the Crimea shores, let alone Sevastopol, without a risk of repeating a hasty exit from the past.

On February 12, 1988, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, the USS Yorktown, and a Spruance-class destroyer, the USS Caron, had to flee from Soviet territorial waters off the Crimean Peninsula. After the two American warships ignored the Soviet Navy’s demands to leave country’s territorial waters immediately, the Soviet frigate, Bezzavetny, simply rammed both American ships, forcing them to comply with international maritime rules.

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For First Time, Kremlin Signals It Is Prepared to Annex Crimea

MOSCOW — Russia signaled for the first time on Friday that it was prepared to annex the Crimea region of Ukraine, significantly intensifying its confrontation with the West over the political crisis in Ukraine and threatening to undermine a system of respect for national boundaries that has helped keep the peace in Europe and elsewhere for decades.

Leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said that they would support a vote by Crimeans to break away from Ukraine and become a region of the Russian Federation, ignoring sanction threats and warnings, from the United States and other countries, that a vote for secession would violate Ukraine’s Constitution and international law. The Russian message was yet another in a series of political and military actions undertaken over the past week that outraged the West, even while the Kremlin’s final intentions remained unclear.

As new tensions flared between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Crimea, the moves by Russia raised the specter of a protracted conflict over the status of the region, which Russian forces occupied last weekend, calling into question not only Russia’s relations with the West but also post-Cold War agreements on the sovereignty of the nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The developments underscored how quickly the crisis has evolved. Earlier this week, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had said he did not foresee the possibility of the Crimean Peninsula becoming part of Russia. But on Friday, Russia’s parliamentary leaders, both strong allies of Mr. Putin, welcomed a delegation from Crimea’s regional assembly and declared that they would support a vote to break away from Ukraine, now scheduled for March 16.

The referendum has been denounced by the fledgling national government in Kiev, which said it would invalidate the outcome and dissolve the Crimean Parliament. President Obama has also rejected the referendum, and the United States government announced sanctions on Thursday in response to Russia’s de facto military occupation.

Russia denounced those sanctions in a blunt rejoinder on Friday evening, posted on the Foreign Ministry website. The statement said that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, had spoken by telephone with Secretary of State John Kerry and warned that “hasty and ill-considered steps” to impose sanctions on Russian officials “would inevitably backfire on the United States itself.”

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry would soon meet again. A senior State Department official traveling with Mr. Kerry, who was flying back to Washington after a trip to Europe and the Middle East, confirmed that Mr. Kerry had spoken with Mr. Lavrov, but that it was unclear when they would meet again.

The Russians also sent menacing economic signals to the financially ailing interim central government in Kiev, which Russia has refused to recognize. Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, which supplies Ukraine with most of its gas, warned that it might shut off supplies unless Ukraine paid $1.89 billion owed to the company.

“We cannot deliver gas for free,” Russian news agencies quoted Gazprom’s chief executive, Alexei Miller, as saying.

Gazprom cut off gas to Ukraine for nearly two weeks in January 2009, causing severe economic problems for Ukraine and for other European customers who were dependent on supplies delivered through Ukraine.

Valentina I. Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council, compared the planned referendum in Crimea to Scotland’s scheduled vote on whether to become independent from Britain. She did not mention that the national government in Britain had agreed to hold a referendum, while the Ukrainian government has not.

The speaker of the Russian lower house, Sergei Y. Naryshkin, echoed Ms. Matviyenko’s remarks. “We will respect the historic choice of the people of Crimea,” he said.

Their assertions came a day after Crimea’s regional assembly voted in a closed session to secede from Ukraine and apply to join the Russian Federation, and to hold a referendum for voters in the region to ratify the decision. On Friday, a delegation of lawmakers from Crimea arrived in Moscow to lay the groundwork for joining Russia, strongly supported by senior lawmakers.

In another telling sign of Russian government support, the Crimean delegates were cheered at an officially sanctioned rally in central Moscow that was shown at length on Russian state television, with songs and chants of “Russia, Moscow, Crimea.” News agencies quoted the police as saying 60,000 people attended.

Even if the referendum proceeds, it was unclear what would happen next, given the wide gap between the positions of Russia and the West — most notably between Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama, who spoke for an hour by phone on Thursday night.

According to the White House, Mr. Obama urged Mr. Putin to authorize direct talks with Ukraine’s new government, permit the entry of international monitors and return his forces to the bases that Russia leases in Crimea.

In a statement, the Kremlin offered a starkly different account of the phone call, emphasizing Russia’s view that the new government in Kiev had no authority because it was the result of what Mr. Putin called an anticonstitutional coup last month that had ousted Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin president.

The official Russian account of the phone call went on to say that the current Ukrainian leadership had imposed “absolutely illegitimate decisions” on the eastern and southeastern regions of the country, where pro-Russian sentiment is widespread. “Russia cannot ignore appeals connected to this, calls for help, and acts appropriately, in accordance with international law,” the statement said.

In the United States, Mr. Obama was taking a wait-and-see attitude. He spoke by phone to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has been reluctant to pursue muscular sanctions against Russia because of the deep and interwoven economic relationship between the two countries. He headed to Florida for a speech on education and then a weekend off with his family, but aides promised he would be monitoring the crisis.

“We’re hopeful that in the next few days, we’ll get greater clarity about whether or not the Russians are willing to take some concrete steps toward this offramp here,” said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman.

In Kiev, anti-Russian sentiment was hardening. The Right Sector movement, a nationalist group that was important in the deadly protests last month that drove Mr. Yanukovych from power, announced that its leader, Dmytro Yarosh, would run for president. Andriy Tarasenko, chairman of its local branch, also said the group was prepared to fight, in Crimea and elsewhere, “if the Kremlin tramples on us further.”

With Washington and Moscow trading heated accusations of hypocrisy on the issue of respecting state sovereignty, validating Crimea’s secession would carry pointed political risks for Mr. Putin, given longstanding demands for independence from Russia by its own similarly autonomous republics in the Caucasus, including Dagestan and Chechnya.

Michael A. McFaul, a former American ambassador to Russia, noted the parallel in a sharp post on Twitter. “If Russian government endorses Crimean referendum,” Mr. McFaul wrote, using abbreviations needed for a 140-character limit, “will they also allow/endorse similar votes in republics in the Russian Federation?”

The West, which has insisted that the Ukrainian people are entitled to decide their future without interference from Russia, faces similar challenges as it seeks to explain why the people of Crimea should not necessarily decide their own fate.

The United States and its European allies typically support self-determination, but have opposed independence for regions within their own borders, like Scotland in Britain or Catalonia in Spain.

There was no sign on Friday that Russian armed forces were relaxing their tight clench on the Crimean Peninsula, with military bases surrounded and border crossings under strict control. There were news reports late Friday that pro-Russian militants had smashed through the gates of a Ukrainian Air Force base in the port of Sevastopol housing 100 Ukrainian troops, but that no shots had been fired. There were also reports that a number of Ukrainian journalists had been beaten by masked attackers and were missing.

For the second consecutive day, an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the 57-member organization that includes both Ukraine and Russia, was prevented from entering Crimea at a checkpoint blocked by armed men.

Astrid Thors, an envoy from the group who had gone to Crimea earlier in the week, said in a telephone interview from Amsterdam that she had faced noisy, threatening crowds chanting pro-Russian slogans during her visit and had been forced to leave. Ms. Thors, the group’s high commissioner for national minorities, said she could have experienced the sort of predicament faced by a senior United Nations diplomat, Robert H. Serry, who was chased out of Crimea by gunmen earlier this week.

“There was a risk the same could happen, that our movement could be hindered by the crowds,” Ms. Thors said. “We took precautionary principles. We shortened our stay.”

For First Time, Kremlin Signals It Is Prepared to Annex Crimea – NYTimes.com.

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بكين : سنعمل ما بوسعنا لتعزيز الشراكة الاستراتيجية مع روسيا

قال وزير الخارجية الصيني وانغ يي إن الصين ستعمل ما بوسعها لتعزيز الشراكة الاستراتيجية الشاملة بين موسكو وبكين

وأضاف الوزير في مؤتمر صحفي عقده على هامش دورة مجلس نواب الشعب الصيني (أعلى هيئة تشريعية في البلاد) أن العلاقات بين البلدين تشهد حاليا أفضل مرحلة لتطويرها في تاريخ البلدين وتتميز بمستوى عال من الثقة ووتائر عالية لنمو التعاون في مختلف المجالات وبالدعم المتبادل. وأكد يي أن رئيسي البلدين أقاما علاقات صداقة عميقة بينهما، مشير إلى أهمية هذا الواقع لتطوير العلاقات الثنائية

وفي معرض حديثه عن الاتجاهات الرئيسية للشراكة الثنائية في عام 2014 أشار الوزير إلى أنها ستتطور كشراكة استراتيجية شاملة، مضيفا أن تعميق الثقة السياسية وتنشيط الحوار الاستراتيجي سيكونان هدفين رئيسين العام الجاري. وأكد الوزير الصيني أن بلاده ستبذل قصارى جهدها للوصول بالتعاون في المجالات التطبيقية إلى مستوى جديد واتخاذ خطوات جديدة في المشاريع الكبيرة المشتركة. كما ذكر أن الصين تخطط لتنظيم عام للتبادل الشبابي مع روسيا، الأمر الذي سيسهم على حد قوله بقسط في تطوير علاقات الصداقة و”تعميق القاعدة الاجتماعية للعلاقات الروسية الصينية”. كما وصف بالمهمة الهامة للعلاقات الثنائية “الدفاع المشترك عن نتائج الحرب العالمية الثانية والنظام الدولي بعد هذه الحرب” وكذلك المشاركة المشتركة للبلدين في التحضير لاحتفالات الذكرى السبعين للانتصار على النازية في الحرب العالمية الثانية ومواجهة الصين للعدوان الياباني


Malaysia airlines flight carrying 239 people crashed into the sea

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries as she talks on her mobile phone Saturday at the Beijing Capital International Airport.

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries as she talks on her mobile phone Saturday at the Beijing Capital International Airport.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 carrying 239 people crashed into the sea, reports Vietnamese state media citing a Navy official. The craft disappeared from radars early on Saturday morning over Vietnamese airspace.

Vietnamese state media said the plane came down close to Vietnam’s Tho Chu Island, however these reports have not yet been confirmed by Malaysia Airlines.

Malaysia Airlines said flight MH370 lost touch with Subang Air Traffic Control around 02:40 local time Saturday morning

The aircraft left Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 00:41 and was expected to land in Beijing at 06:30 local time (22:30 GMT).

Despite local news reports, Vietnamese and Malaysian rescue crews have not located the plane’s signal, but Hanoi believes the craft disappeared in Vietnamese airspace.

“We have been seeking but no signal from the plane yet,” Pham Hien, director of a Vietnam maritime search and rescue coordination center, told Reuters.

The flight was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members, the airline said in a statement.

“Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their search and rescue team to locate the aircraft,” the airline added.

There were 14 nationalities represented among the 227 passengers, according to airline officials. Passengers include 153 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, seven Australians, four Americans, and one Russian, among others.

A woman (C), believed to be the relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, covers her face as she cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing March 8, 2014.

“Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew,” Malaysia Airlines said in a further statement.“Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support.”

The last contact the plane had with air traffic controllers was 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, the airline said on Saturday. The pilot of the flight was 53-year-old Malaysian national Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah who has logged a total of 18,365 flying hours and has been working for Malaysian airlines since 1981.

China is assisting Malaysia Airlines with the search for the plane, Chinese state television reported.

“We are very worried after learning the news. We are trying to get in touch with relevant parties to check it out,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in statement.

The flight was a codeshare with China Southern Airlines.

Prior to July 2013’s deadly crash of an Asiana Airlines 777 in San Francisco, the aircraft had been one of only a few long-range jets built by Boeing and Airbus to have never recorded a fatality.

The 777 first flew in 1994, and was introduced into commercial service in 1995. Boeing had delivered 1,100 of the aircraft around the world as of last year.

“We’re closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370,” Boeing tweeted. “Our thoughts are with everyone on board.”

via Malaysia airlines flight carrying 239 people crashed into the sea – Vietnamese state media — RT News.

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