Daily Archives: March 16, 2014

About 95% of Crimeans in referendum voted to join Russia – preliminary results

People celebrate as they wait for the announcement of preliminary results of today’s referendum on Lenin Square in the Crimean capital of Simferopol March 16, 2014

Around 95 percent of voters in the Crimean referendum have answered ‘yes’ to the autonomous republic joining Russia and less than 5 percent of the vote participants want the region to remain part of Ukraine, according to preliminary results.

With around 50 percent of the votes already counted, preliminary result show that 95.5 percent of voters said ‘yes’ to the reunion of the republic with Russia as a constituent unit of the Russian Federation. In Sevastopol, the number of those who voted ‘yes’ stands at 93 percent, according to the head of the Sevastopol commission, Valery Medvedev.

The preliminary results of the popular vote were announced during a meeting in the center of Sevastopol, the city that hosts Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

The overall voter turnout in the referendum on the status of Crimea is 81,37%, according to the head of the Crimean parliament’s commission on the referendum, Mikhail Malyshev.

Over a half of the Tatars living in the port city took part in the referendum, with the majority of them voting in favor of joining Russia, reports Itar-Tass citing a representative of the Tatar community Lenur Usmanov.

About 40% of Crimean Tatars went to polling stations on Sunday, the republic’s prime minister Sergey Aksyonov said.

In Simferopol, the capital of the republic, at least 15,000 have gathered to celebrate the referendum in central Lenin square and people reportedly keep arriving. Demonstrators, waving Russian and Crimean flags, were watching a live concert while waiting for the announcement of preliminary results of the voting.

International observers are planning to present their final declaration on the Crimean referendum on March 17, the head of the monitors’ commission, Polish MP Mateush Piskorski told journalists. He added that the voting was held in line with international norms and standards.

Next week, Crimea will officially introduce the ruble as a second official currency along with Ukrainian hryvna, Aksyonov told Interfax. In his words, the dual currency will be in place for about six months.

Overall, the republic’s integration into Russia will take up to a year, the Prime Minister said, adding that it could be done faster. However, they want to maintain relations with “economic entities, including Ukraine,” rather than burn bridges.

Moscow is closely monitoring the vote count in Crimea, said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Karasin.

“The results of the referendum will be considered once they are drawn up,” he told Itar-Tass.

The decision to hold a referendum was made after the bloody uprising in Kiev which ousted President Vladimir Yanukovich from power. Crimea – which is home to an ethnic Russian majority population – refused to recognize the coup-appointed government as legitimate. Crimeans feared that the new leadership would not represent their interests and respect rights. Crimeans were particularly unhappy over parliament’s decision to revoke the law allowing using minority languages – including Russian – as official along with the Ukrainian tongue. Crimeans staged mass anti-Maidan protests and asked Russia to protect them.

Officials count votes of today’s referendum in the Crimean capital of Simferopol March 16, 2014

 RT News.

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Ukraine’s east on fire: Kharkov demands referendum, Donetsk prosecutor’s HQ stormed

People carry a giant Russian flag during a pro-Russian rally in Kharkiv March 16, 2014.

Demonstrators in Kharkov, north-east Ukraine, have appealed to Russia to pass to the UN their demands over a referendum on the federalization, while hundreds of protesters in Donetsk stormed a prosecutor’s office demanding to free a local “governor”.

As Crimea decides on its future in a referendum, Sunday in eastern Ukraine was marked by a fresh series of pro-Russian rallies.

In Kharkov, the country’s second-largest city, between 1,500 to 3,000 protesters gathered on the central square demanding a referendum on federalizing Ukraine.

“Our city has been Russian and will remain such albeit within Ukraine. We are ready to live in a single country but on our terms,” one of the activists, leader of Civic Platform movement Yury Apukhtin announced from a stage, as cited by Itar-Tass.

After the so-called “popular assembly”, the crowd of demonstrators – chanting pro-Russian slogans and carrying a huge 100-meter long tricolor – proceeded to Russia’s consulate general where they handed over a letter addressed to President Vladimir Putin.

Protesters, on behalf of Kharkov’s assembly, asked Putin to “guarantee their rights and freedoms” and pass to the United Nations their demands regarding a referendum on the federalization, which they plan for April 27, reported Ukrainian National News (UNN) website. Additionally, activists asked to deploy Russian peacekeepers to Kharkov region, adding that they fear for their lives and property.

The demonstrators then marched to the nearby consulate of Poland, protesting against Western interference into Ukrainian affairs.

Kharkov protesters also looted the building housing offices of radical-nationalist organizations, including the Right Sector group, reported Interfax-Ukraine. The activists broke into the building, took out books and nationalist symbols and burnt them.

Pro-Russian activists hold giant Russian flags during their rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 16, 2014.

Donetsk rally demands release of ‘people’s governor’

Several thousand pro-Russian protesters took to the streets in Donetsk, a large industrial city in eastern Ukraine.

The demonstrators demanded that the parliament, Verkhovna Rada “remove from power the illegitimate Cabinet and cancel its decision,” cited Itar-Tass. They also urge the creation of a new coalition government, the composition of which would be agreed with the people. Protesters said it was necessary to go back to the February 21 agreement on the crisis settlement, which was signed by ousted President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders and provides for early parliamentary and presidential elections.

Among other demands is giving Russian language a status of a second official tongue and an investigation of killings of law enforcers and protesters on Kiev’s Maidan Square in February.

Pro-Russian demonstrators scuffle with police during a rally in Donetsk March 16, 2014

A crowd of up to 2,000 people reportedly stormed the regional Prosecutor’s Office, demanding to free “people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev. The political activist – who was spontaneously proclaimed the governor during a demonstration on March 1 – was detained on March 6 on charges of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine, takeover of power, and seizure of government buildings.

Demonstrators broke into in the building, smashed windows, tore off and threw away the Ukrainian national flag and replaced it with Russian, according to Interfax.

Activists also reportedly entered into the office of a company owned by oligarch Sergey Taratuta, the head of the regional administration appointed to the post by Kiev authorities. Protesters stated that they consider the governor illegitimate, reported RIA Novosti. Having not found Taratuta in the building, protesters then marched to the regional administration office.

Meanwhile, Kiev sent heavy military hardware to the borders with Russia. Activists in eastern Ukraine regions, including Donetsk and Lugansk, were reportedly blocking trains delivering military equipment from the central and western parts of Ukraine.

Pro-Russian activists hold Russian flags and flags with the colours of the ribbon of Saint George, a Russian military decoration, as they storm the prosecutor’s office in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 16, 2014

Riot police stand guard in front of a regional government building as pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in Kharkiv March 16, 2014

 RT News

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Kerry to Russia: U.S. Will Not Accept Outcome of Crimea Referendum

Pro-Russian protesters hold a Russian, Crimean and Soviet flags during their rally at Lenin Square in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 16, 2014

Pro-Russian protesters hold a Russian, Crimean and Soviet flags during their rally at Lenin Square in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 16, 2014

The United States told Russia on Sunday that it would not accept the results of Crimea’s referendum on seceding from Ukraine and it continued to urge a political resolution on Moscow, a senior U.S. State Department official said.

The official, describing a telephone conversation between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday morning, the day of the Crimean vote, urged Russia to back constitutional reform in Ukraine that would protect the rights of minorities such as Crimea’s Russian-speaking population.

Kerry also said Russia must pull back its forces to their bases and raised strong concerns about Russian military activities in Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast on Saturday, as well as continuing provocations in eastern Ukraine, the official said.

In their Sunday phone conversation, Kerry appeared to be trying to sketch out a way forward for Crimea that would keep it in Ukraine, but it remained unclear if Russian President Vladimir Putin was interested in such an outcome or simply wants to cement Russian control of the region.

— Reuters

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الامن المصري يحبط محاولة تفجير أبراج الضغط العالي

احبطت أجهزة الأمن بوزارة الداخلية المصرية، بالتعاون مع الأهالي محاولة تفجير عدد من أبراج الضغط العالي بمحطة كهرباء الهرم بمحافظة الجيزة

وقالت الوزارة المصرية على صفحتها الرسمية بموقع “فيسبوك” يوم 16 مارس/آذار إن أجهزة الأمن ضبطت شخصين حال قيامهما بزرع أربع عبوات ناسفة أسفل برج كهرباء للضغط العالي بمحطة كهرباء الهرم، موضحة أن مهندسي الالغام ابطلوا مفعول العبوات الأربع

وأضافت الوزارة انه بتمشيط المنطقة تمكنت القوات من ضبط 5 عبوات أخرى في محيط الموقع كانت تستهدف أبراج الضغط العالي التي تغذي مناطق الهرم وفيصل وأبوالنمرس والحومدية ومنيل شيحه ومركز إمبابه بالكهرباء

Breaking news – About 93% of Crimeans who took part in referendum voted to join Russia – exit poll

About 93% of voters in the Crimean referendum have answered ‘yes’ to the autonomous republic joining the Russian federation and only 7% of the vote participants want the region to remain part of Ukraine, according to first exit polls.

Polling stations closed in Crimea after the referendum where residents were to decide on the future status of the region.

“The results of the referendum exit polls in Crimea and Sevastopol: 93 % voted for the reunion of Crimea with Russia as a constituent unit of the Russian Federation. 7% voted for the restoration of the 1992 constitution of the Republic of Crimea and Crimea’s status as part of Ukraine,” the Crimean republican institute for political and social researches said in a statement as cited by RIA Novosti.

A child holds the ballot of his mother during the referendum on the status of Ukraine's Crimea region at a polling station in Bakhchisaray March 16, 2014

A child holds the ballot of his mother during the referendum on the status of Ukraine’s Crimea region at a polling station in Bakhchisaray March 16, 2014

In Sevastopol, about 85% of voters cast their ballots by 1600 GMT, two hours before the polling stations closed, according to the chair of the city’s election commission Valery Medvedev.

The overall voter turnout in Crimea constituted over 80%, reports local news agency Kryminnform. In Sevastopol, about 85% of voters cast their ballots by 1600 GMT, two hours before the polling stations closed, according to the chair of the city’s election commission Valery Medvedev.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

Over a half of the Tatars living in the port city took part in the referendum, with the majority of them voting in favor of joining Russia, reports Itar-Tass citing a representative of the Tatar community Lenur Usmanov.

The preliminary results of the popular vote in Sevastopol are expected to be announced at 2030 GMT during a meeting in the center of the city that hosts Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

In Simferopol, the capital of the republic, at least 15,000 have gathered to celebrate the referendum in central Lenin square and people reportedly keep arriving. Demonstrators, waving Russian and Crimean flags, are watching a live concert and awaiting the announcement of preliminary results of the voting.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

International observers are planning to present their final declaration on the Crimean referendum on March 17, the head of the monitors’ commission, Polish MP Mateush Piskorski told journalists. He added that the voting was held in line with international norms and standards.

Next week, Crimea will officially introduce the ruble as a second official currency along with Ukrainian hryvna, Aksyonov told Interfax. In his words, the dual currency will be in place for about six months.

Overall, the republic’s integration into Russia will take up to a year, the Prime Minister said, adding that it could be done faster. However, they want to maintain relations with “economic entities, including Ukraine,” rather than burn bridges.

Moscow is closely monitoring the vote count in Crimea, said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Karasin.

The results of the referendum will be considered once they are drawn up,” he told Itar-Tass.

The decision to hold a referendum was made after the bloody uprising in Kiev which ousted President Vladimir Yanukovich from power. Crimea – which is home to an ethnic Russian majority population – refused to recognize the coup-appointed government as legitimate. Crimeans feared that the new leadership would not represent their interests and respect rights. Crimeans were particularly unhappy over parliament’s decision to revoke the law allowing using minority languages – including Russian – as official along with the Ukrainian tongue. Crimeans staged mass anti-Maidan protests and asked Russia to protect them.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

Breaking news – 95% of Crimeans in referendum voted to join Russia – preliminary results

 

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Defensive blockade: Activists stop Kiev’s military trucks heading to Russian border

Activists in eastern Ukraine in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions are blocking columns of heavy military equipment heading from Kiev to the border with Russia.

Late Thursday activists from the Donbass people’s militia blocked the way of columns with about 20 trucks carrying heavy military equipment near Donetsk heading to the Russian border, a local activist and former officer of the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry told RT.

“At about 5pm [1500 GMT], local activists called me,” said Sergey Rzhavsky. “They reported that a column [with military equipment] was situated near the town of Volovaha from the side of the Valeryanovka settlement. We, the Donbass People’s Self-Defense Units of Pavel Gubarev [the local governor, currently arrested in Kiev] promptly headed there. We saw about 20 heavy trucks there with some carrying airborne combat vehicles.”

According to Rzhavsky, the activists engaged in negotiations with the troops that lasted about an hour or two. During the negotiations, the activists found out that the trucks were heading to a polygon situated near the border with Russia for some military training, he said.

“Since we do not want fratricidal carnage, we suggested the military to refrain from using force. We were unmasked, without any means of self-defense. We asked them to turn around and leave, because the military equipment was really heavy and if the columns passed the city it would escalate tensions, [and evoke] shock and panic,” he said.

The activists and the troops, who called their superiors for guidance, came to a compromise, and the Kiev troops decided to turn around, Rzhavsky told RT.

“There were no conflicts. A lot of people gathered. They stopped and offered their help and moral support, they just wanted to express their views.”

Rzhavsky added that he knows of 58 airborne combat vehicles which are moving through the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and are heading for the eastern border.

Residents of Lugansk also stopped a train, carrying heavy military equipment, which was headed for the border Thursday. They put scrap metal on the rails to stop the train from moving any farther.

“Currently there is an escalation of different kind of extremist organizations in our region” he said, adding, “We don’t want the same developments as in Kiev.”

“All that is happening is a provocation of the extremist organizations that are attempting to undermine the situation in the region,” Rzhavsky said.

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He added that the people in eastern Ukraine are not against the country’s army, but they are calling for the politicians to sit down at the negotiating table.

“We don’t want a fratricidal war,” Rzhavsky said, adding that many in eastern Ukraine support the currently ongoing Crimea referendum on either becoming an integral part of Russia or staying within Ukraine under the conditions of broad autonomy.

via Defensive blockade: Activists stop Kiev’s military trucks heading to Russian border — RT News.

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​Crimean ‘referendum at gunpoint’ is a myth – intl observers

A woman is reflected in a mirror as she casts her ballot during voting in a referendum at a polling station in Simferopol March 16, 2014.

The referendum on Crimea’s status is going peacefully, with record-breaking turnout, international observers report. Most of them told RT that the referendum is credible and the vote of the Crimean people should be respected.

No violations at the Crimea referendum have been reported by the international observers currently present in the republic.

“It’s all quiet so far,” Mateus Psikorkski, the leader of the European observers’ mission and Polish MP told Itar-Tass. “Our observers have not registered any violations of voting rules.”

Another observer, Ewald Stadler, member of the European Parliament, dispelled the “referendum at gunpoint” myth, by saying he felt people were free to make their choice.

“I haven’t seen anything even resembling pressure,” he said. “People themselves want to have their say.”

Many were impressed by the turnout, which appeared to be so high as to have people stand in lines to get to the ballot box in the morning. The turnout for the referendum in Crimea at 17.00 local time (15.00 GMT) was 70 per cent, the referendum’s website said.

“The lines are very long, the turnout is big indeed,” a member of the international observer mission, Bulgarian parliament member Pavel Chernev, said. “Organization and procedures are 100 percent in line with the European standards,” he added.

135 international observers have arrived from 23 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia and Poland, Crimean authorities said. Among those monitoring the referendum are members of the EU and national European parliaments, international law experts and human rights activists.

‘The referendum is legitimate’

Hours before the referendum started, RT managed to speak to some of those who decided to see for themselves, who’s ballots were going to be cast.

Quite contrary to the mainstream official approach taken by the EU and the US, most of them said they believed the referendum in Crimea was legitimate.

“The US and also the EU, they only respect international law, if it’s in favor of their opinion,” Johann Gudenus, member of the city parliament of Vienna, said. “Our opinion is – if people want to decide their future, they should have the right to do that and the international community should respect that. There is a goal of people in Crimea to vote about their own future. Of course, Kiev is not happy about that, but still they have to accept and to respect the vote of people in Crimea”.

Johannes Hübner, an Austrian MP said he felt he had to come to Crimea to get the real picture of what was happening on the peninsula.

“The view we get from the American and European media is very distorted,” he said. “You get no objective information. So we decided to come here to have a look at what’s really going on and see if this referendum is credible”.

Aymeric Chauprade political scientist and geopolitician from France believes the referendum is justified by Russian and Ukrainian history.

“Yes, I think the referendum is legitimate,” he said. “We are talking about long-term history. We are talking about the Russian people, about the territories of the former USSR with artificial borders. So, I think it’s a legitimate referendum that will give opportunity for this Russian population’s reunification with Russia”.

Tatjana Ždanoka, European parliament MP, representing Latvia, says the fact that the EU and the US refuse to see the referendum as legitimate can only be explained by double standard applied by Western leaders to the situation.

“The European parliament’s resolution demands that Crimeans comply with the Ukrainian constitution and says that the referendum is against that constitution. But that’s the same as to demand Kosovars to comply with the constitution of the former Yugoslavia, which naturally never happened. Double standards are everywhere in global politics. We know it from history. We see it now”.

People line up to receive their ballots during the referendum on the status of Ukraine’s Crimea region at a polling station in Simferopol March 16, 2014.

The foreign affairs editor from Chronicles Magazine, Srdja Trifkovic, who is also an observer at the Crimean referendum has told RT that he drove from Simferopol to Yalta on Saturday and back and he “didn’t see a single barrel (of a gun) unless you count two speed traps, one on the way out and one on the way back where policemen had guns.”

“The presence of troops on the streets is virtually non-existent and the only thing resembling any such thing is the unarmed middle-aged Cossacks who are positioned outside the parliament building in Simferopol. But if you look at the people both at the voting stations and in the streets, like on Yalta’s sea front yesterday afternoon, frankly I think you would feel more tense in south Chicago or in New York’s Harlem than anywhere round here,” he said.

Trifkovic added that in regard to referendums the western powers function on the basis of situational morality and “not on any firm principle.”

“In 1991 Croatia and Slovenia held illegal referenda to secede from Yugoslavia and by the end of that year the European Union recognized them as independent states. In February of 1992 Bosnia Herzegovina held a referendum in violation of its own constitution and yet in April of that year the US rushed to recognize Bosnia, which still remains an incoherent semi state as we know. And the succession of Kosovo from Serbia has been enthusiastically supported by the United States and its west European partners. And the right to self-determination was upheld ahead of the right of a state to territorial integrity. Well, what is source for the Kosovan goose will certainly prove to be the sauce for the Crimean gander but the United States and Brussels are yet to come to terms with it.”

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Flight MH370 : last message to Malaysia sent ‘after communications disabled’

Revelation suggests person who delivered ‘All right, good night’ message from missing plane knew system had been shut down

The person in control of missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 issued their last communication to air traffic control after the first set of aircraft communications was disabled, Malaysian authorities have confirmed, adding further weight to suspicion that the plane was hijacked.

The latest revelation suggests that the person who delivered the “All right, good night” message to Kuala Lumpur air traffic controllers just before the Boeing-777 disappeared from their radar at 1.22am and diverted from its scheduled flightpath to Beijing was also aware that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (Acars) had been manually shut down.

Investigations still do not appear to know who was at the helm and what their intentions were when the aircraft disappeared from civilian radar more than a week ago.

Experts on aircraft maintenance have explained that the plane’s communications system can only be disabled manually – a process that requires switching a number of cockpit controls in sequence until a computer screen necessitates a keyboard input.

Authorities have not yet disclosed whether the person who issued the last message to controllers was Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, or co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, or an unknown third person. It is also unclear if such messages are recorded by air traffic control and are available for expert analysis to determine who the voice belongs to.

Malaysia Airlines could not be reached for comment and Malaysia’s transport ministry declined to comment.

Malaysia’s police chief, Khalid Bakar, has said authorities were investigating all crew, passengers and ground staff involved with MH370 under a penal code that includes hijacking, sabotage and terrorism. Police had questioned Zaharie’s friends and family, and dismantled and reassembled at headquarters a flight simulator Zaharie kept in his house on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Police also searched Fariq’s home, although it was unclear if anything was confiscated.

According to Malaysia Airlines, the pilot and co-pilot did not ask to fly together, reducing the probability of a co-ordinated plan between the pilots to hijack the aircraft.

Khalid told reporters that all 239 people on board – 228 passengers and 11 Malaysian crew – were being investigated for suspicious activity, but that police were waiting for background information from some of the nations whose citizens were on the plane.

Eight days after the Boeing-777 vanished, with no concrete leads on its whereabouts, investigators are now searching for the plane along two possible flight corridors from the its last known location at 2.15am last Saturday over the Malacca strait – one stretches south from Indonesia towards the Indian Ocean, a vast expanse with very little radar coverage; the other reaches north from Thailand up towards central Asia, a heavily militarised area whose airspace is carefully scrutinised.

There are 25 countries assisting in the search, said Malaysia’s defence and acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein – raising the additional challenges of co-ordinating ground, sea and aerial efforts as well as the delicate diplomatic issue of sharing significant sensitive information, from satellite data to primary and secondary radar playback, as well as any ground, sea and aerial co-ordination efforts.

“This is a significant recalibration of the search,” Hishammuddin told reporters on Sunday. “From focusing mainly on shallow seas, we are now looking at large tracts of land, crossing 11 countries, as well as deep and remote oceans.

The search was already a highly complex, multinational effort. It has now become even more difficult.”

Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, has already spoken with the heads of state of Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and India; the foreign ministry has briefed at least 22 countries regarding the new search efforts as well as any additional countries that may be able to provide assistance.

Those countries include Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia, with special assistance regarding satellite data requested from the US, China and France.

Surveillance airplanes and maritime vessels will also be needed in the search for the missing jet along the southern corridor, where the Indian Ocean can reach depths of two miles and radar coverage is patchy at best.

Malaysia Airlines has confirmed that the plane departed for Beijing with enough fuel only to reach its scheduled destination, so it would have been likely to run out after about seven hours’ flight time – if flying at normal cruising altitudes. But with reports emerging that the aircraft may have been flying at altitudes as high as 45,000ft, authorities also confirmed on Sunday that the plane need not have been flying for the duration of the period it was picked up by satellites.

The satellite “pings” that were last read at 8.11am on Saturday – six hours after Malaysian military radar last detected the aircraft over the Malacca strait at 2.15am – could still have been transmitting data from the ground, if the plane were to have landed, said Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Abdul Rahman.

“The plane can still transmit pings from the ground as long as there is electrical power,” he said.

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Yabroud in Syrian Army’s Hand, Militants Flee

الجيش السوري يتقدم باتجاه القلمون بعد مقتل قائد بـ"الجيش الحر"

Syrian Army entered the Syrian town of Yabroud in Qalamoun early on Sunday as the foreign-backed Takfiri militants free the area.

Al-Manar correspondent reported that the Syrian army was totally controling Yabroud city, adding there was great collapse within the ranks of the armed groups fighting the government forces.Yabroud

Our correspondent said the Syrian army was combing the city, noting that huge numbers of militants fled Yabroud to Rankous and Flita following the army’s operation.

He said reported that the Syrian’s army’s eye is now on Rankous and Flita, in addition to few Qalamoun farms.

The recapture of Yabroud comes a day after the Syrian army advanced further in Damascus Countryside from the northern and eastern sides, killing dozens of Takfiri terrorists.

Among the Takfiris killed on Saturday was Abu Azzam al-Kuwaiti, deputy leader of the so-called al-Nusra Front in Qalamoun city, who was leading the latest swap deal between his terrorist group and the Syrian government, which ended in liberating Maloula nuns on March 09, 2014.

via Yabroud in Syrian Army’s Hand, Militants Flee.

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Amid NSA fallout, US to relinquish top internet oversight role

American lawmakers announced Friday that the US will give up the federal government’s longstanding oversight of the administration of the Internet, satisfying international critics while potentially frightening some American business leaders.

Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, told Craig Timberg of the Washington Post that US authorities plan to either end or drastically reduce the contract between the US Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The government’s long standing agreement with the California-based non-profit is scheduled to expire next year but may be extended if the plans are not executed in a timely manner.

“The timing is right to start the transition process,” Strickling said. “We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan.”

The immediate consequence of the decision is unclear, however the federal agencies have been under intense pressure to act in some way since Edward Snowden leaked classified National security agency documents last year indicating that the intelligence agency logs and analyzes much of the communication that is transmitted through US-based websites.

As international complaints became more vocal there was speculation that the United Nations would step into a bigger role of Internet administration. A number of global leaders have advocated such a measure, although the US has never been in favor and the announcement Friday seemed to further minimize that possibility.

The government said it intends to help in the creation of a new oversight body, and that the group must have the full trust of the international community.

“I welcome the beginning of this transition process that you have outlined. The global community will be included in full,” Fadi Chehadé, president of ICANN, told the Post. “Nothing will be done in any way to jeopardize the security and stability of the Internet.”

Not all parties are as enthusiastic, though, over concerns that ICANN has not done enough to maintain a secure environment online. The organization’s primary responsibility is to supervise the assignment of online domains. It is currently in the midst of a bulky transition that includes the addition of hundreds of new domains such as .management, .army, and .expert rather than the traditional .com or .org.

A popular criticism accuses ICANN of essentially bending to the concerns of the profitable domain industry rather than regulating it.

“To set ICANN so-called ‘free’ is a very major step that should be done with careful oversight,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the association of National Advertisers. “We would be very concerned about that step.”

A Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami, told the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer that ICANN has been angling for greater independence from its federal overseers for years. In September 2009 the two parties agreed on an “Affirmation of Commitments,” which gave ICANN more power to govern itself but ensured that the US could intervene in an emergency.

“The Affirmation of Commitment was kind of a truce,” he said. “ICANN got most of what it wanted; the Europeans and Japanese got most of what they wanted; the US gave up, you know, a lot, without giving up the core thing – which is that, in case of emergency, it can step in.”

Froomkin went on to tell the magazine that, in the time since that agreement, the NSA revelations have “become a way for a lot of different agendas to meet.”

International leaders will convene in Singapore on March 24 to further deliberate over the future of the Internet.

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