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Evacuation as ferry with 400+ on board catches fire en route from Greece to Italy

466 passengers and crew are being evacuated from an Italian car ferry that caught fire near a Greek island on Sunday morning. The evacuation is being complicated by strong winds and lack of places in lifeboats, according to the media.

Fire broke out on an Italian Norman Atlantic car ferry traveling from western Greece to eastern Italy at around 6.00 am local time (0400 GMT), coast guard officials said on Sunday.

“The captain has requested the evacuation of the ship, according to initial information,” spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos said.

The international evacuation effort including Italian and Albanian forces is complicated by dangerous weather conditions with strong winds blowing in the area northwest of Corfu.

The ferry has 411 passengers and 55 crew on board, as well as 222 vehicles. An official told Reuters that within the framework of the rescue operation 130 people had already been transferred from a lifeboat to a container ship that had been sailing nearby.

A Greek TV station got comments of some passengers, who dramatically described the evacuation.

They tried to lower some boats, but not all of us could get in. There is no coordination,” one said, as cited by Reuters. “It’s dark, the bottom of the vessel is on fire. We are on the bridge, we can see a boat approaching… we opened some boxes and got some life vests, we are trying to save ourselves.

Several people reportedly jumped into the water, but it is unclear whether there are any casualties. However, cold winter temperatures will lessen their chances of survival if this is the case.

Rescue helicopters and a C-130 search-and-rescue support aircraft have been sent to the scene. Seven nearby ships havebeen instructed to take passengers and crew members from the ferry, said Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, according to AP

 

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Breaking news ‘Kiev resorted to force against protesters, ignoring demands of citizens’

Breaking News

Kiev authorities have reportedly started a military operation against the anti-government protesters in eastern Ukraine. Protesters say, the troops are storming some areas with the assistance of armored vehicles.

A Ukrainian general leading the operation against protesters in the east of the country has warned that activists who refuse to lay down their arms will be “destroyed.”

“They must be warned that if they do not lay down their arms, they will be destroyed,”General Vasily Krutov, first deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) told reporters, as cited by AFP.

Krutov, recently appointed chief of the SBU’s Anti-Terrorist Center, then alleged that activists were being supported by hundreds of soldiers from the Russian army‘s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).

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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.

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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.

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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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Russia gives Ukrainian forces in Crimea ultimatum to surrender – Interfax

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and the commander of the Western Military District Anatoly Sidorov, right, walk upon arrival to watch military exercise near St.Petersburg, Russia, Monday, March 3, 2014. Putin has sought and quickly got the Russian parliament's permission to use the Russian military in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and the commander of the Western Military District Anatoly Sidorov, right, walk upon arrival to watch military exercise near St.Petersburg, Russia, Monday, March 3, 2014. Putin has sought and quickly got the Russian parliament’s permission to use the Russian military in Ukraine.

(Reuters) – Russia‘s Black Sea Fleet has told Ukrainian forces in Crimea to surrender by 5 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Tuesday or face a military assault, Interfax news agency quoted a source in the Ukrainian Defence Ministry as saying.

 

The ultimatum, Interfax said, was issued by Alexander Vitko, the fleet’s commander.

 

The ministry did not immediately confirm the report and there was no immediate comment by the Black Sea Fleet, which has a base in Crimea, where Russian forces are in control.

“If they do not surrender before 5 a.m. tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea,” the agency quoted the ministry source as saying.

 

 

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Yanukovich in Russia, to hold press-conference in Rostov-on-Don Friday – source

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Viktor Yanukovich will hold a news conference in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don at 1700 local time (1300 GMT) on Friday, reports Itar-Tass citing sources close to Ukraine’s ousted president.

The site of the event will be announced later, the agency writes.

Yanukovich vanished over the weekend and his whereabouts have so far been unknown, with rumors claiming that he could have fled to Russia, or that he was still in Crimea.

He was reportedly last seen in Crimea.

The new Ukrainian authorities – who came to power following months of violent confrontation – put Yanukovich on an international wanted list on suspicion of involvement in mass killings during the riots in Kiev.

Dozens of people were killed in clashes between armed radical protesters and security forces.

On February 22, Ukrainian MPs voted to oust Yanukovich and hold a presidential vote on May 25.

Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, held an emergency session and passed a law on the return to the 2004 constitution without the president’s approval, saying that the president had removed himself from power.

Yanukovich described the situation as a coup d’etat and said he was not going to resign, as he was a “legitimately elected president.”

On February 23, the parliament voted for its speaker, Aleksandr Turchinov, as acting president of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian leader fled Kiev at the end of the worst week of violence since protests began in November, when he refused to sign an association agreement with the EU.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general said that the president was still on the country’s soil, without giving any further details.

On Thursday Viktor Yanukovich made a statement that he still considered himself the legitimate leader of Ukraine and warned against an internal military conflict. He also asked Russia to ensure his safety against the actions of “extremists” that took power in Ukraine.

A source inside the Russian authorities told Itar-Tass news agency that his security had reportedly been ensured on Russian territory “in connection with the fact that President Yanukovich appealed to the Russian authorities”.

RT News

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Shots fired at residence of German ambassador in Athens

the German ambassador to Athens, Wolfgang Dold

ATHENS (Reuters) – Gunshots were fired at the German ambassador’s residence in Athens early on Monday, but caused no injuries or damage, police said.

At least four shots hit the outside metal gate of the residence, which lies behind a security wall on a busy street in a northern suburb of the Greek capital, police said. Investigators have collected 15 spent bullet cases so far.

The police sources said two attackers on foot were involved in the attack, which occurred at about 3.40 a.m. (0140 GMT),

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras spoke to the German ambassador to Athens, Wolfgang Dold, after the incident, a police statement said.

Anti-German rhetoric has become common among Greek opposition politicians and anti-bailout groups since the country’s international financial bailout in 2010, due to the harsh austerity policies that accompanied it.

Germany is the biggest single contributing nation to 240-billion euro financial rescue and has been pushing Athens for painful budget cuts and reforms to fix its finances.

The residence was the target of an attack in 1999, when members of the now dismantled extremist group November 17 fired a rocket that hit its roof.