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h/t: J. Lester Feder at BuzzFeed

thepoliticalfreakshow:

KIEV, Ukraine — Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned as Ukraine’s prime minister Thursday after the ruling coalition in parliament collapsed, accusing lawmakers of imperiling the nation by putting politics above urgent needs during wartime.

The resignation threw the government into disarray at a critical moment in its war against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. The Ukrainian military is in the middle of an offensive, regaining control over towns and cities that had been held by the rebels, who are being forced to recede into more defensible positions in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

One piece of legislation before parliament would authorize a budget increase to fund the expanded military campaign. Ukraine’s depleted armed forces were caught flatfooted when the rebellion in the east began, and the military has scrambled to pay for adequate training and equipment to combat the separatists.

The immediate cause of Yatsenyuk’s resignation was the decision by two major parties earlier in the day to pull out of the coalition government that took over after President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February. Yanukovych fled the country amid large and raucous protests that he was drawing Ukraine closer to Russia and away from the European Union.

The pullout of the Svoboda and Udar parties was widely viewed as a maneuver calculated to nudge reform along by allowing President Petro Poroshenko to call elections this fall, two years early.

As volunteers were combing the crash site for bodies and debris, friends and family members were trying to cope with their loss.

Many critics argue that the existing parliament, elected in 2012, is riddled with corrupt and intransigent lawmakers held over from the previous government that the protesters fought to get rid of. The parliament is viewed as particularly resistant to many electoral and government reforms that Poroshenko vowed to have enacted when sworn into office in June. The Justice Ministry is trying to ban members of the Communist Party from parliament, saying the party should be outlawed because it has supported the pro-Russian rebels.

“We believe that in the current situation, such a parliament which protects state criminals, Moscow agents, which refuses to strip immunity from those people who are working for the Kremlin, should not exist,” Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok told parliament in announcing his nationalist party’s withdrawal from the coalition.

Poroshenko signaled his approval of the coalition’s death, swiftly issuing a statement that the collapse demonstrates that “the society wants a complete reload of state power.”

But the end of the coalition, Yatsenyuk said, means parliament would be politically hobbled as it tries to pass needed laws such as the budget increase and controversial government reforms.

“Who wants to go to elections and simultaneously vote for unpopular laws?” he said in announcing his resignation in parliament. “Putting narrow political interests above the future of the nation is impermissible. It is a moral and ethical crime.”

Yegor Firsov, a lawmaker from Donetsk who is in the Udar party, said that the faction was prepared to support government initiatives on reforms and more funding for the military and that he was surprised Yatsenyuk attributed his resignation to government paralysis.

“Now, it’ a kind of a vacuum,” Firsov said. Noting that Friday is a day set aside for cabinet ministers to ask questions of the prime minister, he said, “maybe he will change his mind and come to us.”

Meanwhile, artillery explosions could be heard around Donetsk on Thursday, a day after separatists fighting the Kiev government claimed responsibility for shooting down two warplanes near where a passenger airliner crashed last week after being struck by a missile. The most intense fighting appeared to be coming from a contested area near the city’s airport. Despite the clashes, Australia’s leader said Thursday that he was readying a policing team of 50 officers who he hopes will join an eventual United Nations mission to secure the airliner’s crash site, which is about 40 miles east of Donetsk.

The attack on the warplanes came just six days after the Malaysia Airlines disaster, which has drawn international outrage and showcased the advanced firepower that apparently is available on the ground in the region. The Ukrainian military said Wednesday that the two Sukhoi Su-25 strike aircraft were flying at nearly 17,000 feet — an altitude that is out of the reach of the shoulder-fired missiles that the rebels said they had used to down the jets. Neither the government’s nor the rebels’ claims could be verified.

Ukraine has accused Russia of supplying fresh firepower to rebels over the porous border between the two countries in recent days, even as international attention has focused on a possible Russian role in the attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Although the details of Wednesday’s incident remained unclear, it was a sign that the rebels may still be able to inflict significant damage on the Ukrainian military, whose major advantage over its rivals is in the air.

Countries whose citizens were among the 298 people killed in the crash of Flight 17 began to discuss how to secure and investigate the debris site, which has been left almost completely unguarded in recent days.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday that he has sent 50 police officers to London to prepare for a potential U.N. mission that would deploy at the final resting place of the Boeing 777.

“We are ready to deploy Australian police to Ukraine to help secure the site as part of an international team under United Nations authority,” Abbott said in Canberra, the Associated Press reported.

The pilots of the two Su-25 jets, which were among four planes that were fired upon as they were returning from a mission near the Russian border, are thought to have bailed out over rebel-held territory. Their conditions and whereabouts were unknown, and both the rebels and the government said they had initiated search missions.

“We shot them down with MANPADS,” said rebel spokesman Sergey Kavtaradze, referring to shoulder-fired missiles that can reach a limited altitude.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters in Kiev that the planes were flying too high to be hit by such a weapon.

“It can be reached only by heavy missile complexes,” he said.

Lysenko alleged that the missiles that hit the two planes were fired from Russian territory.

“They were shot down very professionally. The terrorists do not have such professionals,” he said in reference to the pro-Russian rebels.

Photos that have emerged since the Flight 17 crash last Thursday suggest that Buk missile launchers that apparently were in the rebels’ possession — and one of which Ukraine said was used to down the jetliner — have been transported to Russia. But U.S. officials have said that tanks, rocket launchers and other arms continue to flow into Ukraine from Russia.

The warplanes were shot down as the first 40 bodies of Flight 17 victims were en route to the Netherlands, where they are to be identified through DNA testing.

The Wednesday crashes in the vicinity of the Flight 17 site — about 25 miles south of its perimeter — provided an eerie reminder that the international shock over a missile strike on a passenger airliner has done little to deter the rebels from continuing to shoot down aircraft. It may even have given them some latitude, because commercial airliners now avoid flight paths over eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military, which says it is observing a cease-fire within a 25-mile radius of the Flight 17 crash site, is engaged in an operation to squeeze separatists out of the towns and villages encircling their stronghold of Donetsk.

Military officials say rebel forces are abandoning positions on the outskirts of Donetsk and regrouping in the city’s center.

A top rebel leader dismissed the retreat’s significance. “It’s a tactical retreat,” Pavel Gubarev told Russian state-run Rossiya 24 television. “It was all planned. Nobody has orders to fight to the bitter end. Tactical retreats are permissible. It’s normal military tactics.”

The government claims to have regained control of several cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the separatists rose up in April and established “people’s republics,” appointing new mayors and officials.

Ukraine’s anti-terrorism operation, as the government calls its military campaign against the separatists, said Wednesday that it had “liberated” the towns of Karlivka, Netaylovo and Pervomayske near Donetsk. It said the Ukrainian flag is flying again in the towns, “as a symbol of peace returning to these places.”

Aleksey Dmitrashkovsky, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, said that in the city of Kramatorsk, also in the Donetsk region, separatists are shedding their uniforms and dressing as taxi drivers and market vendors. But he said the government will find and punish those who fought against the Ukrainian state and military.

“We’re going to find everyone,” he said. “Everyone who ever raised a hand to a Ukrainian soldier. Everyone who ever committed a crime against the state of Ukraine. Each and every one who caused women to shed tears and who stole the smiles from children. They will be held responsible under Ukrainian law.”

The sounds of pitched battles could be heard through a wide swath of rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, including near the crash site.

In the town of Torez, a large explosion rattled shop windows and halted conversations. All afternoon — both before and after the Ukrainian warplanes were shot down — jets could be heard over the region, but they could not be seen on the partly cloudy day. They circled at a high altitude, even as an observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was directly beneath in the village of Petropavlivka.

There, OSCE officials were examining for the first time a fragment of the Malaysia Airlines plane’s fuselage that is marked with small dents, as though from shrapnel — a potentially key piece of information for investigators that has been sitting unguarded for days, propped against a light pole on the street.

Even the rebels apparently now agree with U.S. and Ukrainian assertions that a Buk antiaircraft missile system downed Flight 17, although the separatists continue to blame the Ukrainian military.

“In an attack from the air, say by a fighter or other aircraft, the missile reacts to heat and, as a rule, hits the engine. Here the picture is somewhat different,” a rebel leader, Andrei Purgin, told the Russian news agency Interfax on Wednesday.

“The distinctive feature of Buk-type systems is that they attack the forebody of the aircraft,” he said. “The cockpit is actually torn off from the rest of the fuselage, which apparently also happened this time when the cockpit fell much earlier and lies farther away from the rest of the fragments.”

H/T: Carlos Santoscoy at OnTopMag

H/T: Shannon Greenwood and Ben Norton at Think Progress World

mapsontheweb:

Gay Rights Legislation in Europe

h/t: Sarah Wheaton at Politico

New party tries to woo Hungary’s Roma (via AFP)

With elections looming on April 6, a new party is trying to win over Hungary’s largest ethnic minority, the Roma, a community scarred by deep poverty and racism and disillusioned by traditional politics. “Until now, the Roma have never had credible…

h/t: Cécile Alduy at The Nation

thepoliticalfreakshow:

A fresh new wave of protests is rocking Turkey, as tens of thousands march on the streets to demonstrate against the government. But unlike what’s going on in Ukraine and Venezuela, the protests in Turkey mark a second, renewed round of protests that began last summer. If you have not caught up on the latest developments, or don’t know what the people are protesting about, here are 11 photos that sum up what’s been happening on the ground:

1.

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Protests began with the death of a teenager named Berkin Elvan, who was in a nine-month coma after being injured during last year’s government rallies. Thousands attended his funeral in Istanbul and marched in the streets afterwards.

2.

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Tens of thousands are also protesting across Turkey, especially in big cities such as Ankara and Izmir.

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The government’s response has been to send riot police to clash with the protesters. The tactics have mostly been restricted to tear gas, water cannons and beatings.

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It seems that police may have forgotten that’s how Elvan died — he suffered a head injury when he was hit in the head with a tear gas canister. He was passing by the protests to go buy bread for his family.

5.

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On Wednesday, a protester died from a head injury while a police officer also passed away from a heart attack

6.

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Around 36 children were arrested in Ankara for protesting on the streets. Over a hundred people were also arrested in Izmir.

7.

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Students across the country are also organizing school boycotts and sit-ins.

8.

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Elvan’s death marks the eighth casualty resulting from last year’s protests.

9.

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Protests began last year over the development of Gezi Park in Istanbul, although it quickly spread into a widespread anti-government demonstration.

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has yet to comment on Elvan’s death.

11.

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Turkey will hold local elections on Mar. 30. Erdogan has promised to step down if his ruling AK Party loses power.

Source: Eileen Shim for Policy Mic

crooksandliars:

The latest escalation in the crisis also saw Moscow lash out at Washington for promising “illegal” financial assistance to Kiev leaders who rose to power on the back of three months of deadly protests that toppled a Russia-friendly regime.

thepoliticalfreakshow:

The US conceded on Sunday that Moscow had “complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula” and announced that the secretary of state, John Kerry, will fly to Kiev in an attempt to halt a further Russian advance into Ukraine.

Senior US officials dismissed claims that Washington is incapable of exerting influence on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, but were forced to admit that Crimea had been successfully invaded by 6,000 airborne and ground troops in what could be the start of a wider invasion.

“They are flying in reinforcements and they are settling in,” one senior official said. Another senior official said: “Russian forces now have complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula.”

On Monday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said he had discussed Ukraine with his Chinese counterpart and their views coincided on the situation there.

Lavrov said in a statement that the two veto-wielding UN security council members would stay in close contact on the issue. 

Meanwhile, Ukrainian border guards reported a buildup of armoured vehicles near a ferry port on the Russian side of the Kerch Channel – a narrow sea channel dividing Russia and the Ukraine. A statement from the guard spokesperson said Russian ships had also been moving in and around the city of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet has a base, and that Russian forces had blocked telephone services in some areas.

Although President Barack Obama’s administration called for Putin to withdraw troops to Russian military bases on the peninsula, its objective appeared to have shifted to using political and economic threats to prevent any further military incursion.

One senior official said the major decision facing Putin was whether to “continue to escalate troop movements into other parts of Ukraine”.

“We’ve already seen the intervention in Crimea,” the official said. “It would be even further destabilising to expand that intervention into eastern Ukraine.”

The official added: “Our bottom line is they had to pull back from what they’ve already done, go back into their bases in Crimea. We’ll be watching very, very carefully of course and will be very, very concerned if we saw further escalation into eastern Ukraine.”

Kerry will fly to Kiev on Tuesday, to meet Ukraine’s new government and display “strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty”, a state department official said. However, in Washington there were mounting questions, particularly from Republican opponents of the administration, about the influence Kerry and other officials have over Moscow.

Kerry, Obama and other senior officials spent the last 24 hours frantically attempting to rally an international coalition of countries to condemn Moscow over the Crimea invasion, and commit to economic sanctions in order to prevent a further advance into other pro-Russian parts of Ukraine.

Obama spoke by phone with the British prime minister, David Cameron, Polish president Bronisław Komorowski and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

“We are concerned as we watch this situation that the Russians have badly miscalculated,” one of the senior officials said. “There is a very fierce and proud tradition in Ukraine of defending their sovereignty and territorial integrity. So far Ukraine has showed, and Ukrainians individually have showed, marked restraint … but the longer this situation goes on, the more delicate it becomes.”

Earlier on Sunday, Kerry told CBS leading western nations were prepared to enact economic sanctions against Russia over what he called an “incredible act of aggression”.

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext,” Kerry said. “It is really a stunning, wilful choice by President Putin to invade another country. Russia is in violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia is in violation of its international obligations.”

Asked how the US and its allies might respond, Kerry stressed the economic harm that could befall Russia if it continued its occupation of Crimea, but repeatedly said “all options” were under consideration.

However, in a conference call with reporters later on Sunday, three senior US administration officials made clear that the “menu” of options before the White House does not include military action.

“Frankly, our goal is to uphold the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, not to have a military escalation,” one of the officials said. “I don’t think we’re focused right now on the notion of some US military intervention. I don’t think that would be an effective way to de-escalate the situation.”

During the call, which last almost an hour, the officials said they were looking to provide Russia with “off-ramps” that would enable Putin to reverse his course, and were applying pressure through a broad international coalition that had agreed to to ostracise Moscow.

That process has begun with major powers pulling out of preparatory meetings ahead of the G8 summit which is due to be hosted in Sochi in June, as well as the cancellation of other trade-related meetings with Russia planned for this week. In effect, Russia is being threatened with expulsion from the G8 group of countries, unless it withdraws from Ukraine.

That will quickly escalate to possible sanctions, including potential visa and banking restrictions targeting Russians close to Putin. Currently, the US is reviewing “all of our economic and trade cooperation with the Russian Federation”, one official said, and all 28 members of Nato were planning to sign up to a single statement, strongly condemning Moscow.

Obama Putin phone callPresident Barack Obama talks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photograph: The White House/Getty Images

“He [Putin] is not going to have a Sochi G8, he may not even remain in the G8 if this continues,” Kerry told NBC earlier in the day. “He may find himself with asset freezes, on Russian business, American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the ruble.”

The Obama administration is also working with the European Union and International Monetary Fund to fast-track a package of financial aid and loans, in order to shore-up Ukraine’s economy.

The officials argued that Russia had miscalculated by invading Ukraine and effectively conquering the Crimean peninsula. What US officials described as the Russian “intervention” was likely to bolster “the people of Ukraine’s desire to reorient towards Europe”, an official said.

Another senior official said: “When it comes to soft power, the power of attraction, Vladimir Putin has no game. So he’s left with hard power and it’s a very dangerous game to play.”

However, the senior officials sounded flustered as they struggled with accusations from reporters that Obama had shown himself to be powerless in the face of Russian aggression.

On Friday, Obama made a forceful public address, warning Putin that there would be “costs” if Russia intervened in Ukraine. On Saturday he spent 90 minutes on the phone with the Russian leader, ultimately failing to dissuade him from taking military action.

Asked if Obama had a “credibility problem”, one senior official replied: “The premise of your question is he [Putin] is strong and [the] president of the United States is weak. He [Putin] is not acting from a position of strength right now.”

The official added: “You’re seeing the ability of the United States to bring with us … the rest of the G7 countries, the rest of Nato, and frankly the large majority of the world in condemning this action.”

aljazeeraamerica:

Russian invasion of Crimea in no one’s interest

Armed men on Friday stormed two airports in the Crimean Peninsula, an autonomous ethnic Russian stronghold in Ukraine, the day after another group of men seized Crimea’s regional parliament and replaced the Ukrainian flag with a Russian one. 

The incidents, which come two days after Russia staged provocative military drills along its borders with Ukraine and placed 150,000 troops on high alert, have sparked a firestorm of paranoia, from Kiev to Washington, that Russia is plotting to reclaim the peninsula given to Ukraine by the Soviet Union in 1954 — a symbolic gift that officially became part of the country after the communist bloc collapsed in 1991.

“I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation,” Ukraine’s new interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said on Friday, implying that the armed men who seized the airports were Russian and that rumored military intervention had already begun.

Read more

(Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

crooksandliars:

The displays of pro-Russian fervour came after Ukraine’s new pro-Western government accused Russia of launching an “armed invasion” of Simferopol’s airport and another near Sebastopol.

Yanukovych’s days of running Ukraine are over.