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h/t: John M. Becker at The Bilerico Project



h/t: Jack Jenkins at Think Progress World

In a first for international politics, the president of Azerbaijan appears to have declared through Twitter the resumption of what had been a dormant conflict with its neighbor Armenia over a plot of territory that both claim as their own.

At stake is the land known as Nagorno-Karabakh, a strip of land located entirely within Azerbaijan’s current borders. The territory, however, boasts a large ethnic Armenian population, a legacy of Josef Stalin’s ‘divide and conquer’ tactics in the Soviet Union. When the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s, the two countries fought a full-fledged war over the land, one that ended in a ceasefire rather than a lasting peace deal. Since then, Nagorono-Karabakkh has been held by Armenian troops and local ethnic Armenian fighters.

Location_Nagorno-Karabakh2

CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA

In recent days, the long-simmering tensions in the region have begun to boil over again. Over the weekend, clashes between Azeris and Armenians left at least 15 soldiers dead and the ceasefire that has lasted for twenty years at risk. The upswing in violence led to a number of concerned statements from both Russia and the United States, who together are co-chairs of the Minsk Group that has mediated the conflict. “We are seriously concerned about the recent upsurge in violence along the line of contact,” U.S. co-chair James Warlick said in a tweet. “The ceasefire needs to be respected.”

On Thursday, however, Azeri president Ilham Aliyev (İlham Əliyev) took to Twitter to declare firmly that in any conflict, it would be Azerbaijan who prevailed. In a lengthy rant, which at times referred to Armenia solely as “the enemy,” repeatedly hit on the patriotism of the Azeri people and the willingness of the Azerbaijan army to take on Armenia in any renewed conflict. “The whole world recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan and will never recognize the self-styled Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent entity,” he declared. “The Azerbaijani state will never tolerate a second Armenian state on its territory.”

“Azerbaijani citizens are not pleased with the activity of mediators because the main mission of mediators is to settle the conflict, not to keep it in a frozen state and conduct confidence building measures,” he continued, in a dig at the Minsk Group’s lack of progress to date. “The biggest confidence building measure would be the withdrawal of occupying forces from our lands.” The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which houses the Minsk Group, declined to comment on Aliyev’s statement, as it is “not in the position to comment on statements of the heads of our individual participating States.” Instead, ThinkProgress was pointed to the latest statement from the co-chairs, who “expressed their deep concern” over the escalation and urged a resumption of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

View selected excerpts from President Alivev’s rant below:

h/t: Hayes Brown at Think Progress World 

think-progress

thepoliticalfreakshow:

The Attorney General of Uganda is expected to appeal today’s Constitutional Court nullification of the “Jail the Gays” law, and Members of Parliament are expected to re-file the bill, which mandates terms up to life in prison for the “crime” of homosexuality.

While Ugandan LGBT activists, including Frank Mugisha and Kasha Jacqueline celebrated today’s Constitutional Court ruling, all are aware today’s win is likely temporary.

The Court earlier today nullified the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Law, signed in February by President Yoweri Museveni — who previously lambasted Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga for passing the bill without a quorum. And it was on those procedural grounds that the Court declared the law null and void.

"Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer who was among the petitioners, welcomed the ruling but said there is still a missed opportunity to debate the substance of the law," the New York Times reports.

"The ideal situation would have been to deal with the other issues of the law, to sort out this thing once and for all," Opiyo said.

A colonial-era law that criminalizes sex acts “against the order of nature,” still remains in effect in Uganda, allowing for the continued arrests of alleged homosexual offenders, Opiyo said.

Lawmakers will likely also try to reintroduce a new anti-gay measure, he said.

MP David Bahati, the original sponsor of the bill — which dates back in various forms, including as the original “Kill the Gays" bill — promised the Attorney General of Uganda will appeal the ruling.

“I want to thank the speaker, MPs who stood for what is right,” Bahati said just after the Court ruling was passed down. “The lawyer that represented government said she was not given chance to prove that there was quorum in parliament. The court case ruling is no victory at all, the morals of the people of Uganda will prevail,” Bahati told reporters, according to the Daily Monitor. “The Attorney General who is very competent will petition the constitutional court over the constitutional court ruling. Our competent legal team will continue to petition the Supreme Court and I believe we will win.”

Whether or not the Government is successful in challenging the Court’s narrow 3-2 decision, Bahati and other MPs surely will look to introduce the bill again, which Speaker Rebecca Kadaga had promised in 2012 to pass as a “Christmas gift” to Uganda’s Christians.

thepoliticalfreakshow:

Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act on Friday, giving new hope to the country’s embattled LGBT people and human rights activists.

Kasha Jacqueline, one of the activists who brought the petition, tweeted her delight at the news:

FINAL JUDGEMENT: Iam nolonger http://t.co/ekOD5G8eQO we have made history for generations to come.speak OUT now. #AHAscraped.EXCRUCIATING.

In the five months since Uganda adopted the law, which imposes a sentence of up to life in prison for homosexuality and criminalizes advocating LGBT rights, LGBT Ugandans have lived under the constant threat of arrest or mob violence. The court’s decision paves the way for organizations to again begin operating openly and to allow LGBT people to resume normal lives. But that change will come slowly — homosexuality remains a crime in Uganda under a provision of the penal code on the books before the Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed last December, and there is a chance of a surge in anti-LGBT violence in reaction to today’s ruling.

The decision could also significantly ease international pressure on President Yoweri Museveni, who has been under pressure from the United States, the World Bank, and other important donors to get rid of the law or at least substantially weaken it through enforcement.

Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda tweeted from the packed courtroom:

The retrogressive anti homosexuality act of Uganda has been struck down by the constitutional court - it’s now dead as a door nail.

The courtroom became something of a circus during the three-hour recess the judges called before issuing the ruling, according to people in the room. Anti-LGBT activist Pastor Martin Ssempa prayed loudly and got into arguments with multiple petitioners. Security eventually approached Ssempa to request he sit down.

The court struck down the law on procedural grounds, saying it was invalid because there was no quorum in Parliament when the legislation was passed on Dec. 20. (A quorum is the requirement that at least one-third of members are present when a vote is held.) The court was ruling on a petition brought by a group of 10 human rights activists, legal scholars, and opposition politicians. The court did not rule on the underlying question of whether anti-LGBT laws violate basic human rights, and so the pre-existing sodomy code, which was imposed when Uganda was a British colony, remains in place. Two men are currently awaiting trial under this provision.

Since the vote last year, there has been a 20-fold increase in incidents of anti-LGBT harassment, including blackmail, eviction, and torture, according to a study by Sexual Minorities Uganda. The country’s largest human rights organization, the Refugee Law Project, has also had many of its activities shut down by the government, which alleges it was involved in “promoting homosexuality.”

With the court’s nullification of the law, “we become legal again,” said Sexual Minorities Uganda Director Frank Mugisha, one of the petitioners. But this ruling won’t make life better for LGBT people right away, he said. “Society won’t give in,” though there is “an open space and a [chance for] dialogue with the government” now that the law is gone.

Mugisha and other LGBT activists said before the ruling they were braced for a surge in violence. The law’s supporters, like Ssempa and the leadership of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, had been whipping up their supporters during the two days of hearings before the ruling, and LGBT activists expected a backlash if they won.

“Many people are going to retaliate and attack community members,” said Kasha Jacqueline of the organization Freedom and Roam Uganda, another of the petitioners. “People are going to retaliate — not just the members of Parliament and anti-gay groups and religious leaders, but in the community as well.”

By dismissing the law on procedural grounds, the Constitutional Court sidestepped ruling on the question of whether LGBT rights are protected by fundamental rights protected by the Ugandan constitution. It also does nothing to stop Parliament from passing the law again with a quorum present.

Ssempa told BuzzFeed outside the courtroom that he suspected the court had been corrupted, and would demand an appeal of the ruling to the Supreme Court and an investigation by Parliament into the independence of the judiciary.

“This decision is a legal travesty. It is an insult to all family-culture-loving people in Uganda,” Ssempa said. “Is there possibility that the president traveling to Washington next week could be the reason why this case was hurried at lightning speed? … We just wonder if indeed our country is independent, and we want to ask the parliament to investigate the independence of the judiciary.”

Listen to Martin Ssempa’s full remarks on the ruling.

w.soundcloud.com / Via via Mujuni Raymond

In a press conference Friday afternoon, the bill’s sponsor, MP David Bahati, expressed confidence that the attorney general will appeal the ruling.

“Our competent legal team will continue to petition the Supreme Court and I believe we will win,” Bahati said. “The court case ruling is no victory at all, the morals of the people of Uganda will prevail.”

Bahati also could try to get another vote on the bill in Parliament with a quorum present. But the law’s opponents think the chances he’ll succeed are slim. Re-passing the law would require starting the legislative process from the beginning, including committee hearings and receiving certification of its financial impact from the finance ministry. If the government of President Yoweri Museveni does not want the bill to pass again, the finance ministry could silently kill the bill simply by withholding certification.

“Someone will try,” said Nicholas Opiyo, one of the attorneys who argued against the law before the Constitutional Court. “I don’t think it will come back immediately. It will take some time. But the dynamics here change quite rapidly and it might not come back at all.”

The speed with which the court moved to reach a ruling had many speculating that it was acting on orders from Museveni to dispose of the legislation. The court wasn’t scheduled to take up the challenge to the law until September, but then abruptly announced last week that it would begin hearings this Wednesday. It began hearing arguments despite the objections of the representative of the attorney general, Patricia Mutesi, who may still appeal the order to proceed to the Supreme Court. But if political pressure had been put on the court to strike down the law, the same pressure could likely be used to get the attorney general’s office to quietly drop its efforts to uphold the law.

image

Court Update: Full house. Waiting 4 ruling. With Sheikh Mbabali and Dr Sserwadda. @RugyendoQuotes @namangels @nbstvug

This is the third important ruling from the Ugandan judiciary in support of LGBT rights, and it could reverberate throughout the region, where several other countries are considering similar laws. It shows that courts are willing to support LGBT rights even in east African countries where politicians have concluded being anti-LGBT is good politics. It also comes shortly after a Kenyan court ordered government officials to allow a trans rights group to officially register their organization. Other LGBT rights cases are pending in Kenya, as well as in Malawi and Botswana.

The law’s defeat could quickly unlock important funding streams for the Ugandan government, which relies heavily on foreign aid. The health ministry had made a concession to the World Bank in June in an attempt to get access to a $90 million health care loan that had been on hold since Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February, releasing guidelines that attempted to ensure LGBT patients would not be endangered by access to health services.

It is not immediately clear how Friday’s ruling will affect U.S. sanctions announced in June, which include denying entry to Ugandan officials who have been involved in human rights abuses. Some human rights advocates were already critical that the U.S. immediately undermined that decision by inviting Museveni to participate in an African Leaders Summit being hosted by the Obama administration in D.C. next week.

LGBT activists now turn their work to the much harder job of rolling back the colonial-era sodomy law and trying to undo the anti-LGBT sentiment stirred up over the four years that the bill has been under consideration. That will not fade quickly.

But, said Kasha Jacqueline, “It’s a big step forward if the law is scrapped, because many people are taking the law into their own hands.”

“If the law is gone, it’s easier, then the police are obliged to protect,” said Frank Mugisha. But, he said, “the struggle is still long.”

Listen to Justice Steven Kavuma give the order striking down the Anti-Homosexuality Act:

w.soundcloud.com / Via Mujuni Raymond

Source: J. Lester Feder for Buzzfeed

h/t: J. Lester Feder at BuzzFeed

thepoliticalfreakshow:

LGBT activists in Kyrgyzstan are reaching out to the international community in hopes of averting a disaster that could stem from pending legislation that would rival Russia’s draconian antigay law, according to the blog 76 Crimes.

Russia’s notorious nationwide ban on so-called gay propaganda makes it a crime to speak, write, or demonstrate in support of LGBT people and equality, claiming such advocacy “promotes nontraditional sexual relationships” to minors. However, the proposed Krygyzstani law would go further.

While Russian lawmakers have claimed the law is necessary to “protect children” from the dangers of homosexuality, the proposed law in the former Soviet nation of Kyrgyzstan law doesn’t even try to couch its repression in a faux concern for youth.

If passed, the Kyrgyzstani law would criminalize any positive comments about homosexuality, “sodomy, lesbianism, or any other forms of non-traditional sexual behavior,” made through any form of electronic or print media to any person of any age.

LGBT rights activists in Kyrgyzstan, a predominantly Muslim country of 5.6 million people, say they have “exhausted almost all domestic means to stop the bill,” reports 76 Crimes. The activists see no other choice remaining but to reach beyond their borders for support.

Kyrgyzstani LGBT rights activists are especially eager to increase pressure on members of the country’s Supreme Council or Jogorku Kengesh (equivalent to a unicameral parliament) from non-western countries — specifically from Latin America and Asia, according to 76 Crimes.

Yet it was a South African LGBT media outlet that appears to be the first to respond to the Kyrgyzstani activists’ plea for help. “Gay activists in the Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan are calling for international support as a proposed Putin-style anti-gay law is set to limit the rights of LGBT people,” wrote Luiz Barros in Johannesburg-based Mamba Online.

Kyrgyzstan already has a climate of hostility toward LGBT people, noted Human Rights Watch when news of the proposed law first hit in March. At that time, Human Rights Watch called on the Jogoku Kengesh to withdraw the bill.

“This draconian bill is blatantly discriminatory against LGBT people and would deny citizens across Kyrgyzstan their fundamental rights,” said Hugh Williamson, the group’s Europe and Central Asia director in March. The organization also urged the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe — which will consider Kyrgyzstan’s application for special “Partnership for Democracy” status with it April 8 — to “send a strong message that the bill is unacceptable, and make clear that partnership status is wholly incompatible with legislation of this kind.”

The Kyrgyzstani activists’ plea for help from international supporters of LGBT rights was specific in its call to action, listing five ways ordinary people can help. Those methods include getting the word out on the proposed propaganda ban via social media, direct outreach to elected and appointed officials, and word-of-mouth; organizing town halls, informational lectures and protests; asking donors to review their giving policies toward Kyrgyzstan; imposing sanctions by governments and nongovernmental organizations; and advocacy for better asylum policies for LGBT people from Kyrgyzstan.

According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, 75 percent of Kyrgyzstanis are Muslim, while another 20 percent are Russian Orthodox — while five percent are “other.” Russian Orthodoxy and much of the Islamic religious establishment have been driving forces in antigay oppression worldwide in recent decades.

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: Brian Tashman at RWW

h/t: Shannon Greenwood at Think Progress World

thepoliticalfreakshow:

KIEV, Ukraine — As news broke of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 being downed in eastern Ukraine, the separatist’s shadowy commander with a pencil mustache issued a dark warning on social media.

Through his VK.com account, Russia’s version of Facebook, the self-proclaimed defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Girkin — who goes by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov — boasted about shooting down a plane.

"We did warn you — do not fly in our sky," he wrote.

Thinking it was a Ukrainian transport plane, Strelkov added that “a plane has just been downed somewhere around Torez, it lays there behind the ‘Progress’ mine,” referring to the mining town of some 80,000 people.

“And here is the video proving another ‘bird’ falling down,” he continued. “The bird went down behind a slagheap, not in a residential district. So no peaceful people were injured,” Strelkov wrote, adding that there is also information about a Ukrainian military plane shot down.

However, Strelkov deleted the post when he found out it was actually a commercial jetliner carrying 295 innocent people — not a military aircraft.

MH17-Ukraine-Crash-Site

A man stands next to the wreckage of the malaysian airliner carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 17, 2014.

When Mashable called Alexander Borodai, self-declared prime minister of Donetsk People’s Republic, to ask if the group was responsible for shooting down the plane, to which he responded:

"Listen, we don’t have these weapons [to down the 777]."

"Listen, we don’t have these weapons [to down the 777]."

Then he hung up.

The pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk have been colliding with Ukrainian forces for months and have brought down several military aircrafts. However, the rebels denied their involvement with two crashes this week, saying they didn’t have the kind of equipment to carry out such an event.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian government claimed that a Russian military plane shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet. Just two days ago, Ukrainian officials suggested that a military transport plane carrying food and water for troops was shot down by an advanced rocket system fired from Russia.

Strelkov, a native Muscovite, is known for his brutality. As reported inMashable, he led an illegal military tribunal and sentenced at least three Ukrainian citizens to death by firing squad under a 1941 Stalin-era law.

Donetsk-Rebels

A Donetsk People’s Republic fighter throw a bottle of water to colleagues as they arrive at gas station to fill their tank with fuel in Snizhne, 100 kilometers east of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Thursday, July 17, 2014.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions began in April

Source: Christopher Miller for Mashable

justinssportscorner:

Thanks to Mario Götze’s goal in extra time, Germany win the 2014 World Cup trophy. Miroslav Klose may have possibly played his final WC game.

thepoliticalfreakshow:

With brutal efficiency, the Sunni extremist group has carved out a large chunk of territory that has effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria and laid the foundations of its proto-state. But the declaration, made on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, could trigger a wave of infighting among the Sunni militant factions that formed a loose alliance in the blitz across Iraq and impact the broader international jihadist movement, especially the future of a-Qaida.

The spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant declared the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the leader of the new caliphate, or Islamic state, and called on Muslims everywhere, not just those in areas under the organization’s control, to swear loyalty to al-Baghdadi and support him.

"The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas,” said the spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, in an audio statement posted online. “Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day.”

Al-Adnani loosely defined the Islamic state’s territory as running from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala — a vast stretch of land straddling the border that is already largely under the Islamic State’s control. He also said that with the establishment of the caliphate, the group was changing its name to just the Islamic State, dropping the mention of Iraq and the Levant.

Muslim extremists have long dreamed of recreating the Islamic state, or caliphate, that ruled over the Middle East, much of North Africa and beyond in various forms over the course of Islam’s 1,400-year history.

It was unclear what immediate impact the declaration would have on the ground in Syria and Iraq, though experts predicted it could herald infighting among the Sunni militants who have joined forces with the Islamic State in its fight against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite-led government.

"Now the insurgents in Iraq have no excuse for working with ISIS if they were hoping to share power with ISIS," said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an analyst who specializes in Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, using one of several acronyms for the Islamic State. "The prospect of infighting in Iraq is increased for sure."

The greatest impact, however, could be on the broader international jihadist movement, in particular on the future of al-Qaida.

Founded by Osama bin Laden, the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. has long carried the mantle of the international jihadi cause. But the Islamic State has managed to do in Syria and Iraq what al-Qaida never has — carve out a large swath of territory in the heart of the Arab world and control it.

"This announcement poses a huge threat to al-Qaida and its long-time position of leadership of the international jihadist cause,” said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, in emailed comments. “Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of (the Islamic State), largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality.”

Al-Baghdadi, an ambitious Iraqi militant who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, took the reins of the Islamic State in 2010 when it was still an al-Qaida affiliate based in Iraq. Since then, he has transformed what had been an umbrella organization focused mainly on Iraq into a transnational military force.

Al-Baghdadi has long been at odds with al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, and the two had a very public falling out after al-Baghdadi ignored al-Zawahri’s demands that the Islamic State leave Syria. Fed up with al-Baghdadi and unable to control him, al-Zawahri formally disavowed the Islamic State in February.

But al-Baghdadi’s stature has only grown since then, as the Islamic State’s fighters have strengthened their grip on much of Syria, and now overrun large swathes of Iraq.

In Washington, the Obama administration called on the international community to unite in the face of the threat posed by the Sunni extremists.

"ISIL’s strategy to develop a caliphate across the region has been clear for some time now. That is why this is a critical moment for the international community to stand together against ISIL and the advances it has made," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The Islamic State’s declaration comes as the Iraqi government tries to wrest back some of the territory it has lost to the jihadi group and its Sunni militant allies in recent weeks.

On Sunday, Iraqi helicopter gunships struck suspected insurgent positions for a second consecutive day in the northern city of Tikrit, the predominantly Sunni hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi military launched its push to wrest back Tikrit, a hotbed of antipathy toward Iraq’s Shiite-led government, on Saturday with a multi-pronged assault spearheaded by ground troops backed by tanks and helicopters.

The insurgents appeared to have repelled the military’s initial push for Tikrit, and remained in control of the city on Sunday, but clashes were taking place in the northern neighborhood of Qadissiyah, two residents reached by telephone said.

Muhanad Saif al-Din, who lives in the city center, said he could see smoke rising from Qadissiyah, which borders the University of Tikrit, where troops brought by helicopter established a bridgehead two days ago. He said many of the militants had deployed to the city’s outskirts, apparently to blunt the Iraqi military attack.

Military spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi told reporters Sunday that government troops in full control of the university and had raised the Iraqi flag over the campus.

"The battle has several stages. The security forces have cleared most of the areas of the first stage and we have achieved results," al-Moussawi said. "It is a matter of time before we declare the total clearing" of Tikrit.

A provincial official reached by telephone reported clashes northwest of the city around an air base that previously served as a U.S. military facility known as Camp Speicher. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Jawad al-Bolani, a security official in the provincial operation command, said the U.S. was sharing intelligence with Iraq and has played an “essential” role in the Tikrit offensive.

"The Americans are with us and they are an important part in the success we are achieving in and around Tikrit," al-Bolani told The Associated Press.

Washington has sent 180 of 300 American troops President Barack Obama has promised to help Iraqi forces. The U.S. is also flying manned and unmanned aircraft on reconnaissance missions over Iraq.

Iraq’s government is eager to make progress in Tikrit after weeks of demoralizing defeats at the hands of the Islamic State and its Sunni allies. The militants’ surge across the vast Sunni-dominated areas that stretch from Baghdad north and west to the Syrian and Jordanian borders has thrown Iraq into its deepest crisis since U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011.

More ominously, the insurgent blitz, which prompted Kurdish forces to assert long-held claims over disputed territory, has raised the prospect of Iraq being split in three, along sectarian and ethnic lines.

For the embattled al-Maliki, success in Tikrit could help restore a degree of faith in his ability to stem the militant tide. Al-Maliki, a Shiite who has been widely accused of monopolizing power and alienating Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities, is under growing pressure to step aside. But he appears set on a third consecutive term as prime minister after his bloc won the most seats in April elections.