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« Reply #13260 on: May 07, 2014, 08:30 AM »

Ukraine's Poroshenko Defends 'Force' against Pro-Moscow Rebels

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 15:46

Ukrainian presidential candidate and self-made billionaire Petro Poroshenko defended the deployment of security forces against pro-Russian rebels, during a visit to Germany on Wednesday.

"For terrorists we should find the language they understand and that is force," he told reporters, after talks with a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

"It is our strong purpose to restore law and order," he added.

The chocolate tycoon is one of two favorites to win crisis-racked Ukraine's planned presidential election on May 25.

The other is former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Both are ardent supporters of the pro-Western protesters who toppled Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Diplomatic efforts have grown increasingly urgent after the deaths of nearly 90 people in less than a week as a result of military operations and clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Kiev supporters in eastern Ukraine.

The Western-backed government in Kiev has stepped up its military offensive to seize back a string of eastern towns and cities under the control of pro-Russian gunmen.

Poroshenko, who was due to meet Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier later on Wednesday, said holding an election was "the only way out of the crisis".

And he described as "fake" a planned independence referendum on Sunday by pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine which has drawn parallels with a vote in Crimea that was annexed by Russia in March.

Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington last week warned Russia it would face direct and painful economic sanctions if the Ukrainian elections on May 25 are disrupted.


Rebels Fight back in Ukraine as West Throws Weight behind Truce Bid

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 15:07

Pro-Russian rebels on Wednesday fought troops to try to regain strategic positions in east Ukraine, while the West threw its weight behind a last-ditch diplomatic bid to calm the crisis ahead of a crucial presidential election.

The head of the OSCE was in Moscow to appeal to Russian President Pig Putin to help calm hostilities in the former Soviet republic.

At the same time, British Foreign Secretary William Hague was in Kiev to reassure its government of Western support as it struggles to contain the separatists, warning that it would be a "blow to democracy" if Russia prevents the May 25 election.

Combat and clashes have claimed nearly 90 lives in the past week as Ukraine's military wages an operation to push back insurgents who are planning an independence referendum on Sunday.

Rhetoric has also sharpened in the lead-up to celebrations on Friday in Russia and Ukraine of the Soviet victory over German forces in World War II, with both countries accusing each other of Nazi-like "fascism".

Ukraine's interior ministry said an hour-long battle occurred on a road in the southeastern region, between the cities of Mariupol and Berdyansk, after rebels fired on a bus carrying special force troops.

"The bus driver was wounded, one of the attackers was killed, another two were captured," the ministry said in a statement.

The rebels' self-styled defense minister Igor Kakidzyanov was one of the two prisoners, it said.

Ukrainian security forces stormed the separatist-held town hall in Mariupol, which is located near the Russian border, clearing it out and hoisting the national flag above the building.

But just as quickly, the soldiers left when several hundred pro-Russian protesters massed outside.

"They want to stop us from holding the referendum," Sergei Kostinyuk, a 27-year-old factory worker who helped retake the building from the troops, told AFP.

Around Slavyansk, a rebel-held flashpoint town in the east where most fighting has been concentrated, more skirmishes were reported. Russia's Interfax news agency said pro-Moscow gunmen were trying to recapture the town's TV tower from soldiers who had overrun it two days ago.

In Slavyansk itself, a rebel spokeswoman told AFP that the insurgents were ready to clear out of the town hall they have barricaded themselves inside for nearly a month, depending on the situation. A Russian flag that had been flying over the building was missing on Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials say they are moving cautiously towards the center of Slavyansk, which has a population of more than 110,000, to avoid civilian casualties.

The interior ministry said it had information that the rebels had booby-trapped the buildings they occupied in the town with explosives, "to accuse Ukrainian authorities of bombing civilians".

Since last Friday, the rebels have lost more than 30 fighters in the battle for Slavyansk, while the Ukrainian military has had nine troops killed and three helicopter gunships shot down.

In the southern port city of Odessa, tensions remained high after clashes Friday resulted in 42 deaths, most of them pro-Russian activists who died in an inferno started when Molotov cocktails were traded with pro-Kiev activists.

Fears over the worsening violence in in Ukraine are growing, sending shivers through stock markets and sparking widespread concern.

French President Francois Hollande warned Tuesday of "chaos and the risk of civil war" if Ukraine is unable to go ahead with the May 25 election the West sees as vital to restoring political stability.

Germany too has said it fears an all-out military conflict, as the Pig weighs whether to launch an invasion with the estimated 40,000 troops he has stationed on the border.

With relations between Moscow and the West plumbing depths not seen since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia continued to trade barbs as the clock ticked towards the separatists' independence referendum this weekend.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed the planned vote as "bogus" and drew parallels with a referendum in Crimea that was annexed by Russia in March.

"This is really the Crimea playbook all over again, and no civilized nation is going to recognize the results of such a bogus effort," Kerry told reporters.

"We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine."

Ignoring Moscow's denials, the West accuses Russia of stoking tension to destabilise Ukraine ahead of the presidential election. Moscow, though, says it would be "absurd" to hold the poll amid the current unrest.

The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, was to meet Pig Putin after Moscow quashed a German-led plan for new peace talks.

He has urged a ceasefire to allow Ukraine's election to take place, after the collapse of an April 17 peace deal clinched in Geneva.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, after a meeting with around 30 European foreign ministers in Vienna, said a further peace push would be a waste of time unless the separatists were invited to the table.

Meanwhile, tensions between Russia and Ukraine were being loaded with historical jabs ahead of World War II V-Day commemorations on Friday.

Each was trying to portray the other as the ideological offspring of Nazi fascists who are threatening democratic order.

The Pig will on Friday oversee a display of Russia military might in the iconic Red Square in Moscow. But celebrations will be more muted in Kiev amid fears of pro-Russian "provocation".

The West has warned Moscow it will step up sanctions on Russia's recession-threatened economy if it continue to sow chaos in its western neighbor.

U.S. President Barack Obama has warned the sanctions will be broadened to include whole sections of Russia's economic activity.

The limited sanctions so far in place have stimulated a heavy capital flight from Russia, hobbled a bank close to the Pig and hammered economic growth.

Ukraine, in contrast, on Wednesday received the first $3.2-billion tranche of a Western-backed financial rescue package from the International Monetary Fund.


Triumphant Russia, Subdued Ukraine Eye Victory Day Celebrations

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 13:17

Russia is gearing up for hugely patriotic celebrations of its victory over Nazi Germany in World War II on Friday, but festivities in neighboring Ukraine will be muted amid fears of provocations.

The May 9 commemorations come at an extremely sensitive time for the two Slavic nations that fought side by side against Nazi Germany but are now locked in an unprecedented confrontation that threatens to tip Ukraine into civil war.

Russian media reported that President Pig V. Putin could make a triumphant Victory Day trip to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in March, but his spokesman refused to confirm that.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it would be a "pity" if Pig were to "use" the commemorations to visit the peninsula.

Whereas Russia plans to mark the day with a display of military hardware and a show of patriotic fervor on Red Square, authorities in Kiev plan a low-key wreath-laying ceremony.

And while there will be a parade in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, Kiev has discouraged public gatherings and stepped up security amid fears pro-Russian militants might try to stoke violence on such a symbolic day.

"Roadblocks have been set up around our capital, where serious checks are being carried out, because we expect that provocative actions may occur on May 9," said Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov, urging vigilance.

Complicating matters further, Russia's tough-talking deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin plans to celebrate Victory Day in Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniestr, near Ukraine's flashpoint city of Odessa.

"Victory Day no longer brings Ukraine and Russia close," political analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky told AFP.

Ahead of the celebrations, Kiev has cast Russia as an aggressor bent on sowing chaos in Ukraine, while the Kremlin has accused its neighbor's pro-Western authorities of siding with "fascists" and ultra-right groups.

Fueling tensions is the hugely divisive legacy of the nationalist movement in western Ukraine, which was occupied by the Soviet Union and whose Ukrainian Insurgent Army collaborated with Nazi Germany.

Animosity between the two Slavic nations has reached such levels that Ukraine is dropping the black-and-orange St. George ribbon, which Russians cherish as a symbol of Victory Day, instead adopting the red poppy as its symbol of remembrance.

Pro-Russian separatists fighting the Kiev authorities have used the St. George ribbon to signal their allegiance, earning the derisive nickname of "Colorado beetles," a reference to the ribbon's colors.

"The symbol of victory has come to signify an attempt to seize the territory of a sovereign state," said Elena Urban, a 25-year-old student from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

According to some estimates, the Soviet Union lost about 30 million lives in the war and Russia's victory over Nazi Germany remains a source of great pride in the country.

In recent years Pig has skillfully tapped into Russian patriotism, using the festivities to rally support.

The 61-year-old strongman has said he will not tolerate attempts to revisit the history of WWII -- known in Russia as the "Great Patriotic War" -- to glorify "fascists" or belittle the country's sacrifices.

"May 9 has become the epicenter of the new Pig ideology," Moscow-based political commentator Yulia Latynina said. "Our Great Patriotic war has begun to play the role of a national icon."

Ahead of the celebrations, Pig Putin signed off on legislation making it a criminal offense to deny facts established by the Nuremberg trials.

After the latest outbreak of violence left dozens dead in the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine, Moscow's official rhetoric moved to compare the events to the darkest crimes of Nazi Germany such as the Auschwitz death camp, in a move threatening to further inflame tensions.

Russian authorities have in recent days staged rehearsals of the parade in Moscow as war-era songs blare out from the ornate metro system.

Meanwhile, Kiev has mostly been eerily calm, a remarkable contrast to the violence tearing across eastern Ukraine.

"As a result of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, this day has completely ceased being a holiday and will become a tragic date to remember," said Moscow-based pro-opposition analyst Stanislav Belkovsky.


'Blow to Democracy' if Russia Prevents Ukraine Election, Says Hague

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 15:48

Russia is deploying covert fighters and "enormous propaganda" to prevent Ukraine holding a presidential election later this month, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday during a visit to Kiev.

If Moscow succeeds, it would be "a terrible blow to democracy," said Hague, who accused Russia of engineering an independence referendum in Ukraine's east this weekend to undermine the May 25 presidential poll.

Hague, speaking at a news conference after meeting Ukrainian leaders, said Ukrainian troops were not battling only pro-Russian separatists but also the same special forces Russia sent to Crimea before its annexation in March.

"It is clear that the leading elements of these forces, from their training, their equipment, their identical behavior to the infiltrators in Crimea, are not simply pro-Russia forces, they have been Russia forces," he said.

Russia's aim is to prevent Ukraine's presidential poll at all cost, he said.

Western countries have thrown their full weight behind that election being held, seeing it as a key step to bringing political stability to Ukraine, where months of Kiev street protests forced the ouster of the country's pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych in February.

The pro-Russian separatists who seized more than a dozen towns in Ukraine's east following Crimea's annexation are planning an independence referendum on Sunday.

Hague said the referendum and the armed insurgency constituted "unacceptable" interference from Moscow.

He said Britain was working this week with its EU partners on more sanctions against Russia to pressure it to change course.

Kiev's Western backers, he said, "want de-escalation" through dialogue.

But Hague warned that the unrest in Ukraine's east -- which the West charges is sponsored by Russia -- "might be a pretext to intervene" militarily, though it was "hard to speculate" on Moscow's intentions.


Pig Putin Asks Ukraine Separatists to Postpone May 11 Referendum

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 16:43

Russian President Pig V. Putin on Wednesday asked pro-Kremlin separatists in southeastern Ukraine to postpone a series of disputed referendums planned for this weekend on declaring greater autonomy or outright independence from Kiev.

"We ask the representatives of the southeast to postpone the referendums planned for May 11 in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue," Pig snorted after a Kremlin meeting with Swiss president and current OSCE chief Didier Burkhalter.

Pro-Russian militants who have seized government buildings in eastern regions such as Donetsk and Lugansk had announced plans to stage polls on secession from Kiev following the protest-led ouster in February of a Kremlin-backed regime.

The votes have been denounced as illegal by both Kiev and its allies in Washington and the European Union.

Ukraine plans separately to stage snap presidential elections on May 25 that Russia had denounced as "absurd" because of the ongoing military standoff between separatists and Kiev forces.

But Pig appeared to soften his approach to the national election by calling it a tentative step in the right direction.

"I would like to stress that the presidential elections planned in Kiev, while they are a move in the right direction, will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held," Putin said.

Ethnic Russians who make up a large part of the population in the southeastern half of the ex-Soviet nation of 46 million had expressed fears about losing their language and other rights under a new pro-Western government that is likely to emerge after the May 25 vote.

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« Reply #13261 on: May 08, 2014, 05:32 AM »

Pig snorts that eastern Ukraine referendum on autonomy should be postponed

Russian president also snorts for a halt to Ukrainian military operations against pro-Russia activists in eastern towns

Ian Traynor, Europe editor, Shaun Walker in Donetsk, Harriet Salem in Slavyansk and Paul Lewis in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 8 May 2014      

Link to video: Hague disputes the Pig's claim that Russian troops have pulled back from Ukraine's border

The Kremlin beat a tactical retreat over a regional referendum following days of soaring tension that have left dozens dead and fed fears of a civil war in Ukraine.

Russia's president, Pig V. Putin, said the referendum being staged by pro-Russia separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine on Sunday should be postponed. If the referendum goes ahead, it will provide an argument for the region joining Russia as happened in Crimea in March.

Overt Russian support for the plebiscite could have triggered more substantive EU and US sanctions against Russia. Pig's snorts, following talks with the president of Switzerland in Moscow, looked likely to delay the imposition of a harsher round of economic penalties.

While Moscow has also opposed the holding of presidential elections in Ukraine on 25 May – a ballot strongly supported by the west – the Pig sounded more conciliatory, saying that the poll could be a step in the right direction.

The Russian leader insisted, however, that a presidential election should be preceded by constitutional changes in Ukraine aimed at federalising the country and handing greater powers to the regions, steps that would favour greater Russian influence over eastern Ukraine after the Kremlin annexed Crimea.

On Wednesday Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, dismissed the Pig's snorts to postpone the referendum as "hot air". Later the Ukrainian foreign ministry on Thursday said it was the "absolute priority" of the government of Ukraine to hold "a full-scale national dialogue with the participation of political forces, regional representatives and the public." But it declared: "Dialogue is impossible and unthinkable with terrorists."

The US cautiously welcomed the Pig's snorts but described them as insufficient. State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "We've made clear that we believe the proposed referendum is both illegal and illegitimate. We need to see more from the Pig than simply snorting for it to be postponed." She said Russia should use its influence to ensure the 25 May election proceeded peacefully.

Pig snorted that Russian troops had been pulled back from the Ukrainian border to their training grounds and locations for "regular exercises" but did not specify whether those were in areas near Ukraine. However, Nato and the White House said they had seen no indication of a change in the position of Russian military forces.

"We would certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal" White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "To date, there has been no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place."

It remained unclear whether the pro-Russia gunmen who have taken over public buildings in a number of towns in the Donetsk region would drop their referendum plans. Outside the main headquarters of the separatist movement, an occupied government building in Donetsk, there was confusion at the Pig's snorts. A group of men guarding the entrance insisted that it was impossible Putin had offered support for the Kiev elections and asked to delay the referendum, and were certain it was a false story dreamed up by nefarious Ukrainian and western media.

"So Russia has abandoned us as well," said Natalia Medvedenko, 58. "Well we will just have to fight the fascists on our own. But I still don't quite believe it."

In rebel-held Slavyansk a member of the militia who gave his name as Rustem described Putin as a coward who was "afraid of losing his money". Loading sandbags into a truck, he said: "Instead of helping Russian people here, he is betraying us. He will pay for this with a revolution in Red Square. Russian people will not stand by and watch this happen."

The Russian government said this week that constitutional changes in Ukraine should be enacted later this year, putting the presidential election off until then.

That strategy is rejected by the west. Senior western officials pushed for the 25 May poll to go ahead and accused Moscow of working assiduously to foment chaos in order to invalidate the election. They described Sunday's secession referendum as a bogus poll that would be seen as illegitimate, while insisting that the national election should go ahead.

The Ukrainians "cannot be bullied out of having their elections by disorder that is deliberately fomented and coordinated from another country – in this case from Russia," the foreign secretary, William Hague, told the BBC after visiting Kiev and before Putin spoke. "They are entitled to have their democratic choice, to choose their own president."

Herman Van Rompuy, the senior EU official who chairs EU summits, delivered the same message. "The immediate goal is to support free and fair presidential elections. We agreed that further steps by Russia to destabilise the situation in Ukraine would lead to additional, far-reaching consequences," he said.

With the tug-of-war between Russia and the west over the fate of Ukraine focused on popular votes, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, described the separatist referendum as contrived and bogus.

"We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine," he said.

The Americans and Europeans are engaged in intensive talks over a third round of sanctions against Russia, targeting key industrial and economic sectors. Deciding to implement the next round of sanctions would mark a major escalation and entail Russian retaliation, hurting weak European economies.

Catherine Ashton, the top EU foreign policy official, was in Washington discussing the options, while the US Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, toured EU capitals to coordinate possible sanctions moves. "We are moving in a strong and systematic way to maximise the cost on Russia while minimising to the extent possible the spillover on other economies including those here in Europe," he said in Paris. Depending on the Pig's moves, however, the wider sanctions regime looked improbable. Hague emphasised the long-term cost to Moscow of its policies in Ukraine.

Meanwhile violence continued to simmer in Mariupol, an industrial port city in Ukraine's south-east. An hour-long gunfight reportedly broke out on the main road approaching the city from Berdyansk after rebels ambushed a bus carrying special forces. "The bus driver was wounded, one of the attackers was killed and another two killed," Ukraine's interior ministry said in a statement.

According to the ministry one of those captured was the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic defence minister Igor Kakidzanov. Ukrainian forces then reportedly "cleaned" the rebel held city administration building before abandoning it less than an hour later and allowing the rebels to retake control.

Elsewhere a prisoner exchange between rebel representatives and the government in Kiev appears to have led to the release of up to three rebel leaders in return for four Ukrainian security services officers beaten and paraded on television after their capture on 27 April. On of the rebels released is Pavel Gubarev, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk republic.


U.S., Ukraine Dismiss Change of Tack by the Pig

by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 06:39

Russian President Pig V. Putin snorted that he told rebels in Ukraine to halt plans for independence votes and said his troops have pulled back from the border, but his apparent change of heart received short shrift from Kiev and Washington.

Pig on Wednesday also hailed a planned May 25 presidential election in Ukraine -- previously condemned by the Kremlin -- as a "move in the right direction".

The surprise comments suggested a potential resolution of the conflict in Ukraine which has snowballed into Europe's worst standoff since the Cold War, as government troops battle to wrest back control of more than a dozen towns seized by the pro-Russia rebels.

Pig's new stance helped power rallies on financial markets in Moscow and New York. The United States and Europe have been preparing sanctions to hammer whole swathes of the Russian economy, which is teetering on recession, if the Ukraine presidential poll is scuppered.

But the White House and NATO said there was no sign of a Russian troop withdrawal, and Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Putin of "talking through his hat" about the independence referendums, because they were illegitimate to begin with.

Pig ordered an estimated 40,000 troops to Ukraine's border two months ago, but said: "We have pulled them back. Today they are not at the Ukrainian border but in places of regular exercises, at training grounds."

Pig snorted he told the separatists in Ukraine "to postpone the referendums planned for May 11 in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue".

One of the separatist leaders, Denis Pushilin, said shortly after Pig's snorts that his proposal would be looked into on Thursday.

Pig snorted his declarations after meeting Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, current chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Russian president's spokesman said afterwards that, if Ukraine now halted its military offensive and started dialogue, "then this can lead Ukraine out of a situation that at this stage is growing only worse".

But speaking to reporters on Air Force One, White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said "to date" there has been "no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place".

Washington would "certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal", he added. "That's something that we have sought for quite some time."

Western governments have been increasingly warning of "war" over the worsening violence, and thrown their full weight behind the presidential election called by Kiev's interim leaders as a crucial step to political stability after a pro-Russian president fled.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Kiev after meeting Ukraine's new leaders that Russia had deployed covert fighters and "enormous propaganda" as part of "unacceptable pressure" to block the poll.

U.S. President Barack Obama said last week that if Moscow prevented the election, he would order stepped-up "sectoral" sanctions. His administration moved Wednesday to cut trade benefits to Russia.

Pig has admitted his forces were active in Crimea ahead of the territory's annexation in March but denied their use in east Ukraine.

"I would like to stress that the presidential election planned in Kiev, while it is a move in the right direction, will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held," he said.

Ethnic Russians who make up a large part of the population in the southeastern half of the ex-Soviet nation of 46 million had expressed fears about losing their language and other rights under a new pro-Western government that is likely to emerge after the vote.

Those concerns have fanned the insurgency, which is battling to win back strategic positions lost in recent days to the Ukrainian military.

Officials said 14 troops have been killed, 66 wounded and three helicopter gunships lost in the operation against the rebels, who are estimated to have lost more than 30 fighters.

Clashes and a resulting inferno in the southern port city of Odessa last Friday claimed another 42 lives, most of them pro-Russian activists, pushing the death toll over the past week to nearly 90.

Russia's Interfax news agency said pro-Moscow gunmen were trying to recapture the TV tower in the rebel-held town of Slavyansk from soldiers who overran it at the start of the week.

Ukrainian officials say they are moving cautiously towards the centre of Slavyansk, which has a population of more than 110,000, to avoid civilian casualties.

The interior ministry said it had information that the rebels had booby-trapped the buildings they occupied in the town with explosives.

Pig's snorts came ahead of commemorations of the Soviet victory over German forces in World War II on Friday, when he will oversee a display of military might in Moscow's Red Square.

Russian officials and state television have increasingly portrayed Kiev's actions as akin to Nazi-style fascism, while Ukraine sees a revival of Soviet aggression.


Ukraine separatists to go ahead with referendum despite the Pig's snorts for delay

So-called Donetsk People's Republic says vote will take place on Sunday despite Russian president's call for postponement

Agencies, Thursday 8 May 2014 11.33 BST   

A referendum on autonomy in east Ukraine is to go ahead despite a call from the Russian president, Pig Putin, to delay the vote.

The coordinating committee of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic announced after a meeting on Thursday that it would hold the vote on Sunday as planned.

Pig on Wednesday had urged them to delay the referendum, which many fear could be a flashpoint for further violence between Ukrainian troops and the pro-Russia militants who have seized government buildings in about a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine.

The rejection came as the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said Nato was treating the Pig's apparent tactical retreat with caution.

"The Nato assessment, in line with ours, is that we should approach the Pig's snorts with great caution," Tusk told a joint news conference with the visiting Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"This is not yet the moment when we can announce with enthusiasm that the crisis is over. We both hope that perhaps the Pig's snorts indicate some kind of a more optimistic scenario, but today it is too early for us to confirm that."

Rasmussen, commenting on assertions from the Pig that Russian troops had pulled back from the border with Ukraine, said: "We noted the Russian statement, but up to now we have not seen any signs that the troops are actually withdrawing."

Asked about a Russian foreign ministry statement that Rasmussen must be blind if he could not see signs of the Russian troops pullback, Rasmussen told reporters: "I have very good vision."


Mounting coffins lead to rising anger in Ukraine's fractious eastern regions

Numbers have replaced names as the body count in the east and south-east of Ukraine passed 50 in the last week

Harriet Salem in Slavyansk, Wednesday 7 May 2014 19.24 BST   

Four coffins laid outside the Church of Pentecost in rebel held Slavyansk's main square on Wednesday were a bitter reminder of the human cost of the mounting violence in the south-east and eastern regions of Ukraine.

The four men were killed in clashes between the rebel, pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian army on 5 May near Semovka. Three of the bodies were reportedly members of the local militia, while the other was the driver of a truck which caught fire during the hour-long exchange of fire between the rebels and soldiers.

A few hundred locals gathered outside the church while family and friends gathered tearfully beside the coffins to say goodbye to their loved ones and to place carnations over the bodies, an Orthodox tradition. Camouflage-clad representatives from local militia units, Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, also dropped by to pay their respects.

But the mourners grief was tainted by anger at the actions of the Ukrainian army. "Glory to Russia. Shame on America. Shame on the EU. Shame on Merkel and Obama," chanted some of crowd angrily as grievers filtered past the coffins in the background.

Numbers have quickly replaced names as the body count in Ukraine's east and south-east passed 50 in the last week. Last week, 42 pro-Russia demonstrators were killed in Odessa after being trapped inside a building which caught fire during clashes with pro-Ukraine protesters.

A few dozen more men are thought to have died in the last week during clashes between local militia and the Ukrainian army, which have raged on the outskirts of rebel-held Slavyansk. An anti-terror operation aimed at dislodging the rebels is now in its fifth day.

The deaths are fuelling pro-Russia sentiment in the region, where many see the Ukrainian army as an invading rather than liberating force. "It is impossible to turn back to Ukraine after the events in Slavyansk. We will not forgive the killing of our people," said 37-year-old housewife Irina, standing in the shade of a tree by the church.

A separate funeral was held on the outskirts of the city on Wednesday for Irina Boevets, a 30-year-old teacher. Her open coffin was carried from near the family home to the cemetery in a procession led by a priest carrying a cross aloft. The second civilian victim in just three days, Boevets was shot in the head by a stray bullet when she stepped out on to her balcony for a cigarette.

But as the day progressed there were signs of a glimmer of hope that negotiations could quell the violence that has rocked the region.

A prisoner exchange between rebel representatives and the government in Kiev appeared to have led to the release of up to three rebel leaders in return for four Ukrainian security service officers. One of the rebels released was Pavel Gubarev, the leader of the self-declared People's Republic of Donetsk.

Following their capture on 27 April, the Ukrainian officers were badly beaten, blindfolded and paraded to the Russian media in a macabre midnight press conference. Their release had not yet been confirmed by the authorities in Kiev and their condition was unknown.

The Russian president, Pig Putin, who has refused to recognise the government in Kiev that replaced Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Russia administration, also showed signs of compromise and called for the postponement of a regional referendum scheduled for Sunday on autonomy from Kiev.

But it is unclear how much influence Moscow can exert over the rebels. "He (Pig) is a coward. He is afraid of losing his money," Rustem, a member of the Slavyansk self-defence militia told the Guardian.

"Instead of helping Russian people here, he is betraying us. He will pay for this with a revolution in Red Square. Russian people will not stand by and watch this happen".

Solvyansk's self-appointed "people's mayor", Vyacheslav Ponomarev, said that the preparations for the referendum were underway and would only be halted if all involved parties negotiated an agreement.

Meanwhile violence continued to simmer in Mariupol, an industrial port city in Ukraine's south-east. An hour-long gunfight reportedly broke out on the highway approaching the city from Berdyansk after rebels ambushed a bus transporting special forces. "The bus driver was wounded, one of the attackers was killed and another two killed," Ukraine's interior ministry said in a statement.

According to the ministry, one of those captured was the Donetsk People's Republic self-appointed defence minister, Igor Kakidzanov.

Ukrainian forces then reportedly "cleaned" the rebel held city administration building before abandoning it less than an hour later and allowing the rebels' to retake control.


Young Ukrainians Brush Aside the Crisis and Voice Optimism About the Future

MAY 7, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — The din of dire news from Ukraine’s restive east and south tends to obscure people like Nataliya Gumenyuk, a spiky-haired bundle of energy who co-founded an online television channel that broadcast the country’s revolution. In spite of the daily chaos, conflict and crisis, she and other 20- and 30-somethings here insist that Ukraine has a brighter future in store, and they say they can build it.

Ms. Gumenyuk, 30, covered the Arab Spring revolts for two years as a journalist, so she knows firsthand how even the most promising revolution can lead to bitter disappointment. Still, she says, “I have more optimism than I did half a year ago.”

Silver linings may seem hard to find in Ukraine these days. It has already lost one large chunk of territory to Russian encroachment and may lose more. Its economy and public finances are on life support. And the transitional government seems unable to restore order in the east, where pro-Russia insurgents have seized government buildings and threaten to derail national elections this month. Ukrainians like Ms. Gumenyuk see those elections as a crucial next phase of the revolution that unseated the pro-Russian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, and that they hope will end more than 20 years of corrupt rule.

As messy as the aftermath has been, Ms. Gumenyuk and others profess satisfaction with the change in Kiev. What existed before was “feudalism,” she said; now, “my state perhaps cannot defend me, but it’s not acting against me, as it was before.”

Irena Karpa, 33, a writer and musician who is popular among young Ukrainians, shares the optimism, and the relief that her country was shaking off the old order. “For a very long time, I thought I was alone,” she said. “Finally, it all happened — people stopped being so passive.”

She took her children, ages 2 and 3, to the Maidan, the square in Kiev at the center of the protests that ultimately drove Mr. Yanukovych out, to explain what was happening, and she discovered to her delight that “I was by no means the most radical parent in our kindergarten.”

Her parents’ generation, she said, focused on their private lives as the Soviet Union came apart in 1991 and Ukraine gained what has proved to be a messy independence. Business was conducted on an “I know you, you know me” basis, she said, stunting the growth of private companies and institutions. Now “the Soviet Union finally collapsed,” Ms. Karpa said. “It is a pleasure to live in another historic moment.”

One lesson she had learned, she said, was the importance of voting. Like many of her contemporaries, she did not bother to cast a ballot in the 2010 election and regretted the result. “I say now, it was my own fault Yanukovych got elected,” she said. “Bad power is elected by good people who do not vote.”

Like dozens of other young Ukrainians heard from or interviewed in Kiev and Donetsk over the past two weeks, Ms. Karpa said she was determined now to shape her own future and speak her mind. Outside observers have noted the mood as well: Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the Russian tycoon and political opponent of the Pig president was released in December after 10 years in prison, said he saw in Ukraine “a readiness to take responsibility for one’s fate.”

Mr. Khodorkovsky recently told civic activists at an arts center in Donetsk, a major city in the east, that such readiness distinguished Ukraine from Russia under Mr. Putin. And Dmitri Oreshkin, one of the liberal Russian commentators who accompanied Mr. Khodorkovsky, told the Ukrainians, “If you don’t like the people in power, you can change it.” He added, “We can’t.”

Almost everyone at the arts center said they thought the national elections would take place as scheduled on May 25, even though Russia and its proxies in the east want to disrupt or invalidate them. But everyone was nervous about what might happen along the way, especially on Friday, the annual holiday celebrating the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 — a holiday that took on ominous overtones after Moscow started accusing the Kiev authorities of “fascism.”

Savik Shuster, a veteran of Russian television in the years when it was largely free of state control, moved in 2005 to Kiev, where he now hosts popular discussions with politicians and citizens that are broadcast live. He expressed as much confidence as anyone that, this time, Ukraine would secure its revolutionary gains and not watch them evaporate as it did after the peaceful Orange Revolution of 2004-5.

One reason, he and others said, was that blood had been shed this time and the Maidan was ready to revolt again if necessary. There are still hundreds of people camped in the square, almost all of them men.

Irina Minkova, 44, a web designer who was introduced at the Maidan Committee tent in the square as a spokeswoman, spoke fervently of defending the revolution’s gains and of presenting draft laws to Parliament that would put an end to chronic corruption and mismanagement. Mr. Yanukovych “has gone, but we haven’t succeeded in breaking his regime,” and must keep fighting to do so, she said.

Hanna Hopko, a young activist who showed Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. around the square in April, is one of several dozen people who have been working on the draft laws. The group, which includes lawyers and former government ministers, presented a package of proposals at the start of the month.

Ms. Gumenyuk said the paradox of the Maidan is not lost on Ukrainian security officials: With the police appearing corrupt and ineffectual, especially in the east, she said, “the only people ready to defend the state are their former enemies” like her, working to build a new Ukraine.

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« Reply #13262 on: May 08, 2014, 05:34 AM »

Kosovo Calls Snap Election after Failing to Create Army

by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 12:44

Kosovo's president on Thursday called snap elections for June 8 after lawmakers failed to agree on the creation of an army for the former Serbian province.

"I intend to ask from the European Union, in the coming days, to send a mission of observers to closely monitor the electoral process," said President Atifete Jahjaga as she announced the election.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci had called on Tuesday for an early poll after his plans to create a 5,000-strong army to "protect the sovereignty" of Kosovo were blocked in parliament.

Since the end of the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbian forces, NATO has been in charge of maintaining peace and security in Kosovo.

Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia in February 2008. It currently has only the Kosovo Police Service, a civil emergency force created with NATO assistance in 2009.

The plan to create an army met strong opposition from Kosovo's Serb minority, which numbers around 100,000 in a population of 1.8 million. They feared it would not be impartial in the still ethnically-tense territory.

The constitution requires the approval of two-thirds of lawmakers, as well as two-thirds of ethnic minority deputies, for major decisions.

Parliament has also been disrupted by ongoing disagreements over Serb demands for a guaranteed number of MPs in future elections.

On Wednesday, parliament voted to dissolve itself paving the way for the early elections.

Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won the most of the votes in 2010 elections, but with only 33 MPs in the 120-seat parliament, it had to join forces with several smaller parties to form a government.

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« Reply #13263 on: May 08, 2014, 05:36 AM »

U.S. Promises to Keep up Military Ties with Georgia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 06:38

The United States on Wednesday promised to keep up military cooperation with Georgia, a former Soviet state that views the escalating crisis in Ukraine with deep concern.

During a meeting with his Georgian counterpart Irakli Alasania, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel "reaffirmed the importance of the U.S. partnership with Georgia, and pledged to continue our strong defense cooperation," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

Hagel encouraged the Georgian government to continue with defense reforms and efforts to enable its forces to operate jointly with NATO, he said in a statement.

Events in Ukraine have alarmed Georgia, a pro-Western country that fought a brief war with Russia in 2008.

Moscow has several thousand troops stationed in the country's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it recognizes as independent states.

In discussions on Ukraine, the two defense chiefs "reviewed the efforts by allies and partners in the region to reinforce our international commitments and to continue to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on Moscow," Hagel said.

French President Francois Hollande and British Foreign Secretary William Hague have announced plans to travel to Tbilisi in coming days, representing a symbolic show of support for Georgia.

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« Reply #13264 on: May 08, 2014, 05:39 AM »

Gerry Adams: I complained formally over police detention

Sinn Féin president calls on police ombudsman to review his detention, and denies any connection to Jean McConville murder

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday 7 May 2014 21.22 BST    

Sinn Féin's president, Gerry Adams, says he understands the "antipathy" the family of IRA murder victim Jean McConville feel towards republicans – and has revealed he has made a formal complaint to the police about aspects of his detention in connection with the killing.

In an article for the Guardian, the former West Belfast MP says that during his time in custody for four days last week in relation to the 1972 kidnap, murder and secret burial, the "principal goal" of his police interrogators was to "get to the point where they could charge me with membership of the IRA and thereby link me to the McConville case".

He says he is totally innocent of any involvement and claims that police tried to suggest he was recruited as a police Special Branch agent and later an informer for MI5 when he was previously arrested in 1972 and taken to a British Army barracks outside Belfast.

In the article, he says the police had "no new evidential material" and the police assertions that he was guilty of IRA membership were based on "anonymous newspaper articles from 1971 and 72, photographs of Martin McGuinness and I at Republican funerals, and books written about the period".

Adams, who still faces the possibility of charges as a file on the McConville case has been sent to the region's Public Prosecution Service, writes: "I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, but I am not uncritical of IRA actions and particularly the terrible injustice inflicted on Mrs McConville and her family. I very much regret what happened to them and their mother and understand the antipathy they feel towards republicans."

Adams said his detention would in due course be dealt with by the police ombudsman. He has previously said the food he was given was "un-eatable". In his article, he says: "When I was being released I made a formal complaint about aspects of my interrogation. My arrest and the very serious attempt to charge me with IRA membership is damaging to the peace process, and the political institutions."

He has always denied involvement in the murder of the widow, whom the IRA accused of being an informer. Her family have always denied she was a British army agent.

In his article, Adams also hits out at the controversial history archive in which ex-IRA members name Adams as the commander who gave the order for the widow to be killed and buried at a secret location.

He accused those behind the Belfast Project – the award-winning journalist Ed Moloney, the IRA prisoner-turned-historian Anthony McIntyre and the historian professor Paul Bew – of being opposed to the Sinn Féin leadership.

In his article, Adams mentions Ivor Bell, saying prosecutors claimed in court that he was one of the interviewees of the Boston College project.

On the role of the Boston College-Belfast Project tapes, he says: "The allegation of conspiracy in the killing of Mrs McConville is based almost exclusively on hearsay from unnamed alleged Boston College interviewees but mainly from the late Dolours Price [an IRA Old Bailey bomber] and Brendan Hughes [a Belfast IRA commanding officer]. Other alleged interviewees were identified only by a letter of the alphabet, eg interviewee R or Y. One of these is claimed by prosecutors to be Ivor Bell, although the interrogators told me he has denied the allegations."

Ivor Bell was a former republican colleague of Adams and both men were flown to London in the summer of 1972 to hold secret talks with the British government, including William Whitelaw. Bell was a senior IRA negotiator in the discussions, but later was expelled from the Provisionals for trying to stage a coup against its leadership in the early 1980s. The 77-year-old republican veteran denies charges of aiding and abetting in the McConville murder.

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« Reply #13265 on: May 08, 2014, 05:41 AM »

Ireland's justice minister resigns over allegations by police whistleblower

Alan Shatter steps down after claims of corruption within the police force and political interference in policing

Henry McDonald in Dublin, Wednesday 7 May 2014 19.06 BST   
Ireland's justice minister has resigned over a critical report concerning allegations by a police whistleblower.

Alan Shatter offered his resignation to the Irish premier, Enda Kenny.

In response to the report into the Garda whistleblower's claims of corruption within the force and political interference in policing, Shatter sent a letter to the taoiseach stating: "I am anxious that any controversy that may arise on publication of the report does not distract from the important work of government or create any difficulties for the Fine Gael or Labour parties in the period leading into the … elections."

Shatter, who is also minister of defence, told Kenny: "It is my judgment that the only way in which such controversy can be avoided is by my offering you my resignation from cabinet.

"It has been a particular privilege to serve as both minister for justice and equality and also minister for defence.

"I want to thank you for affording me the opportunity to be of public service in these positions and I hope that the reforms and change implemented over the past three years will endure and prove to be of lasting benefit to all reside in our state"

His resignation comes before the publication of the report on Friday that is expected to be highly critical of Shatter's handling of whistleblower claims.

Kenny announced the news of Shatter's resignation to the audible gasps of members of parliament.

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« Reply #13266 on: May 08, 2014, 05:43 AM »

Berlusconi Minister Arrested for Aiding Mafia Fugitive

by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 13:10

Italian police arrested a scandal-hit former minister with close ties to ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday, accusing him of attempting to aid and abet a fugitive businessman convicted of mafia ties.

Claudio Scajola, who held top posts including serving as interior and industry minister under successive Berlusconi governments, has long been dogged by scandals.

He was forced to resign in 2010 over allegations that he bought a luxury flat next to Rome's Colosseum with bribes but was later cleared after claiming he did not know it was being paid for by someone else.

In 2002 he resigned as interior minister after being caught in a wire-tap vilifying Marco Biagi, a government consultant on labor law who had been assassinated by the extreme-left Red Brigades shortly after Scajola had taken away his police escort.

The 66-year-old is now accused of attempting to protect Amedeo Matacena, a Calabrian businessman who fled Italy for Dubai in 2013 after being sentenced to five years in prison for links to the 'Ndrangheta mafia network.

Matacena is still in Dubai and fighting extradition.

Scajola and others "assisted businessman Matacena in hiding his assets and helping him flee abroad", anti-mafia prosecutors in Reggio Calabria in southern Italy said in a statement.

Police arrested Scajola at dawn in a Rome hotel and conducted raids across Italy, seizing assets worth around 50 million euros ($70 million).

Berlusconi said he was "sorry and saddened" by the news of his old ally's arrest. Last month, another close friend facing definitive conviction for association with the mafia was arrested on the run in Lebanon.

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« Reply #13267 on: May 08, 2014, 05:45 AM »

Populist Party Gaining Muscle to Push Britain to the Right

MAY 7, 2014

GATESHEAD, England — Before winning power, Prime Minister David Cameron once called them “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists,” and a cabinet minister, Kenneth Clarke, dismissed them last year as “clowns.” But the U.K. Independence Party is showing that it cannot be laughed off.

Polls suggest that the party, which emerged from the right-wing fringes of British politics to call for sharp limits on immigration and for exiting the European Union, will perform strongly in the European Parliament elections that start on May 22. It appears poised to outpoll Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party, and it may even vie with the Labour Party for first place in Britain.

The party and its leader, Nigel Farage, are exerting substantial influence in Britain even before the voting begins, despite holding no seats in the House of Commons. The strength of the following it has built is forcing Mr. Cameron and his party to move further rightward, and compelling other mainstream parties to take account of the appeal its anti-elitist message has for economically stressed voters who might otherwise lean left.

In that sense, UKIP, as the party is known, is similar to the National Front of Marine Le Pen in France, the Party for Freedom under Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, and other protest parties in Europe. All have a chance in this month’s elections to establish themselves as legitimate political forces, their clout coming less from the seats they win than from their skill in redefining public debate around their populist themes.

From Amsterdam to Athens, populists are seeking to capitalize on discontent with mainstream politicians and with European integration, which many voters now associate more with austerity than prosperity. Even in Germany, arguably the nation most committed to the European Union, one fringe party is campaigning to scrap the shared euro currency.

Pressure from the right in Britain has already elicited promises from Mr. Cameron to restrict immigration, curb welfare entitlements for newcomers and hold a referendum in 2017 on whether to quit the European Union.

Speaking to 1,200 supporters who gathered in April in Gateshead, an industrial town in northern England, Mr. Farage urged Britain to get “up off its knees” and take a path independent of the European Union. He predicted that across the 28-nation bloc, political parties skeptical of greater integration would win about one-quarter of the vote.

For his party, Mr. Farage declared, the “days of mockery are over.”

Britain’s economy is recovering after years of austerity, but the country remains in a scratchy, doubting mood, questioning its role in the world after unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scots are to vote in September on seceding from the United Kingdom.

In that climate, Mr. Farage has provided what to some Britons are appealing targets of blame.

“He’s giving a very simple message to voters: Say ‘no’ to immigration, say ‘no’ to Westminster, say ‘no’ to Brussels,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, referring to the seats of national and European power.

Professor Goodwin said UKIP has evolved from “an anti-Europe, single issue pressure group” into a “broad radical-right force that is winning support not just from ex-Conservatives, but people we call the left behind: blue-collar, working-class voters who, under a period of harsh fiscal austerity, might otherwise be expected to support the center-left Labour Party.”

In Mr. Farage, who holds a seat in the European Parliament already, UKIP has a public face with an easy barroom charm and a talent for invective. In 2010 he turned a routine exchange into a YouTube hit by telling Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, that he had “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.”

UKIP caused a sensation by grabbing one-quarter of the vote in local elections last year. And unlike British elections, those for the European Parliament use a proportional system that benefits smaller parties.

The Conservatives worry that they will lose crucial voters to UKIP, perhaps enough to deny the Tories a new term in power in the British general election next year. But the insurgents threaten Labour as well with its appeal to working-class voters. In Gateshead, Mr. Farage asserted that immigration was “good for rich people, because it means cheaper nannies and cheaper chauffeurs and cheaper gardeners, but it has been a disaster for millions of ordinary, decent families.”

For all its success, though, UKIP has been handicapped by inconsistency and amateurishness. Mr. Farage has criticized other leaders as elitists, but he, too, went to private school. After complaining about foreigners taking British jobs, he has had trouble justifying hiring his German wife as a secretary at taxpayers’ expense.

He is often embarrassed by things his party colleagues say and do, like the statement by a local-government council member that the serious floods this year were divine retribution for Britain legalizing same-sex marriage. One supporter was suspended from the party over xenophobic comments he posted on Twitter; a member of the European Parliament resigned from UKIP after referring to women as “sluts.”

Many commentators say Mr. Farage got the better of two televised clashes over European policy with Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats who is Mr. Cameron’s coalition partner. But Mr. Farage also gave voters reason to question his judgment when he said in an interview that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was the statesman he most admired.

Still, by fusing the issues of Europe and immigration, Mr. Farage has given the party a clear identity and an easily understood agenda.

“They are standing on a tidal wave of public opinion,” Professor Goodwin said.

It remains to be seen whether UKIP can become something more permanent than a protest party. It did well in the last elections for the European Parliament in 2009, placing second in Britain with 16.5 percent of the vote and 13 seats, only to see its support slump to 3.1 percent in the general election the next year, when the government of the country was at stake.

But it is clear that the party has already moved British politics to the right. The Labour Party, which moved to open the country to workers from eight ex-Communist countries when it was in power in 2004, and before it needed to, has now said that step should have been delayed. And Mr. Cameron, besides hardening immigration policy and offering a referendum on Europe, has shifted his government’s stance on other issues, including the environment (UKIP opposes subsidies for wind farms).

Critics say that, far from weakening UKIP’s appeal, adopting this approach validates the party’s agenda. And on his signature issues, Mr. Farage is hard to outmaneuver.

Last year, Mr. Cameron’s government sent out vans with advertisements telling illegal immigrants to “go home” or face arrest. Unexpectedly Mr. Farage denounced the billboards as nasty and un-British. Not long afterward, the program was discontinued.

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« Reply #13268 on: May 08, 2014, 05:48 AM »

When Freedom Is the Right to Stay Under Wraps

MAY 7, 2014

TEHRAN — Cars honked frantically, their drivers in despair as separate columns of Iranian men and women in black chadors fist-pumped their way through the capital’s afternoon rush on Wednesday, shouting for the government to arrest all women who are improperly veiled.

“Corruption and immorality have engulfed the nation,” Shala Mousavi, a round-faced conservative woman, told an eager reporter for Iran’s state television. “We are forced to act.”

Tehran’s governor had said in an extremely polite statement that there would be no permit issued for the protest. But here the protesters were, descending on Fatemi Square, right in the middle of this city of 12 million and a stone’s throw from the Interior Ministry building, casually defying a government ban on rallies conducted without permits.

Nervous police officers stood by as the protesters blocked traffic in the square to deliver their demand for harsher measures against women who flout Iran’s obligatory Islamic dress code, especially now that the hot Tehran summer is approaching.

In its numbers, the demonstration, organized by a Shiite seminary in Qum, was unimpressive. But that it was allowed to take place at all drove home the point to many here that powerful forces are conspiring to undermine President Hassan Rouhani’s frequent promises of delivering more personal freedoms.

Right after the rally for more conservative dress, the organizers announced a new protest to express their doubts on the nuclear talks with the West.

Wednesday’s front in the long cultural war between Iran’s hard-liners and those seeking reforms within its political system focused on one of the cornerstones of Iran’s Islamic revolution: the obligatory veil.

All women in Iran, including visiting dignitaries and foreign tourists, are obliged to cover their hair and wear a coat, preferably just over the knees, in public. The state does not prescribe exact shapes, colors and sizes for the scarves and coats, so over the years many urban Iranian women have come up with spectacular outfits, combining tight coats with fluorescent scarves the size of handkerchiefs, from which locks of hair cascade. While no woman in Iran ventures out on the city streets without a scarf, hard-liners, speaking on television and during Friday prayers, frequently accuse some women of “roaming the streets practically naked.”

Western clothes are also uncomfortable, a prominent ayatollah said on Wednesday.

“Wearing very tight clothes, some cannot easily sit or stand. Such dresses are in fact a prisons and not a clothes,” Naser Marakem Shirazi said in a statement. “Our clothing culture must be altered.”

First, the state tried “cultural work” (long debates by clerics on state television), to persuade women to fully cover up, pointing out that showing too many tresses can lead to “moral depravations.”

Recently, posters have gone up in Tehran showing Iran’s national delicacy, the pistachio nut, with text saying that everything that is good is wrapped in a shell, just like the head scarf, the hijab.

“But this is not working,” said an angry woman during the demonstration regarding the educational approach toward the hijab. “Every summer the ‘bad hijabis’ come out again. It is just awful.” Giving her name only as Masoumeh, she said she and her friends had rented a bus to travel from their neighborhood, Yaftabad, “in order to end this situation.”

As she was speaking about Iran and Islam, and how everyone should obey the law, a bald man clearly opposing the protest came up to her and said, “Leave us alone. I am ashamed you are Iranian,” and walked off.

“May you be bald forever,” she replied, causing her friends to burst into laughter from behind their chadors.

The solution, “unfortunately,” Masoumeh said shaking her head, is to give the morality police free rein. All her friends nodded in agreement.

Faced with a quickly changing society, where more people are focusing on individual rights than traditions, Iran’s judiciary and police in 2005 established a special police, called the Gashte Ershad, or guidance patrol, in order to enforce the dress code.

For years they stood at shopping centers, main squares and subway stations where they intercepted women they deemed improperly dressed, put them on buses and drove them to a police station. Their fathers, husbands or brothers would have to go to the station to get them released.

During his campaign in June, Mr. Rouhani promised to take the much-hated force off the streets. After his election, he changed several police commanders and made sure the responsibility for the morality police would fall under the Interior Ministry, which he controls.

But even that was not enough to force change. During a visit last week, when Mr. Rouhani said at a book fair that “cultured people do not need guidance,” Ismael Ahmadi Moghaddam, an old-school police commander, responded that “uncultured people do need guidance.” The next day, vans and officers from the morality police appeared at the entrance to the book fair.

There are signs, though, that the morality police and their hard-line backers may have a tough summer ahead. A newly created Facebook page posts photographs of Iranian women taking off their head scarves during tourist outings. The page, titled “Iranian Women’s Freedoms Stealthy” has received more than 31,500 likes since Saturday.

Its administrators are anonymous, and a cover photo at the top of the page says, “We’re just ourselves.”


Iran Bans Pro-Reform Daily over 'False' Reporting

by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 13:12

The reformist Ghanoon daily did not appear on newsstands in Tehran on Thursday after the judiciary accused it publishing false reports and shut it down.

Ghanoon, meaning "law" in Persian, is the latest victim of ever-increasing bans being slapped on the media despite President Hassan Rouhani vowing to ease such restrictions when he took office in August.

According to the prosecutor's office, the daily's coverage of the arrest of Mohammad Royanian, a former police and government official, was deemed inappropriate.

"The newspaper published false reports aimed at disturbing public opinion, and (articles) against the Islamic values," read the prosecutor’s statement, carried on the Ghanoon website.

It did not elaborate.

According to media reports, Royanian has been arrested on charges of financial fraud related to his tenure as head of Iran's Fuel and Transport Management Organization.

Reacting to the action against Ghanoon, outspoken lawmaker Ali Motahari urged the Rouhani administration to stop banning the media, the reformist Sharq daily reported.

Rouhani, a reputed moderate who was elected last June, has pledged to work for more cultural and social freedom. But he is facing opposition from conservatives in the Islamic republic.

The judiciary has already permanently banned two reformist papers as well as serving temporary bans on pro-reform and conservative newspapers.

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« Reply #13269 on: May 08, 2014, 05:53 AM »

India elections: death toll hits 43 after attacks on Muslims in Assam

Police discover five more bodies of women and children after 'barbaric' rampage by tribal separatists

Agence France-Press in Narayanguri, Wednesday 7 May 2014 13.40 BST   

Indian police discovered five more bodies of women and children on Wednesday after a "barbaric" rampage by tribal separatists targeting Muslims in north-east Assam, taking the total number killed to 43.

The bodies were found as authorities continued their search of two districts in the remote tea-growing state where masked gunmen last week shot dead Muslim villagers, including babies, as they slept.

Police have accused tribal Bodo rebels of killing the Muslims, whose migrant community has been locked for years in land disputes with the indigenous group in the state, which borders Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Local media have reported that Bodos attacked the Muslims as punishment for failing to vote for their candidate last month in the country's mammoth staggered election, which is drawing to a close.

The Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, told reporters from the worst-hit Narayanguri village: "So far the death toll is put at 43. The killings were indeed barbaric, with even a five-month-old baby not spared. It is unfortunate that bodies are still being recovered and we have reports that 11 more people are missing."

A police spokesman travelling with Gogoi said the bodies of three children and two women were the latest found in the district of Baksa, about 130 miles west of Assam's main city of Guwahati.

The death toll has climbed from at least 32 on Sunday after a series of bodies were discovered in recent days, while several people wounded in the carnage on 1-2 May have also died in hospital.

Gogoi said 15 children, aged between eight months and 14 years, had been left orphaned by the bloodshed and were being sent to a charity-run home in Guwahati.

Villagers cried as they recalled their ordeals, while others pleaded with officials travelling with the chief minister to help shift them to hospital for treatment.

"I saw my mother and father dying in front of me. I managed to save myself hiding under the bed as masked gunmen put bullets in my parents," 14-year-old Habiba Nessa told AFP.

Security forces are searching for the Bodo guerrillas blamed for the violence, which has forced several thousand people to flee their homes in fear, officials have said.

The violence came during the final stretch of the general election, which has seen religious and ethnic tensions flare and which the Hindu nationalist hardliner Narendra Modi and his opposition party are expected to win.


India set for record voter turnout as parties trade barbs about rule-breaking

More than 100m vote in penultimate stage, but election has been marred by violence which some have linked to campaign rhetoric

Jason Burke in Varanasi
The Guardian, Wednesday 7 May 2014 19.47 BST      

India was set for a record turnout in its giant, bitterly contested elections on Wednesday after the penultimate stage in the six-week poll saw more than 100 million people cast their votes. In some areas around four-fifths of those eligible cast a ballot.

However, the bad-tempered campaign saw new controversy with parties trading accusations of breaching Electoral Commission rules. The Hindu nationalist opposition, the Bharatiya Janata party, called on the commission to be "fair" after their prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, was denied permission to hold major rallies in the northern city of Varanasi where he is standing.

"This is not a banana republic, where a prime ministerial candidate, by a pliant returning officer, is not allowed to address a meeting in his own constituency … India is not still under British rule," said Arun Jaitley, a senior BJP leader.

Modi is leading polls, but whether the BJP can form a government would depend on the margin of any victory. A polarising figure who is suspected by some of sectarian prejudice, the 63-year-old political outsider has stuck a chord with millions of Indian people who blame the outgoing administration, led by the Congress party and in power since 2004, for a lack of jobs, soaring inflation and poor services.

Though Modi has focused his campaign message at a national level on boosting faltering economic growth, relations between the country's Hindu majority and religious minorities, especially India's 150 million Muslims, has been a key and bitterly debated theme in the media.

Jaitley denied the charge that the BJP had sought to exploit such issues.

"The election is being fought on development. We are very confident," he said.

The campaign has been marred by violence which some have linked to campaign rhetoric. Police searched for at least a dozen missing people on Wednesday after finding seven bodies floating down river from a national park in the north-east of the country where Muslim villagers were killed last week.

The BJP has firmly condemned the violence, which it blames on the ruling Congress party. But Modi has highlighted illegal immigration of Muslims from nearby Bangladesh, drawing criticism from his opponents who say he is stirring up trouble.

The worst election violence was in Assam, where at least 41 people were killed by suspected militants belonging to the Bodo tribe in three massacres last week which are believed to be revenge attacks, after Muslims voted against the Bodo candidate in an earlier phase of the staggered polls.

There was more violence in the restive and disputed Himalayan former princedom Kashmir, where separatists have called a poll boycott. In one incident a reserve policeman was injured by a bomb planted at a voting station, police said.

Before the polls election officials predicted a significant rise in the number of voters.

Analysts say it is unclear if the historically high turnouts will benefit a single party.

So far, 66.2% of registered voters have exercised their right to vote, provisional data from the Electoral Commission shows. That compares with the previous best turnout of 64% during the 1984-85 parliamentary election.

Those braving temperatures of more than 40 degrees to vote on Wednesday included around a million in the constituency of Rahul Gandhi, the scion of one of south Asia's most famous political dynasties and the face of the Congress campaign for a third term.

Gandhi, 43, has won twice in Amethi, deep in rural parts of the vast northern state of Uttar Pradesh, in recent elections. The constituency is part of a cluster of seats which have long been held by members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty or their close associates. Uttar Pradesh is a key battleground, home to one in six of India's 815 million voters.

However, it appears unlikely that previous crushing victories in Amethi will be repeated. Many in the constituency are angry about what they say is the slow rate of social and economic progress. Gandhi is a weak public speaker and lacks charisma of other family members, analysts say, and polls suggest the party may be heading for a historic defeat.

"These people [the Gandhis] have destroyed three generations in Amethi," Modi, the son of a tea seller, said at a rally earlier this week. "But good days are coming."

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« Reply #13270 on: May 08, 2014, 05:54 AM »

Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra forced to step down

Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan named as replacement until July election after court finds Shinawatra guilty of abusing power

Kate Hodal in Bangkok
The Guardian, Thursday 8 May 2014   

Thailand's caretaker prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has stepped down after a court found her guilty of abusing her power – a decision likely to provoke further street protests after six months of violent political deadlock that has already left 25 people killed and scores injured.

In a unanimous decision, the constitutional court ruled that Yingluck had acted with a hidden agenda when she transferred a senior civil servant to another position shortly after taking office in 2011.

"The prime minister's status has come to an end," one of the court's nine judges said in a statement broadcast live on television. "Yingluck can no longer stay in her position acting as caretaker prime minister."

Analysts called the ruling a "new and potentially dangerous escalation" of Thailand's political crisis. On Thursday a grenade was thrown at the house of a judge on the constitutional court. No one was hurt, police said.

Another ruling against Yingluck is expected on Thursday, when Thailand's anti-corruption commission decides whether she failed to act against corruption in a botched rice-pledging scheme that has cost the government £14.5bn and led to some bankrupted farmers killing themselves.

While Yingluck's Pheu Thai party described the verdict as a virtual coup and conspiracy to oust her from government, the 46-year-old accepted the decision in an emotional press conference.

"I am proud of every minute I have worked as prime minister, because I came from a democratic election," she said.

Yingluck was accused of removing Thailand's then chief of national security, Thawil Pliensri – who had been appointed by the opposition – in order to promote her brother-in-law to another post as national police chief.

Although such a move was legal, the court ruled, it was done too quickly and without "moral principles". The court also ruled that the nine current cabinet ministers who were in office at the time of the transfer must also step down – among them the labour, finance and foreign ministers.

While anti-government protesters are likely to be happy to see Yingluck gone, the verdict falls short of their desire to see her entire government removed.

The commerce minister, Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, was named by the Thai cabinet as Yingluck's replacement until a planned general election on 20 July.

While the Pheu Thai party is widely expected to win – variations of the party have won every election since 2001 — it is unclear whether anti-government protesters will allow the election to go ahead. A snap election called by Yingluck on 2 February was marred by violence and protests, with whole provinces prevented from voting.

Yingluck's supporters – who mainly come from Thailand's rural north and north-east – have vowed to hold a rally on Saturday and argue that the courts have sought to topple her at the behest of anti-government protesters led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

The protesters accuse her of acting as a proxy for her brother Thaksin, the former prime minister who was removed from government in 2006 and now lives in self-exile in Dubai. They have staged rallies and sit-ins at government buildings since November, sparked by the midnight passage of an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return from exile.

"The opposition will try to delay [elections] until unspecified political reforms are carried out," said Thailand analyst Jacob Hamstra of the Economist Intelligence Unit. "These changes, presumably, would in effect increase the influence of the anti-Thaksin military and bureaucratic establishment in Bangkok at the expense of Thailand's poor, rural majority."

Wednesday's verdict is not unusual. Yingluck is the third Shinawatra-linked prime minister to be judicially removed from post since 2006, a point that analysts stress marks a "fascinating development in the Shinawatra saga" of political to-and-froing since his ousting.

"What is interesting about the current iteration is the bloodless, legal nature of the approach," says Liam McCarthy, an expert on south-east Asia at Nottingham Trent University. "Using the legal process to take what the coup couldn't secure, and the polls couldn't guarantee."

While Wednesday's ruling could be seen as a victory for the PDRC, it is unlikely to assuage protesters, who may now turn on the new caretaker prime minister, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Thailand's Institute of Security and International Studies.

"They lost Yingluck but they haven't lost her government, so I think we are set up for more drama," he told the Guardian. "He [Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan] is really a Thaksin lackey and Yingluck confidante, and now that he is acting PM, I suspect very quickly that will become the new lightning rod – [as] he comes from the family business."

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« Reply #13271 on: May 08, 2014, 05:56 AM »

Stolen 10th-century statue to be returned to Cambodia

Duryodhana bondissant was stolen from Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in Cambodia in 1972

Agencies, Thursday 8 May 2014 08.09 BST   

An ancient statue of a warrior that was stolen in 1972 and almost went to auction three years ago is to be returned to Cambodia.

The 10th-century sandstone Duryodhana bondissant was stolen from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in Cambodia and first sold at auction in London in 1975.

It was supposed to have come back on the auction block at Sotheby's in New York in March 2011 but the sale was stopped after Cambodian authorities made an appeal through Unesco.

The Koh Ker site is significant from a religious, historical, and artistic perspective, and the 1.58m-tall (5ft) Duryodhana is considered a piece of extraordinary value to the Cambodian people.

The New York district attorney Preet Bharara hailed the return to Cambodia of "a priceless piece of art, a priceless part of Cambodia's unique cultural history". He said: "After almost two years of litigation, the sellers have agreed to return it to where it belongs."

A second statue, bought in 1976 by the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, is also to be returned to Cambodia. It depicts Bhima, a heroic figure in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, in a fighting pose.

Museum officials met Cambodian officials year and are returning the statue "as a gesture of friendship, and in response to a unique and compelling request by top officials in Cambodia to help rebuild its 'soul' as a nation", the Pasadena museum said in a statement.

"The Norton Simon properly acquired the Bhima from a reputable art dealer in New York in 1976," the museum said. "However, the facts about the Bhima's provenance prior to the dealer's ownership are unclear because of the chaotic wartime conditions in Cambodia during the 1970s."

Cambodian officials believe it was looted from the 1,000-year-old Prasat Chen temple.

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« Reply #13272 on: May 08, 2014, 06:01 AM »

Seoul Urges Vigilance against N. Korea Nuclear Program

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 20:24

South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se Wednesday urged the U.N. Security Council to threaten North Korea with "the most serious consequences" if it insists on continuing nuclear tests.

North Korea has recently stepped up its testing the engine for an inter-continental ballistic missile amid concerns it is preparing a nuclear test, with recent satellite images showing stepped-up activity at its main nuclear test site.

"We must clearly warn North Korea that if it challenges the international community with another nuclear test it will be met with the most serious consequences," the minister said.

Pyongyang has already conducted three nuclear tests, in October 2006, May 2009, and February 2013, despite bans by the United Nations and increased international sanctions imposed in response.

North Korea's nuclear program represents "the weakest link in nuclear non proliferation, along with nuclear security and safety," Yun said.

"Further nuclear tests by North Korea must be prevented through concerted efforts of the international community," he added.

"If we fail to effectively act upon such a clear and present threat to international peace and security, it would critically weaken the credibility of the Security Council as well as the integrity of the U.N. charter."

The minister was speaking during a debate at the council on non-proliferation on the 10th anniversary of resolution 1540.

South Korea leads the committee for enforcing the resolution, and will took over the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of May.

The council's members unanimously approved a declaration Wednesday recalling the objectives of resolution 1540, which first passed in 2004.

The declaration notably asks states to take national measures to ensure weapons of mass destruction do not end up in the hands of terrorists. Of 193 members of the United Nations, 172 have submitted their national action plans.

The declaration asserts that "proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery constitutes a threat to international peace and security."

It also "reaffirms the necessity to prevent non-State actors access to, or assistance and financing for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, related materials and their means of delivery."

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« Reply #13273 on: May 08, 2014, 06:03 AM »

Vietnam Squares Off With China in Disputed Seas

MAY 7, 2014

Officials from Vietnam and China discussed an incident between the two countries in the South China Sea.

HONG KONG — Tensions in the South China Sea intensified Wednesday as Vietnamese vessels confronted Chinese ships that were working to place an oil rig off Vietnam’s coast, and Vietnamese officials claimed that their ships had been rammed by the Chinese vessels three days earlier.

Vietnam said the Chinese ships also fired water cannons at its flotilla in the encounter on Sunday, injuring Vietnamese sailors, although Chinese officials did not confirm the incident. The skirmishing highlighted the hair-trigger tensions in the region as Asian nations try to contain China’s more aggressive posture in pursuing maritime claims in the South China Sea.

“On May 4, Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels,” Tran Duy Hai, a Foreign Ministry official, said at a news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. “Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels.”

Last week, the Chinese state oil company Cnooc stationed the oil rig 120 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam, in waters claimed by China and Vietnam. The placement of the rig led to protests and demands by Vietnam that it be withdrawn, and the deployment of a Vietnamese naval flotilla to the area.

Yang Jiechi, a Chinese state councilor, rebutted the criticisms in a telephone call on Tuesday with Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh of Vietnam. Mr. Yang said the rig was operating within Chinese waters, but Mr. Minh told the Chinese diplomat that Vietnam would take “all suitable and necessary measures” to protect its rights and interests, according to the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry.

The incident is the latest chapter in territorial disputes involving China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. Taiwan also claims swaths of the ocean. The disputes themselves are not new, but an increasingly powerful China with new abilities to reinforce its claims has caused ripples in the region over the last few years. China claims expansive areas of the sea, encompassed in a “nine-dash line” map that critics have said has no basis in international law.

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the United States was concerned about “dangerous conduct and intimidation” in the region. “Given the recent history of tensions in the South China Sea, China’s unilateral decision to introduce its oil rig into these disputed waters is provocative and unhelpful,” she said at a daily press briefing on Wednesday.

In another flare-up, the authorities in the Philippines detained crew members of a Chinese fishing vessel in a disputed area of the South China Sea and accused them of poaching endangered sea turtles.

Dante Padilla, a senior inspector with the Maritime Group of the Philippine National Police, said Wednesday afternoon in a phone interview that the fishermen and several hundred sea turtles were seized on Tuesday by a Philippine National Police patrol boat during the operation, near Half Moon Shoal.

“From our initial reports, there was no resistance from the apprehended vessel, and no shots were fired,” he said.

Mr. Padilla said the fishing boat was being escorted to the Philippine city of Puerto Princesa, where charges of poaching would be filed against the men. They could also face charges related to the protection of wildlife, he said.

The Chinese government initially said it had lost contact with 11 fishermen in the area and the crew had been taken away Tuesday morning by armed men, who had fired warning shots before boarding the vessel. But on Wednesday, China acknowledged that the crew had been detained by the Philippine authorities near the Spratly Islands.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said China had called upon the Philippines to “immediately” release the fishermen, to “make rational explanations” of its actions and to “take no more provocative action,” the Xinhua state news agency reported.

Relations between China and the Philippines have grown increasingly tense over the last year because of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The tensions are flaring at a time when the American and Philippine armed forces are engaged in joint military exercises in the region and just after Washington and Manila forged a new security agreement.

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« Reply #13274 on: May 08, 2014, 06:04 AM »

China’s Monroe Doctrine

MAY 8, 2014

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — In the new edition of his classic “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics,” John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago makes a powerful case for the inevitability of war in Asia as China rises:

“My argument in a nutshell is that if China continues to grow economically, it will attempt to dominate Asia the way the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere. The United States, however, will go to enormous lengths to prevent China from achieving regional hegemony. Most of Beijing’s neighbors, including India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Russia and Vietnam, will join with the United States to contain Chinese power. The result will be an intense security competition with considerable potential for war.”

This is the core strategic question of the 21st century. History is not rich in peaceful transitions of power from one hegemon to another. China needs resources. It will seek them near and far — and find America in its path. As with the Soviet Union, but without the ideological conflict, the issue will be whether the evident potential for a conflagration can be finessed through alliances or forestalled through the specter of mutual assured destruction.

The seeds of conflict are evident. On his recent visit to Asia, President Obama made clear how the tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands to Beijing) could draw in the United States. His declaration that the Japan-administered rocks in the East China Sea “fall within the scope of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security” incensed China, which claims the islands. Mind your own business and get over the Cold War was the essence of the Chinese message to Washington.

Vietnam and China also have maritime conflicts that have flared in recent days as a result of a Chinese decision to place an oil rig in the South China Sea. Chinese ships escorting the rig rammed and fired water cannons at Vietnamese vessels attempting to stop the move in potentially oil- and gas-rich waters claimed by Hanoi.

The U.S. response in support of Vietnam, its erstwhile enemy turned pivot-to-Asia partner, was firm: “China’s decision to introduce an oil rig accompanied by numerous government vessels for the first time in waters disputed with Vietnam is provocative and raises tensions,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This unilateral action appears to be part of a broader pattern of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed territory in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region.”

China is asserting sovereignty in the South China Sea, angering the Philippines and Vietnam. Its actions appear to vindicate Mearsheimer, who writes that a more powerful China can “be expected to try to push the United States out of the Asia-Pacific region, much as the United States pushed the European great powers out of the Western Hemisphere in the nineteenth century. We should expect China to devise its own version of the Monroe Doctrine” — the 19th century keep-out-of-this-hemisphere message of the United States to Europe.

The push here in Vietnam to hedge against China by strengthening ties with the United States is evident. The “comprehensive partnership” announced last year indicates how far the wounds of war have healed. Cooperation extends across trade, investment, education (Vietnam is the eighth-largest provider of foreign students to the United States) and defense areas. The proposed trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership in which Vietnam would be a participant (but not China) is luring manufacturing investment from China. So are lower wages. A joint U.S. exercise with the Vietnamese navy was recently conducted.

Vietnam looks at virtually everything through the lens of relations with China. The fraternity of one-party communist systems is seen as insufficient insurance against vassal state status. France and the United States were latecomers to this corner of Southeast Asia. The Vietnamese creation story is one of a 1,000-year struggle to free itself from Chinese rule. So Vietnam looks to the United States as its offshore balancer.

Other smaller Asian nations will do the same as China rises. These American alliances, if firm, could be powerful deterrents to war. Economic interdependence, which did not exist during the Cold War standoff, could also prevent conflict. Competitive cooperation is a possible scenario. The Chinese seem bent on peaceful development, at least for now; harmony is at the core of the national vocabulary. But then Deng Xiaoping famously counseled: “Hide our capacities and bide our time.”

The Vietnamese pivot to the United States demonstrates how real its fears of China are. The little naval battle being fought around a Chinese rig suggests they have cause. The Mearsheimer prediction is not inevitable, as he acknowledges, but it is plausible. American retrenchment would make it more so. Rising hegemons seize on weakness when they see it. Deterrence is far preferable to war.
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