Ukraine: Parliament chief takes presidential power
Ukraine’s newly emboldened legislature voted Sunday to hand the president’s powers to the parliament speaker, a Tymoshenko ally. But Yanukovych has said that parliament decisions in recent days are illegal.A plane with Yanukovych onboard was denied permission to take off Saturday evening from Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine that is the president’s base of support the State Border Guard Service said. The president’s spokesman said Sunday morning that even he does not know where Yanukovych is.Ukraine is deeply divided between eastern regions that are largely pro-Russian and western areas that widely detest Yanukovych and long for closer ties with the European Union. Yanukovych’s shelving of an agreement with the EU in November set off the wave of protests, but they quickly expanded their grievances to corruption, human rights abuses and calls for Yanukovych’s resignation.The Kiev protest camp at the center of the anti-Yanukovych movement filled with more and more dedicated demonstrators Sunday morning setting up new tents after a day that saw a stunning reversal of fortune in a political standoff that has left scores dead and worried the United States, Europe and Russia.”We need to catch and punish those with blood on their hands,” Artyom Zhilyansky, a 45-year-old engineer on Independence Square on Sunday, referring to those killed in clashes with police last week.View galleryA protester guards the Ukrainian government building in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The Ki …He and other protesters called for law enforcement chiefs to be held accountable and Yanukovych put on trial.The newly emboldened parliament, in a special session Sunday, voted overwhelmingly to temporarily hand the president’s powers to speaker Oleksandr Turchinov.They also voted to remove a string of government ministers and tried to work out a coalition government. However the legitimacy of the parliament’s flurry of decisions in recent days is under question.The votes are based on a decision Friday to return to a 10-year-old constitution that grants parliament greater powers. Yanukovych, however, has not signed that decision into law, and said Saturday that the parliament is now acting illegally.The political crisis in the nation of 46 million has changed with blinding speed repeatedly in the past week. First there were signs that tensions were easing, followed by horrifying violence and then a deal signed under Western pressure that aimed to resolve the conflict but left the unity of the country in question.Protester self-defense units who have taken control of the capital peacefully changed shifts Sunday. Helmeted and wearing makeshift shields, they have replaced police guarding the president’s administration and parliament, and have sought to stop radical forces from inflicting damage or unleashing violence._Maria Danilova and Angela Charlton in Kiev contributed to this report.
Ukraine: Parliament boss takes presidential powers
Parliament struggled to work out who is in charge of the country. Fears percolated that some regions might try to break away after three months of political standoff that has left scores of people dead in a country of strategic importance to the United States, European nations and Russia.Yanukovych maintains that parliament’s decisions in recent days are illegal. But he did not speak publicly Sunday or make any apparent effort to stop them.A plane with Yanukovych onboard was denied permission to take off Saturday evening from Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine that has been part of the president’s support base, the State Border Guard Service said. The president’s spokesman said Sunday morning that even he does not know where Yanukovych is.Ukraine is deeply divided between eastern regions that are largely pro-Russian and western areas that widely detest Yanukovych and long for closer ties with the European Union. Yanukovych’s shelving of an agreement with the EU in November set off the wave of protests, but they quickly expanded their grievances to corruption, human rights abuses and calls for Yanukovych’s resignation.The Kiev protest camp at the center of the anti-Yanukovych movement filled with more and more dedicated demonstrators Sunday, setting up new tents after two days that saw a stunning reversal of fortune in Ukraine’s political crisis.View galleryA sticker depicting Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is placed on a burned military truck in Ki …Russia’s position will be important for the future of this country, since Moscow has been providing financing to keep Ukraine’s economy afloat and the two countries have deep but complicated ties.Russia’s finance minister on Sunday urged Ukraine to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund to avoid an imminent default. Russia in December offered Ukraine a $15 billion bailout, but so far has provided only $3 billion, freezing further disbursements pending the outcome of the ongoing political crisis.Signs emerged Sunday that Russia might throw its weight behind Tymoshenko. And a leading Russian lawmaker, Leonid Slutsky, said Sunday that naming Tymoshenko prime minister “would be useful for stabilizing” the tensions in Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies.Tensions mounted in Crimea, where pro-Russian politicians are organizing rallies and forming protest units and have been demanding autonomy from Kiev. Russia maintains a big naval base in Crimea that has tangled relations between the countries for two decades.The political crisis in this nation of 46 million has changed with blinding speed repeatedly in the past week. First there were signs that tensions were easing, followed by horrifying violence and then a deal signed under Western pressure that aimed to resolve the conflict but left the unity of the country in question.View galleryA youth draped in Ukraine’s flag passes by a memorial to protesters killed in clashes with the p …”We need to catch and punish those with blood on their hands,” Artyom Zhilyansky, a 45-year-old engineer on Independence Square on Sunday, referring to those killed in clashes with police last week.He and other protesters called for law enforcement chiefs to be held accountable and Yanukovych put on trial.The newly emboldened parliament, in a special session Sunday, voted overwhelmingly to temporarily hand the president’s powers to speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, a top ally of Tymoshenko.The legislators also voted to remove a string of government ministers and may name a prime minister later Sunday.However the legitimacy of the parliament’s flurry of decisions in recent days is under question. The votes are based on a decision Friday to return to a 10-year-old constitution that grants parliament greater powers. Yanukovych has not signed that decision into law, and he said Saturday that the parliament is now acting illegally.View galleryProtesters guard the Ukrainian government building in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The Kiev …In Kiev’s protest camp, self-defense units that have taken control of the capital peacefully changed shifts Sunday. Helmeted and wearing makeshift shields, they have replaced police guarding the president’s administration and parliament, and have sought to stop radical forces from inflicting damage or unleashing violence.Ukrainians’ loyalties remain divided. Emotions mounted around statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, after angry protesters took them down in several towns and cities. On Sunday, some pro-Russian protesters took up positions to defend Lenin statues in Donetsk and Kharkiv. Statues of Lenin still stand across the former U.S.S.R., and they are seen as a symbol of Moscow’s rule.Parliament set new presidential elections for May 25, and Tymoshenko says she will run.Tymoshenko, whose diadem of blond peasant braids and stirring rhetoric attracted world attention in the 2004 Orange Revolution, was both sad and excited as she spoke late Saturday night to a crowd of about 50,000 on Kiev’s Independence Square, where a sprawling protest tent camp was set up in December. Sitting in a wheelchair because of a back problem aggravated during imprisonment, her voice cracked and her face was careworn.But her words were vivid, praising the protesters who were killed this week in clashes with police that included sniper fire and entreating the living to keep the camp going.View galleryA protester guards the Ukrainian government building in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The Ki …”You are heroes, you are the best thing in Ukraine!” she said of the victims.The Health Ministry said the death toll in clashes between protesters and police that included sniper attacks had reached 82 over the last week. The protesters put that figure at over 100.Tymoshenko urged the demonstrators not to yield their encampment in the square, known in Ukrainian as the Maidan. “In no case do you have the right to leave the Maidan until you have concluded everything that you planned to do,” she said.The crowd was thrilled.”We missed Yulia and her fire so much,” said demonstrator Yuliya Sulchanik. Minutes after her release, Tymoshenko said she plans to run for president, and Sulchanik said: “Yulia will be the next president — she deserves it.”View galleryA man passes by a small memorial dedicated to people killed in clashes with the police at Independen …Yanukovych’s support base crumbled further as a leading governor and a mayor from the eastern city of Kharkiv fled to Russia.A plane carrying Yanukovych tried to take off Saturday evening from the eastern city of Donetsk but didn’t have the proper documentation so was turned away, Oleh Slobodyan of the State Border Guard service said Sunday. The president was driven off in a car from the airport, he said. Slobodyan said there has been no record of Yanukovych leaving Ukraine by land, and it was not clear where the plane was headed.Yanukovych, who spoke on television Saturday in Kharkiv, accused his opponents of trying to overthrow the government.”Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’etat,” he said. “I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed.”European officials urged calm. Ukraine’s defense and military officials also called for Ukrainians to stay peaceful but did not clearly come on the side of the president or opposition.The past week has seen the worst violence in Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. Orthodox priests held services Sunday to honor the dead.__Angela Charlton and Jim Heintz in Kiev and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.
Ukraine ushers in new era, president’s whereabouts unknown
Venezuelans protest en masse in rival rallies
The protests – which began on February 4 – are seen as the biggest test yet to socialist leader Maduro since he succeeded late leftist icon Hugo Chavez last year, with the country’s economic problems at the heart of often bloody scenes that have left 10 people dead and scores injured.Saturday’s competing mass rallies in the capital laid bare a chasm between those who support Maduro and those who oppose him, in an oil-rich country that despite having the world’s largest proven reserves is grappling with basic goods shortages, rampant inflation and violent crime.Just 24 hours after Maduro made a rare offer to US President Barack Obama of talks to end more than a decade of enmity, there appeared no prospect of rapprochement after Secretary of State John Kerry hit out at the Venezuelan government’s handling of the protests.Heeding the call of opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the election to succeed Chavez last year, at least 50,000 anti-government protesters streamed into several avenues in the Caracas neighborhood of Sucre.With some sporting Guy Fawkes masks or faces painted in the colors of the Venezuelan flag, they demanded the disarming of groups accused of intimidating and even attacking demonstrators.”The state should stop these paramilitary groups,” said the head of the main opposition coalition, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo. “It is unacceptable that there are armed groups that are out of control.”Others accused Maduro and late leader Chavez for allowing the economy to tailspin and for failing to tackle street crime and corruption.- Rival protests reflect national split -View galleryOpposition supporters march protest against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas February 22, …”I can’t stand the situation. It’s not fair that we’re in one of the richest countries in the world and still can’t get food,” 24-year-old student Joel Moreno told AFP.Meanwhile, tens of thousands of pro-government supporters, mostly women who clutched flowers and dressed in red and white, gathered in the center of the capital.Some of Maduro’s backers, draped in the national flag, denounced the student protests.”Venezuela is a country of peace and they can’t come here and try to change what it is,” said Josefina Lisset, 54.”They should let this president rule, he was elected democratically.”On Saturday, Maduro who denies holding links to armed groups, unveiled a new peace initiative – a week after a national public safety strategy he announced was overtaken by the protests.”I am calling on the Venezuelan people to join me Wednesday in a national peace conference with all the country’s political sectors … so we Venezuelans can try to neutralize violent groups,” he said.While supporters from the rival camps spilled on to the streets in different parts of the capital, security was heavy amid fears further clashes could erupt if they collided.The head of the Organization of American States, the regional bloc for the Americas, meanwhile, floated the idea of international mediation.In an op-ed piece in the Chilean paper La Tercera, Jose Miguel Insulza said that if neither government nor demonstrators in Venezuela “trusts anybody any more, no institution or person to be fair and balanced … maybe they should resort to external actors from somewhere in the Americas” to mediate “before it is too late.”- Death toll rises -As the rallies got under way on Saturday, medics announced that a 23-year-old woman shot in the face three days ago in the northern city of Valencia had died of her wounds, raising the official death toll linked to the unrest from nine to 10.The protests – which kicked off in the western city of San Cristobal led by students angry over the soaring crime rate – have increasingly been accompanied by violence and attempts to intimidate protesters.In the western state of Tachira, it was alleged that groups on motorbikes fired on people protesting by banging on pots at their windows. In Caracas, AFP journalists have in recent days also seen men on pick-up trucks escorted by motorbikes intimidating protesters.Early Saturday, Maduro said US Secretary of State Kerry’s remarks that the Venezuelan government had used “unacceptable” force on protesters had effectively given violent groups a “green light” to carry out attacks.Maduro insists the protests are part of a “coup d’etat in development” instigated by Washington and conservative ex-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who is considered close to the United States.
Mexico’s Sinaloa drug chief arrested
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, 56, arrived at the Mexico City airport in the afternoon, looking pudgy, bowed and much like his wanted photos. He was marched by masked marines across a tarmac to a helicopter waiting to whisk him to jail.Guzman was found with an unidentified woman, said one official not authorized to be quoted by name, adding that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service were “heavily involved” in the capture. No shots were fired.Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam described an operation that took place between Feb. 13 and 17, presumably in Guzman’s home state of Sinaloa, though he didn’t say what city.Mexican security agencies came upon several houses where Guzman was known to stay, Murillo Karam said, adding that they found tunnels connecting seven homes and the city’s sewer system, presumably for escape. The doors were reinforced with steel, which delayed entry by law enforcement, presumably allowing Guzman to flee several attempts at his capture before Saturday.Murillo Karam didn’t say how authorities traced him to Mazatlan, but said they knew of his whereabouts several times. They were unable to mount an operation earlier because of possible risks to the general public, he added.View galleryJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines …Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the DEA’s most-wanted list. His drug empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia. His cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last several years.His arrest followed the takedown of several top Sinaloa operatives in the last few months and at least 10 mid-level cartel members in the last week. The information leading to Guzman was gleaned from those arrested, said Michael S. Vigil, a former senior DEA official who was briefed on the operation.The Mexican navy raided the Culiacan house of Guzman’s ex-wife, Griselda Lopez, earlier this week and found a cache of weapons and a tunnel in one of the rooms that led to the city’s sewer system, leading authorities to believe Guzman barely escaped, Vigil said.As more people were arrested, more homes were raided.”It became like a nuclear explosion where the mushroom started to expand throughout the city of Culiacan,” Vigil said.View galleryJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines …Authorities learned that Guzman fled to nearby Mazatlan. He was arrested at the Miramar condominiums, a 10-story, pearl-colored building with white balconies overlooking the Pacific and a small pool in front. The building is one of dozens of relatively modest, upper-middle-class developments on the Mazatlan coastal promenade, with a couple of simple couches in the lobby and a bare cement staircase leading up to the condominiums.”He got tired of living up in the mountains and not being able to enjoy the comforts of his wealth. He became complacent and starting coming into the city of Culiacan and Mazatlan. That was a fatal error,” said Vigil, adding that Guzman was arrested with “a few” of his bodyguards nearby.One American retiree living in the building, who did not want to give his name, said he has lived there for two years and never heard or saw anything unusual.Vigil said Mexico may decide to extradite Guzman to the U.S. to avoid any possibility that he escapes from prison again, as he did in 2001 in a laundry truck — a feat that fed his larger-than-life persona.”It would be a massive black eye on the (Mexican) government if he is able to escape again. That’s the only reason they would turn him over,” Vigil said.View galleryFILE – In this June 10, 1993 file photo, Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo” Guzman, is …Because insiders aided his escape, rumors circulated for years that he was helped and protected by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s government, which vanquished some of his top rivals.In the bilateral assault on organized crime and Mexican drug cartels, Sinaloa had not only been relatively unscathed, but has seen its enemies go down at the hands of the government.Aggressive assaults by the Mexican military and federal police have all but dismantled the leadership of the Beltran Leyva and Zetas cartels, both huge rivals of Sinaloa, as well as the La Linea gang fighting Sinaloa for control of the border city of Ciudad Juarez.Calderon congratulated Pena Nieto on the capture Saturday via his Twitter account. Many also noted the huge boost that capture gave to the credibility of the Pena Nieto government, whose commitment to fighting organized crime has been questioned since he took office in late 2012.But there were rumors circulating for months that a major operation was under way to take down the Sinaloa cartel.View galleryFILE – In a Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, file photo, a poster displayed at a Chicago Crime Commission ne …Zambada’s son was arrested in November after entering Arizona, where he had an appointment with U.S. immigration authorities to arrange legal status for his wife.The following month, Zambada’s main lieutenant was killed as Mexican helicopter gunships sprayed bullets at his mansion in the Gulf of California resort of Puerto Penasco in a four-hour gunbattle. Days later, police in the Netherlands arrested a flamboyant top enforcer for Zambada as he arrived in Amsterdam.But experts predict that as long as Guzman’s partner, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada is at large, the cartel will continue business as usual.”The take-down of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman Loera is a thorn in the side of the Sinaloa Cartel, but not a dagger in its heart,” said College of William and Mary government professor George Grayson, who studies Mexico’s cartels. “Zambada … will step into El Chapo’s boots. He is also allied with Juan Jose ‘El Azul’ Esparragoza Moreno, one of most astute lords in Mexico’s underworld and, by far, its best negotiator.”Rumors had long circulated that Guzman was hiding everywhere from Argentina and Guatemala to almost every corner of Mexico, especially its “Golden Triangle,” amountainous, marijuana-growing region straddling the northern states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua.View galleryJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzman sits inside a federal police helicopter at a navy hanger in Mexi …In more than a decade on the run, Guzman transformed himself from a middling Mexican capo into arguably the most powerful drug trafficker in the world. His fortune has grown to more than $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which listed him among the “World’s Most Powerful People” and ranked him above the presidents of France and Venezuela.His Sinaloa Cartel grew bloodier and more powerful, taking over much of the lucrative trafficking routes along the U.S. border, including such prized cities as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.Guzman’s play for power against local cartels caused a bloodbath in Tijuana and made Juarez one of the deadliest cities in the world. In little more than a year, Mexico’sbiggest marijuana bust, 134 tons, and its biggest cultivation were tied to Sinaloa, as were a giant underground methamphetamine lab in western Mexico and hundreds of tons of precursor chemicals seized in Mexico and Guatemala.His cartel’s tentacles now extend as far as Australia thanks to a sophisticated, international distribution system for cocaine and methamphetamine.Guzman did all that with a $7 million bounty on his head and while evading thousands of law enforcement agents from the U.S. and other countries devoted to his capture. A U.S. federal indictment unsealed in San Diego in 1995 charges Guzman and 22 members of his organization with conspiracy to import over eight tons of cocaine and money laundering. A provisional arrest warrant was issued as a result of the indictment, according to the U.S. State Department.View galleryJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines …He also has been indicted by federal authorities in the United States several times since 1996. The charges include allegations that he and others conspired to smuggle “multi-ton quantities” of cocaine into the U.S. and used violence, including murder, kidnapping and torture to keep the smuggling operation running. He’s also accused of conspiring to smuggle heroin into the United States and money laundering.In 2013, he was named “Public Enemy No. 1″ by the Chicago Crime Commission, only the second person to get that distinction after U.S. prohibition-era crime boss Al Capone. Guzman faces a two-count indictment in Chicago charging him with running a drug smuggling conspiracy responsible for smuggling cocaine and heroin into the U.S. He’s also charged in New York with drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping and other crimes.Guzman is still celebrated in folk songs and is said to have enjoyed deep protection from humble villagers in the rugged hills of Sinaloa and Durango where he has hidden from authorities.”There’s no drug-trafficking organization in Mexico with the scope, the savvy, the operational ability, expertise and knowledge as the Sinaloa cartel,” said one former U.S. law enforcement official, who couldn’t be quoted by name for security reasons. “You’ve kind of lined yourself up the New York Yankees of the drug trafficking world.”Growing up poor, Guzman was drawn to the money being made by the flow of illegal drugs through his home state of Sinaloa.View galleryJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines …He joined the Guadalajara cartel, run by Mexican Godfather Miguel Angel Gallardo, and rose quickly through the ranks as a ruthless businessman and skilled networker.After Gallardo was arrested in 1989, the gang split, and Guzman took control of Sinaloa’s operations.An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in drug violence since former President Calderon deployed thousands of soldiers to drug hotspots upon taking office on Dec. 1, 2006. The current government of Pena Nieto has stopped tallying drug-related killings separately.___Stevenson contributed to this report in Mexico City. Spagat reported from San Diego, California, and Caldwell from Washington, D.C
UK tells Russia: Don’t intervene in Ukraine, let economy heal
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain warned Russia on Sunday against intervening in Ukraine’s “complex” crisis, saying London wanted to contribute to an international economic program aimed at shoring up the “desperately difficult” situation of the Ukrainian economy.In comments that may anger Moscow, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his government was in regular contact with the Russian government to try to persuade it that closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union should not worry it.”If there’s an economic package, it will be important that Russia doesn’t do anything to undermine that economic package and is working in cooperation and support of it,” Hague told BBC TV.When asked if he was worried that Russia might “send in the tanks” to defend the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine, Hague warned against what he called “external duress” or Russian intervention.”It would really not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing. We have to keep up the communication with Russia as we are doing … so that the people of Ukraine can choose their own way forward. There are many dangers and uncertaintiesUkraine’s parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovich on Saturday after three months of street protests, while his arch-rival Yulia Tymoshenko hailed opposition demonstrators as “heroes” in an emotional speech in Kiev after she was released from jail.The crisis began as protests against Yanukovich’s decision to abandon a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia, which promised to lend Ukraine $15 billion euros. Ukraine needs the money – foreign investment inflows fell by almost half last year, to a net $2.86 billion from $4.13 billion in 2012.Britain has so far assumed a lower profile on Ukraine than countries such as Germany and Poland, though Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin last Thursday about the situation there and Hague said he’d be talking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.Hague said the priority was to persuade Moscow that the fate of Ukraine – a country that was part of the Soviet Union and has been within Russia’s sphere of influence for decades – was not what he called “a zero-sum game” and that closer ties with the EU were not a bad thing.”It’s in the interests of the people of Ukraine to be able to trade more freely with the EU. It’s the interests of the people of Russia for that to happen as well.”He said he didn’t know what Russia’s “next reaction” would be, but he pushed the Ukrainian opposition to move urgently to form a government of national unity, agree arrangements for new elections, and to crack on with shoring up the economy.”While all this has been happening, the Ukrainian economy is in a desperately difficult situation,” Hague said. “And they need an economic program that the rest of us, through the International Monetary Fund and other institutions, can support so that they can stave off an even more serious economic situation.”(Editing by Larry King)
Shocking opulence revealed as Ukraine leader flees home
As parliament voted to oust Yanukovych Saturday and he fled to a pro-Russian bastion in east Ukraine after months of bloody protest again his rule, thousands of Ukrainians wondered awestruck around the breathtaking luxury of his abandoned property some 15 kilometres (10 miles) from Kiev after it was taken by demonstrators.”I am in shock,” said retired military servicewoman Natalia Rudented, as she looked out over the manicured lawns studded with statues of rabbits and deers.”In a country with so much poverty how can one person have so much – he has to be mentally sick.”The world needs to see this and bring him to justice.”Cars backed up for kilometres and a large crowd queued patiently at the imposing wrought iron front gates to get a glimpse of the former leader’s lavish lifestyle – fit for even the most ostentatious billionaire oligarch.”Don’t worry, everyone will get to go inside – it is big enough for all of you,” an opposition activist standing atop a column shouted through a loudhailer. He warned people to stay off the lawn in case of landmines and to beware of provocateurs trying to damage the place.View galleryThis picture taken through a window on February 22, 2014 shows the interior of the main building of …”Welcome to Ukraine,” he said as people shuffled by.Guarded just hours before by elite security forces, the property – the scale of which had been kept a closely guarded secret and appears to confirm suspicions of titanic corruption – was now under the control of anti-Yanukovych activists, patrolling the area and keeping people out of buldings to avoid looting.According to official declarations, Yanukovych’s salary as president was around $100,000 a year. The luxury of the estate clearly showed wealth far beyond that.At the entrance a sign was hung reading: “People, do not destroy this evidence of thieving arrogance.”Inside, visitors peered with disbelief through the windows of the palatial main house at the baroque, marble-covered living rooms decorated with gold icons and suits of armour.A few boxes strewn around on the marble floors hinted at a hurried exit.View galleryAn opposition protester walks in front of the main building at the residency of the Ukrainian presid …Amused or enraged, others posed for photos in font of towering faux-Greek columns and snapped pictures on their mobile phones of the collection of rare pheasants – imported from as far as Mongolia and Sumatra.For kilometres, they strolled along the waterfront promenade, up to the helicopter pad or over bridges and past horse paddocks to a vast garage housing a museum of soviet military vehicles.The complex for staff – who were nowhere to be seen – was itself the size of a British stately home.- ‘Where’s the golden toilet?’ -”Mum, where’s the golden toilet?” five-year old Ross asked as his mother led him around the edge of a floating banquet hall built to look like an Elizabethan galleon.”I also want a pirate ship like this for myself,” he said.”Don’t worry, we’ve already seized this one,” his mother Ivanova replied.Some of the visitors were still fresh from the violent clashes that left scores dead this week and saw central Kiev turned into a war zone.”It makes it feel even more worth it,” said Bogdan Panchyshin, a hardware store owner from the Western city of Lvov.”If only the hundred people who died could see it, I think they’d say the same,” he said, still wearing a camouflage bullet proof vest.As they emerged, people struggled to take in the breathtaking scale of Yanukovych’s wealth.”That house, that garden, that luxury,” mechanic Viktor Kovalchuk, 59, as his wife shook her head in amazement.”It should be turned into a hospital or an orphanage or something for the people killed or injured in the protests,” Kovalchuk said.”Whatever happens it needs to be given to the people. It was built with our money after all so it should serve us in the end.”
16 injured in blast in Bangkok shopping area: health officials
Bangkok (AFP) – At least 16 people were injured in a blast Sunday in a central Bangkok shopping district where anti-government protesters were holding a rally, the Erawan emergency centre said on its website.”Sixteen people have been reported injured,” the centre said, after the blast outside a major supermarket in a popular downtown commercial district.Police could not immediately confirm the cause of the blast.Blood was splattered on the pavement as soldiers and police sealed the area off, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.Rallies trying to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been hit by several gun and grenade attacks by unidentified assailants.The protesters have carried out a self-styled “shutdown” of the city, blocking several key intersections for weeks as they try to pressure the government to resign.A five-year-old girl was killed and several people were critically wounded in a drive-by shooting of an anti-government rally late Saturday in eastern Thailand.Tensions are high in the kingdom as protesters try to upend the crisis-hit government and replace it with an unelected “people’s council” to carry out reforms to root out corruption and alleged vote-buying.Clashes between protesters and police last week left five people dead – including a police officer – in Bangkok’s historic centre, close to the famous Khaosan tourist district.
Police fire tear gas at Istanbul anti-government protest
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish riot police fired tear gas on Saturday to disperse thousands of demonstrators in central Istanbul protesting against what they see as authoritarian new laws from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.Battling a corruption scandal, Erdogan’s AK Party has pushed through laws tightening government control over the Internet and courts this month, and has proposed a bill envisaging broader powers for the national intelligence agency.Officers backed by water cannon cleared demonstrators from the main Istiklal shopping street, some chanting “Everywhere Taksim, Everywhere Resistance”, a reference to weeks of anti-government protests last summer on the nearby Taksim Square.”(Prime Minister) Tayyip Erdogan, don’t pull the Internet plug,” read one banner among the crowds.”We are here because we are sick and tired of Tayyip’s angry scolding and AK Party laws trying to limit every freedom we have,” said Sinem Gul, a 26-year-old architect.Tear gas spread into shops and restaurants as police chased demonstrators into side streets, in the second such protest in recent weeks.Erdogan’s critics see the new laws as an authoritarian backlash against the corruption inquiry shaking his government, which his supporters say is a plot against him by powerful U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who wields extensive if covert influence over the police and judiciary.Social media and video-sharing sites have been awash with leaked recordings presented as evidence of government wrongdoing since the corruption scandal erupted in December. Reuters has been unable to verify their authenticity.The government says the laws – including the Internet bill which allows web pages to be blocked within hours – protect privacy and defend democracy in the face of a bid by Gulen to manipulate state institutions, a charge the cleric denies.The graft scandal poses one of the greatest threats to Erdogan’s 11-year-old rule and his response, including dismissing or reassigning thousands of police officers and hundreds of prosecutors and judges, has betrayed what critics say are increasingly authoritarian tendencies.Gulen has denied orchestrating the scandal and his supporters have said they are the victims of a witch-hunt.(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Andrew Roche)
Saudi ‘seeking Pakistan arms for Syrian rebels’
The United States has long opposed arming the rebels with such weapons, fearing they might end up in the hands of extremists, but Syrian opposition figures say the failure of Geneva peace talks seems to have led Washington to soften its opposition.Pakistan makes its own version of Chinese shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, known as Anza, and anti-tank rockets – both of which Riyadh is trying to get for the rebels, said the source, who is close to Saudi decision-makers, requesting anonymity.The source pointed to a visit to Riyadh earlier this month by Pakistan’s army chief of staff, General Raheel Sharif, who met Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz.Prince Salman himself last week led a large delegation to Pakistan, shortly after Saudi’s chief diplomat Prince Saud al-Faisal visited the kingdom’s key ally.Jordan will be providing facilities to store the weapons before they are delivered to rebels within Syria, the same source said.AFP could not obtain confirmation from officials in Saudi, Pakistan or Jordan.The head of the Syrian opposition, Ahmad Jarba, promised during a flying visit to northern Syria last week that “powerful arms will be arriving soon.”Rebels have long said that anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets would help tip the balance in the battle against Assad’s forces, which enjoy air superiority.The nearly-three-year conflict in Syria has torn the country apart, killing more than 140,000 people, including some 50,000 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Merkel voices support for Kerry’s Middle East peace bids
Berlin (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday she will fully support efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to relaunch the Middle East peace process during her upcoming visit to Israel.”We need, as soon as possible, a stable two-country solution, with a Jewish state of Israel and at the same time a state for the Palestinians,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast.”We also support the efforts made by US Secretary of State Kerry (and) I will of course use my stay to bring up this issue with the Israeli prime minister”, Benjamin Netanyahu, she added.Merkel, who will be in Israel Monday and Tuesday, recalled that for historical reasons Germany was particularly committed to Israel’s right to exist.Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Friday that US attempts to forge an agreement on a framework for peace talks with Israel had so far failed but that the efforts are “extremely serious”.Abbas met with Kerry twice in Paris this week in what a US official described as “constructive” talks.The top US diplomat has spent months trying to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to agree on a framework to guide talks towards a full peace treaty, but the negotiations have shown little sign of progress, with each side blaming the other.Germany and Israel have held regular “government consultations” since 2008, an arrangement where the two sides meet at regular intervals to discuss specific topics.Merkel’s visit will be the fifth such meeting between Germany and Israel. The last one was held in Berlin in December 2012.
Syrian troops advance near Golan Heights city
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces captured Saturday two rebel-held areas on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after days of intense fighting near a decades-old cease-fire line between Syria and Israel, state TV said.Related Stories
The violence came as the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded immediate access everywhere in Syria to deliver humanitarian aid to millions of people in desperate need.Russia and China, strong supporters of the Syrian government, joined the rest of the council Saturday in sending a strong message to President Bashar Assad’s government that civilians caught in the three-year conflict must be helped.The resolution doesn’t threaten sanctions but it does express the council’s intention to take “further steps” if the resolution isn’t implemented. The government and rebels hold several areas in the country under siege, leaving tens of thousands of people suffering from lack of food and medicine.The Syrian TV report, citing a military official, said troops and pro-government gunmen known as National Defense Forces captured the areas of Rasm al-Hour and Rasm al-Sad, south of the town of Quneitra. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights confirmed troops were on the offensive, adding that the air force was taking part in the attack.The Syrian army has been reinforcing its positions in Quneitra as part of efforts to drive rebels from the area, which is near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, since the opposition named a new military chief on Monday.Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir hails from southern Syria and was an army commander in Quneitra until 2012, when he defected to the opposition.In December, the U.N. Security Council strongly condemned all military activity on the Golan Heights by the Syrian army and opposition fighters, warning that it could “jeopardize the cease-fire” between Syria and Israel.The council then approved a resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force until the end of June. The force, known as UNDOF, was established after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Israel occupied the Golan Heights during the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in 1981.Also Saturday, Syrian activists said Kurdish fighters captured a northeastern town near the Iraqi border after days of combat with members of an al-Qaida breakaway group.The Observatory and a Syria-based activist who identified himself as Salar al-Kurdi said members of the so-called People’s Protection Units captured Tel Brak earlier in the day. It was the latest gain by Kurds in almost a year of fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”There are few civilians in the areas since many of them fled because of the fighting over the past months,” al-Kurdi said via Skype.The units are dominated by members of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, Syria’s most powerful Kurdish group. Since mid-2013, Kurdish fighters have been on the offensive capturing wide areas in northeastern Syria from the Islamic State.The Tel Brak battle left some 19 people dead, of which 16 were Islamic State fighters, the Observatory said.Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up more than 10 percent of the country’s 23 million people. They are centered in the impoverished northeastern province of Hassakeh, wedged between the borders of Turkey and Iraq. The capital Damascus and Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, also have several predominantly Kurdish neighborhoods.
Queen Elizabeth to name warship Queen Elizabeth
Newly minted Russian citizen Vic Wild took his second gold medal of the Games by winning the men’s parallel slalom snowboarding event. The 27-year-old native of White Salmon, Wash., became a Russian citizen after marrying Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina in 2011. But it was more than his relationship with Zavarzina that brought the change in citizenship. The US Ski and Snowboard Association was pouring more money into the half-pipe and slopestyle events (where Americans did capture five medals at Sochi) than into slalom snowboarding.”I thought I had never reached my potential (in the U.S.) and I wanted to see how good I could get. That’s why I’m a Russian,” he told The Associated Press.RECOMMENDED: Lessons from the Sochi Winter Olympic GamesApparently, Wild’s move was the right one for him – and the motherland.Wild and another adopted Russian, former South Korean short track speedskater Viktor Ahn, have won five of Russia’s 11 gold medals in SochiRussia also won the 4×7.5-kilometer men’s biathlon relay – it’s first biathlon gold at Sochi, and the nation’s 11th overall. Since 1960, the Soviet Union and Russia have won 19 biathlon Olympic gold medals, more than any other nation.Russia has 29 total medals at this point and is leading the four-man bobsled competition which concludes Sunday.Norway picked up gold medal No. 11 – tied with the Russians – in the women’s 30-kilometer mass start cross-country skiing event. Marit Bjoergen picked up her sixth gold medal (her third at Sochi) and becomes the most decorated female Winter Olympian, now with 10 total medals.The Dutch added two more speedskating gold medals to their record haul by winning both men’s and women’s team pursuit races.The US men’s hockey team were routed by Finland, 5-0, and will leave the Sochi games with no medals. Sweden and Canada will play in the men’s ice hockey finals on Sunday.The US won’t finish at the top of the medal tally overall – or for gold – at Sochi. The Christian Science Monitor’s Mark Sappenfield points to the unrealized expectations in two sports: speed skating and figure skating.This was “the worst Winter Olympics in history for American long-track speed skaters, tying the medal-less performances of 1984 and 1956.”And “US figure skaters had their worst Olympics since 1936. That was the last time the US won no medals in the men’s or women’s singles events, and it’s clear that judging had no effect on that.”RECOMMENDED: Lessons from the Sochi Winter Olympic GamesRelated stories
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Sochi Olympics shocker: Why Team USA won’t win medal count As of Saturday night at the Sochi Olympics, Team USA is all but guaranteed not to win the gold or overall medal count. Problems in US speedskating and figure skating are one reason.
On Saturday, with no fanfare and well before the medals were to be handed out, the US long track speedskaters ended their Olympics.The three women of the team pursuit came in 1.74 seconds behind Canada, putting them in sixth place. A little while earlier, the US men had finished seventh
It put an end to the worst Winter Olympics in history for American long track speedskaters, tying the medalless performances of 1984 and 1956. There is already talk of a formal inquiry into what went wrong for a team that was expected to win three or four medals at least. Jobs could be lost.At US Figure Skating, there is no such talk. There are some complaints about the judging and pride in the two medals it won – a gold in ice dance and a bronze in the new team event. Yet, by one important measure, US figure skaters had their worst Olympics since 1936. That was the last time the US won no medals in the men’s or women’s singles events, and it’s clear that judging had no effect on that.RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about the Winter Olympics?Fixing these two sports is crucial to America’s Winter Olympics success. Here in Sochi, America will not finish atop the medal table – either for gold or overall medals – and the the performance of these two sports are a big contributor.They are linked in American Winter Olympic history. Back when the Winter Olympics were a different Winter Olympics – when there was no snowboarding or short track or slopestyle skiing – they were often America’s most reliable medal factory. From 1968 to 1988, figure skating and speedskating accounted for 3 of every 4 Winter Olympic medals won by team USA (39 of 51).The roads to their disappointments in Sochi are vastly different. US Speedskating came to Sochi after a remarkably successful season in World Cup races. By contrast, US Figure Skating has been in a bit of a rough patch for several years.In that way, the two have different tasks ahead: one must figure out why it performed its worst in the event that mattered the most, while the other must figure out why it has slipped so far that it wouldn’t have mattered how its singles skaters performed.Going forward, though, the problem is the same: No one is exactly sure what went wrong.FIGURE SKATING1. The rest of the world is getting better
The measure of US dominance in figure skating is underlined by the fact that this is the first time since the Winter Olympics began in 1924 that the women have gone two consecutive Games without a medal. In both Olympics, an American woman was fourth – Mirai Nagasu in Vancouver and Gracie Gold here – but it wasn’t a particularly close fourth. Both were clearly a class below the medalists.
To some, it looks like a natural lull. “Every nation goes through a cycle like that,” says Susan Russell, editor-in-chief at International Figure Skating Magazine.
Combine that lull with the rise of Asian figure skaters and you get two Olympics without a medal. After all, years ago there were no medal contenders from South Korea. Without Kim Yu-na, America would have consecutive bronzes on the women’s side.
And it’s not just Kim. Denis Ten from Kazakhastan won a bronze, and all three skaters for Japan on the men’s and women’s side have been as good or better than their American counterparts during recent years.
There are signs that the US could come out of its lull in a big way in Pyeongchang. Gold has developed tremendously since she began working with coach Frank Carroll during the past year, and 15-year-old Polina Edmunds finished a respectable ninth in what was her first senior international competition. They could be the core of a very strong women’s team for Pyeongchang.
2. No ‘four-year’ planBut others see problems beyond the women’s side. The ice dancing pairs behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White have not shown an ability to make the leap to the podium, and no American man has had a reliable quad in his repertoire for a decade – and quad is a must under the current scoring system. Meanwhile, US Figure Skating has long struggled to produce podium-ready pairs.
“How do you get out of the doldrums of pairs being 10th place?” asks George Rossano of Ice Skating International Online. “There is no systematic approach to how you solve that problem.”
He thinks there needs to be, and the Russians’ performance here shows why. They left Vancouver with no gold medals and a determination not to be kept off the top of the podium in Sochi.
“They were highly embarrassed that they were skunked in Vancouver and they weren’t going to get skunked here, so they came up with a four-year plan,” he adds. “That kind of organized approach isn’t the USFS approach.”
In Sochi, they’ve won three gold medals and five overall.
1. Turmoil in the USTo be sure, US Speedskating will be coming up with a four-year plan – or something like it. Coming into Sochi, the expectations were perhaps a bit high. There was talk of trying to match the eight speedskating medals won in Salt Lake.
The optimism was fueled by good results on the World Cup tour this year. But some of the best results came at World Cups in Salt Lake and Calgary, where US skaters traditionally do well. In Europe and at sea level, the results – while still good – were not as impressive. Yet even last year, when the World Championships were held on this exact same ice in Sochi, the US came away with three medals: two for Shani Davis and one for Brittney Bowe.
Not winning a single medal was not even considered a possibility little more than two weeks ago. The “Mach 39″ skinsuits became a controversy, but it ended up making no difference when the skaters abandoned it. The decision to train at high altitude and outdoors in Italy before coming to an Olympics with an indoor track at sea level has become a greater cause for concern.
But the broader question is whether US Speedskating, the sport’s governing body in the US, has lost its way. “It’s like the fall of the Roman Empire,” coach Bob Fenn told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, citing constant infighting, turmoil, and frequent turnover of coaches, high-performance directors, and executives.
In a sign of that turmoil, president Mike Plant was brought in in March, and executive director Ted Morris joined him in September.
2. Questions about training techniques For now, the focus is on whether training in Salt Lake City (elevation 4,675 feet) is hurting the team when it comes to sea level. The Journal-Sentinel notes that US speedskaters have won 56 medals in 128 World Cup races at altitude (15 percent of the medals awarded), and 104 medals in 398 races at sea level (9 percent).The Dutch, who won a record 23 speedskating medals in Sochi, “have trained right by the water their whole lives and understand how to push heavy air and what tempo is required,” one source told the Journal-Sentinel. “Our team is trying to glide and carry speed like in Salt Lake City and it’s not working.”OVERSIGHT-Whatever the cause, the United States Olympic Committee is likely to take a keen interest in the Sochi speedskating post-mortem. In 2011, it gave $2.52 million to US Speedskating, more than to US Swimming and behind only the US Ski and Snowboard Association ($3.45 million) and USA Track and Field ($2.72 million). As the holder of the purse strings, the USOC has leverage to help get US Speedskating back on track.US speedskater Brian Hansen says the federation needs to let people do what they know works. Hansen trains near sea level in Milwaukee and his coach did not want him to go to Italy for high-altitude training.But Bowe says she has faith the USOC, US Speedskating, and the coaches will figure it out before Pyeongchang. “They want to win just as much as we do.”By contrast, US Figure Skating is self-funded, meaning it controls its own destiny. While Russell of International Figure Skating Magazine sees promise in the women’s and even in the ice dance, “the biggest problem is men and pairs.”
Inside the walled compound known as Mezhyhirya, posh mansions stood amid manicured lawns. There were parks dotted with statues, ponds with fountains and wild ducks, a tennis court, a golf course and a colonnaded pavilion.As throngs of ordinary Ukrainians got their first look at Yanukovich’s luxurious estate, many expressed disgust. Some brought their children — one even brought his dog. They considered the tour a victory for anti-government demonstrators who fought street battles with police this week in which dozens were killed.___View galleryAP newswoman Maria Danilova poses for a photo in front of the Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s c …Associated Press correspondent Maria Danilova has covered President Viktor Yanukovych for years, from his defeat in the Orange Revolution to his rise to Ukraine’s highest office. When the opposition took over the capital of Kiev and the gates to his once-secret residence were opened, Danilova joined thousands of Ukrainians who got their first look at the grandeur of the presidential compound.___At a protest of government censorship of the media in June outside the walls of Yanukovych’s residence, the gates were cordoned off by dozens of beefy riot police in red berets.On Saturday, the compound known as Mezhyhirya was guarded by the opposition’s self-defense units.Yanukovych had always refused to talk about his residence, admitting only to living in a modest house on a small plot inside Mezhygirya Park, about 140 hectares (345 acres) of forested hills along the Dnipro River.Journalists’ investigations traced the property and buildings around it to Yanukovych’s allies.Now those gates were open to the public.View galleryA man holds a golf club with the name of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on a golf course at t …The protesters’ self-defense units were deployed inside the compound to maintain order and prevent any looting or damage to the property. One of them, a middle-aged man, could not hide his anger: “Look how he lived, son of a bitch.”Activists described one giant wooden building as a guest house. It was closed and no one was allowed inside but a peek through a window revealed marble floors, crystal chandeliers, a massive stairway with what looked like gold-covered railings, and a giant piano in a reception hall with luxurious beige armchairs.Activists attached a yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag to the house, and many posed for photos in front of it.”It’s like we entered Berlin and seized the Reichstag,” said Oleksiy Tiunov, a 33-year-old computer specialist from Kiev. He added that he was proud of his fellow protesters.”They didn’t flee, they didn’t run, good guys, even when they started getting killed. Everybody stood there, even peaceful citizens. We Ukrainians still have this spirit which cannot be crushed,” Tiunov said, choking back tears.View galleryProtesters pose in front of the Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s countryside residence in Mezhyh …Many waved Ukrainian and European Union flags, embracing each other and chanting, “Glory to Ukraine.”A self-appointed guide who introduced himself as Roman told of the construction of the guest house and showed everyone a multilevel pond, surrounded by elegant statues. “This is where our money was wasted,” he said.People were overwhelmed but also curious. “Where is the helicopter pad? Where is the golf course?” one woman asked. “Where are the ostriches?” questioned another.One of those inside the estate was Mykhailo Havrilyuk, a well-known activist who had been stripped naked, beaten and humiliated by Yanukovych’s police force last month. He insisted Yanukovych must go, and he suggested Mezhygirya be turned into a children’s sanatorium.”Let him be hanged or hidden away in a place where nobody will find him,” Havrilyuk said.View galleryProtesters try to play on a golf course at the Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s countryside resi …Yulia Yashchenko, 26, brought her 5-year-old son, Volodymyr, so he could witness history.”I want to see how the guarantor of our constitution, so to speak, lived, and to show this to my child,” she said, with some sarcasm. “These are historic events.”Vitali Rus, 31, and his wife Lilia, 28, both lawyers from Kiev, could not hide their disgust.”It looks like a medieval pharaoh who had an entire empire working for him, who was spending all this tax money on himself,” Vitali said, holding his 3-year-old son, Artem. “When we saw footage from the residence of the British queen, we didn’t see such luxury as with this modern Ukrainian dictator.”By afternoon, thousands had lined up to enter. Some walked several kilometers (miles), because the roads were choked with hundreds of cars going there. Over loudspeakers, activists urged the visitors not to destroy anything and checked those who were leaving to make sure nothing had been taken.Back in Kiev, funerals were held for some of the dead protesters. Those victims were on the mind of Vitali Rus as he toured Yanukovych’s compound.”Today is a day of sorrow, when we must mourn the hundreds of those who died, and thanks to whom we were able to enter this territory,” he said. “And this wicked man, who calls himself the president of Ukraine, has fled.”Associated Press correspondent Maria Danilova has covered President Viktor Yanukovych for years, from his defeat in the Orange Revolution to his rise to Ukraine’s highest office. When the opposition took over the capital of Kiev and the gates to his once-secret residence were opened, Danilova joined thousands of Ukrainians who got their first look at the grandeur of the presidential compound.
China’s foreign minister makes rare visit to Iraq
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