WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama led the nation in commemorating Memorial Day, declaring the United States has reached „a pivotal moment” in Afghanistan with the end of war approaching.Related Stories
Obama, who returned just hours earlier from a surprise visit with U.S. troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, paid tribute to those lost in battle there and elsewhere over history. He called them „patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice” for their country.”Early this morning, I returned from Afghanistan,” Obama told the audience of several thousand people. „Yesterday, I visited with some of our men and women serving there — 7,000 miles from home. For more than 12 years, men and women like those I met with have borne the burden of our nation’s security. Now, because of their profound sacrifice, because of the progress they have made, we’re at a pivotal moment.””Our troops are coming home. By the end of this year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to end,” the president said to applause. „And yesterday at Bagram, and here today at Arlington, we pay tribute to the nearly 2,200 American patriots who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. We will honor them, always.” Obama has said it was likely that a small contingent of U.S. forces would stay behind for counterterrorism missions, as well as to train Afghan security forces.The president made a fleeting reference to the widening scandal involving reports of poor performance by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is facing allegations of delayed treatments, and even deaths in Arizona.”As we’ve been reminded in recent days — we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families, and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve,” said the president.View galleryPresident Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in A …”These Americans have done their duty,” Obama said. „They ask nothing more than that our country does ours — now and for decades to come,” he added, drawing more applause.Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general, was among those attending the ceremony. Lawmakers from both parties have pressed for policy changes and better management at the department.The Arlington remembrance was duplicated in villages, towns, cities and counties across the country. There was a holiday weekend reunion of some of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen in upstate New York. More than 3,000 volunteers placed flags at the graves of 120,000 veterans at the Florida National Cemetery. And in Mississippi, the annual Vicksburg Memorial Day parade was being accompanied by a wreath-laying ceremony at Vicksburg National Cemetery.Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Brian McNeal, who is stationed at Suffolk, Virginia, joined those attending Fleet Week in New York City. „They made the sacrifice so everyday citizens don’t have to worry about the evils of the world,” he said.At Arlington, Obama was joined by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, at the solemn ceremony across the Potomac River from White House on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The remembrance was for the war heroes of yesteryear as well as servicemen and women stationed around the world. It was carried out in idyllic weather under cloudless skies and a brilliant sunshine. The national observance was to be matched by parades, picnics and speeches across the country.Obama appeared at the cemetery’s amphitheater to speak after carrying out the traditional presidential wreath-laying, surrounded there by troops in formal dress and hearing the playing of Taps.Preceding Obama to the microphone, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, himself a military veteran, noted this year’s remembrance came with the approaching 70th anniversary of America’s D-Day landing in Normandy, France. And Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said „America’s sons and daughters are still out there today on the frontiers of our common defense.”
Battle at Donetsk airport; new Ukraine leader says no talks with ‘terrorists’
KIEV/DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine launched air strikes and a paratrooper assault against pro-Russian rebels who seized an airport on Monday, as its newly elected leader rejected any talks with „terrorists” and said a robust military campaign in the east should be able to put down a separatist revolt in „a matter of hours”.Ukrainians rallied overwhelmingly in Sunday’s election behind Petro Poroshenko, a political veteran and billionaire owner of chocolate factories, hoping the burly 48-year-old can rescue the nation from the brink of bankruptcy, civil war and dismemberment by its former Soviet masters in the Kremlin.Monday’s rapid military response to separatists who seized the airport in Donetsk was a defiant answer to Moscow, which said it was ready for dialogue with Poroshenko but demanded he first scale back the armed forces’ campaign in the east.Even as the fighting was getting under way, Poroshenko held a news conference in Kiev where he said the government’s military offensive needed to be „quicker and more effective”.”The anti-terrorist operation should not last two or three months. It should last for a matter of hours,” he said.As for the rebel fighters: „They want to preserve a bandit state which is held in place by force of arms,” he said. „These are simply bandits. Nobody in any civilized state will hold negotiations with terrorists.”Gunfire and explosions could be heard as a warplane flew over Donetsk’s Sergei Prokofiev International Airport, hours after truckloads of armed rebel fighters arrived and seized a terminal. Thick black smoke rose from within the perimeter.View galleryA Ukrainian helicopter Mi-24 gunship fires decoy flares over a residential area moments after attack …The government said its jets had strafed the area with warning shots and then struck a location where rebels were concentrated, scattering the fighters before paratroops were flown in to face them.Eight hours after it began, fighting was continuing after nightfall and had spread to residential neighborhoods nearby.”Fighting continues in the airport, with the use of planes and helicopters,” said separatist leader Denis Pushilin. „It’s a full-blown military standoff. I have no information on casualties. Our groups have destroyed one helicopter of the enemy.”At one point, three Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopter gunships fired rockets and cannon at the concrete and glass terminal. More plumes of black smoke shot up into the air as the helicopters fired at targets on the runway. The gunships threw out decoy flares as fighters shot at them from the ground.The airport serves a city of 1 million people that the rebels have proclaimed capital of an independent „people’s republic”, and where they succeeded in blocking all voting in Sunday’s election.Their attempt to seize the airport may have been intended to prevent Poroshenko from travelling there: he has said his first trip in office would be to visit the restive east.Russia’s foreign ministry urged Kiev to halt what it called „military operations against its own people” and said it wanted the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to investigate clashes with pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk.Donestk Resident on Poroshenko: „He is not ou … Play VideoPushilin called for „any available help from the Russian people”.FIRM MANDATE-Preliminary results, with 80 percent of the vote counted, gave Poroshenko 54.1 percent of the vote – towering over a field of 21 candidates with enough support to avert a run-off. His closest challenger, former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, had just 13.1 percent and made clear she would concede.German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Sarajevo he was glad no run-off would be required and that people would have to respect the new president’s legitimacy. He also acknowledged Poroshenko had his work cut out to heal Ukraine’s regional divide.”The doors are open to him, but there is no political paradise awaiting,” he said. „He will have to bridge a gap between the country’s east and west, and I sincerely hope that he will be able to do so.”Poroshenko’s most urgent task is finding a modus vivendi with the giant neighbor that has seemed poised to carve Ukraine up since mass protests in Kiev toppled a pro-Russian president in February.Sorting out a dispute over the supply of Russian gas to Ukraine will also be high on the agenda.Russia Ready for Talks With New Ukraine President Play VideoPoroshenko said Moscow’s „argument about legitimacy has disappeared” as he had also topped the polls among those who were able to cast ballots in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.”I hope Russia will support efforts to tackle the situation in the east,” Poroshenko said. He said he planned to meet Russian officials in the first half of June.But he showed no sign of heeding Moscow’s demand that he call off the operation against rebels in the east.”Protecting people is one of the functions of the state,” he said, promising to invest more in the army. „The Ukrainian soldier should no longer be naked, barefoot and hungry.”So far, Ukraine’s military forces have had little success against rebels who have declared independent „people’s republics” in two provinces of the eastern industrial heartland where about 20 people have been killed in recent days.Ukrainian officials say they have held back from using full force in part to avoid provoking an invasion from tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the frontier. Questions have also been raised about Ukrainian forces’ training, equipment and loyalties.Monday’s fighting began after a Reuters photographer saw three truckloads bring dozens of armed men to the airport.Armed separatists gather outside home of Ukraine&# … Play Video„The rebels are in the terminal. The rest of the airport is controlled by the Ukrainian national guard,” airport spokesman Dmitry Kosinov told Reuters before gunfire broke out.The Ukrainian joint forces security operation in the region said a deadline for the rebels to surrender expired and two Sukhoi Su-25 jets carried out strafing runs, firing warning shots. A MiG-29 jet later carried out another air strike.The militants then spread out across the territory of the airport, whose state-of-the-art main terminal was built for the 2012 European soccer championships held in Ukraine.„NEW RUSSIA”-Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last month described eastern Ukraine as „New Russia”, has made more accommodating noises in recent days. He promised at the weekend that Moscow would respect the will of Ukrainians, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that promise on Monday in saying Russia was ready for dialogue with Poroshenko.Western countries put little faith in Putin’s promises, saying he has repeatedly announced he would pull troops from the frontier without doing so. They dismiss Russia’s denials it has aided the rebels, whose Donetsk force is led by a mustachioed Muscovite the EU says is a Russian military intelligence agent.But Poroshenko’s victory could ease pressure for extending sanctions against Russia when EU government leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday evening.”We are not going to go forward on this for the moment,” one senior EU diplomat told reporters on Monday.Even though separatists ensured that millions of Ukrainians were unable to vote in the eastern regions, Poroshenko’s sweeping margin of victory gives him a firm mandate that makes it harder for Moscow to dismiss him as illegitimate, as it did in the case of the interim leaders he will replace.Many Ukrainians clearly rallied behind the frontrunner as a way to demonstrate national unity, three months after a pro-Russian president was ousted in a popular revolt and Moscow responded by seizing the Crimea peninsula, massing troops on the frontier and expressing sympathy with armed separatists.A veteran survivor of Ukraine’s feuding political class, Poroshenko has served in cabinets led by figures from both sides of Ukraine’s pro- and anti-Russian divide, giving him a reputation as a pragmatist who can bridge differences. That could shield him from the accusations of strident nationalism Moscow aimed at the interim leaders.He threw his weight and money behind the revolt that brought down his Moscow-backed predecessor in February and campaigned on a platform of strengthening ties with Europe.Yet it remains unclear how the tycoon can turn firmly westward as long as Russia, Ukraine’s major market and vital energy supplier, seems determined to maintain a hold over the second most populous ex-Soviet republic.”He has taken a heavy burden on his shoulders,” said Larisa, a schoolteacher who was among crowds watching the results on Independence Square, where pro-Western „EuroMaidan” protests ended in bloodshed in February that prompted President Viktor Yanukovich to flee to Russia. „I just want all of this to be over. I think that’s what everybody wants.”(Additional reporting by Richard Balmforth, Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk, Gareth Jones, Alastair Macdonald and Anna Dabrowska in Kiev and Sabina Zawadzki, Gabriela Baczynska and Lina Kushch in Donetsk, and Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Will Waterman)
Ukraine launches airstrike on pro-Moscow rebels
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president-elect said Monday he wants to begin talks with Moscow and end a pro-Russia insurgency in the east, but the rebels escalated the conflict by occupying a major airport, and the government in Kiev responded with an airstrike.
As darkness fell in Donetsk, a city of about 1 million in eastern Ukraine, it was unclear who was in control of the airport. Hundreds of fighters of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic had been brought by trucks to a wooded area on the fringes of the airport, many of them armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles. At least one warplane streaked over the city, firing flares, and explosions were heard from the direction of the airport.Early Tuesday, the DPR said on its Twitter account that a truck carrying wounded from the airport area came under fire and that the driver was killed.The rebels, who declared independence for Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk region after a hastily called and dubious referendum two weeks ago, regarded Sunday’s election of candy tycoon Petro Poroshenko as president to be illegitimate.In a victory speech, the billionaire promised to open a dialogue with residents of eastern Ukraine and to guarantee their rights. The rebels and many others in the region say they fear the February ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych will lead to the repression of its predominantly Russian-speaking population by Ukrainian nationalists.Poroshenko also said he would not negotiate with armed insurgents that he calls terrorists.Poroshenko Claims Victory, Wants to Visit East Play Video„Peace can only be achieved through a dialogue with people,” he said Monday. „This process cannot be stopped with the use of arms only; arms can be used exclusively against killers and terrorists.”Russia has heavily criticized an offensive by Ukraine’s military against the rebels, and Poroshenko indicated he wants it to end quickly.”The anti-terrorist operation cannot and should not last two or three months,” he said. „It should and will last hours.”But aggression by rebels, as at the Donetsk airport, could make it impossible for Ukrainian forces to back off.News reports said scores of armed insurgents descended on the airport about 3 a.m., and all flights were canceled. Heavy gunfire broke out, Ukrainian fighter jets and helicopters flew overhead, and dense black smoke rose in the air.View gallerySmoke rises at the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine’s military la …Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian operation, wrote on his Facebook account that the military had given an ultimatum to the gunmen occupying the airport to disarm. They didn’t comply, he said, and the military launched an airstrike.Denis Pushilin, a leader of the separatists, said they sent their men to the airport after some of their supporters were detained, but news reports cited the airport’s press service as saying the insurgents were demanding Ukrainian forces be withdrawn from around the facility.Donetsk news outlets, citing an unidentified health official, reported that two people were injured and one person killed by gunfire at the city’s main train station. In Slovyansk, a city about 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the north that has seen sustained clashes, an Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of an elderly woman and a young man following mortar fire from a government position.Sunday’s presidential balloting was praised by international observers as a „genuine election,” saying it was held freely and fairly.Poroshenko, known for his pragmatism, supports building strong ties with Europe but also has stressed the importance of mending relations with Moscow. Upon claiming victory, he said his first step as president would be to visit the east.View galleryPro-Russian insurgents with weapons arrive near the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26 …He said he hoped Russia would support his efforts to bring stability and that he wanted to hold talks with Moscow.Russia denies allegations that it supports or directs the insurgents. But Russia is pushing for Ukraine to decentralize its government, which would give more power to the regions including the east, and wants Kiev to withdraw its troops from the area. Russia massed its troops near the Ukrainian border, but President Vladimir Putin said last week that those forces were being pulled back to their home bases.After Russia annexed the southern region of Crimea from Ukraine in March, many Ukrainians feared Moscow wanted to invade the east.In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia appreciated Poroshenko’s statements about the importance of Ukraine’s ties with Russia and his pledge to negotiate an end to the fighting.”We are ready for dialogue with representatives of Kiev, with Petro Poroshenko,” Lavrov said at a briefing, adding it was a chance that „cannot be wasted.” He emphasized that Moscow saw no need for any involvement by the U.S. or the European Union in those talks.View gallerySmoke rises from the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine’s military …”We don’t need any mediators,” he said pointedly.The rebels had vowed to block the election in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and more than 80 percent of the polling stations were closed there after gunmen intimidated residents by smashing ballot boxes, shutting down voting centers and issuing threats.But nationwide, about 60 percent of Ukraine’s 35.5 million eligible voters turned out, and long lines were reported at polling stations in the capital.Joao Soares, special coordinator for the OSCE observer mission in Kiev, hailed the vote and the „clear resolve of the authorities, which resulted in a genuine election largely in line with international commitments.””Ukrainian authorities should be commended for their efforts in the extraordinary circumstances to facilitate an election” which was held in parts of Ukraine’s volatile east, Soares said.He said monitors saw multiple threats, intimidation and abduction of election officials in the east.With votes from 75 percent of the precincts counted, Poroshenko was leading with about 54 percent in the field of 21 candidates. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was running a distant second with 13 percent. If those results hold, Poroshenko would avoid a runoff election next month. Authorities said official results would be announced by June 5._Vasilyeva reported from Kiev. Associated Press writers Jim Heintz, Vladimir Isachenkov and Lynn Berry in Moscow and Laura Mills in Kiev and Alexander Zemlianichenko in Slovyansk contributed to this report.
In Ukraine, a vote to turn foe into friend
After winning Ukraine’s presidential election, Petro Poroshenko sets his first priority: reaching out to separatists. Nations in civil conflict need a healer who can calm the fears of those in rebellion.
So what does this billionaire businessman, the only Ukrainian tycoon to support last fall’s protests in Kiev, choose as his top priority?The new president says he will first travel to the eastern region known as Donbass and talk to people who either did not vote for him or could not vote because of civil conflict there. Mr. Poroshenko does not seek to crush the separatists in the Russian-speaking areas. Rather, he wants to ease their fear of political domination by the majority in the west who speak Ukrainian.In other words, rather than gloat with triumphalism after his strong victory, Poroshenko has adopted a humble approach. His magnanimity in reaching out to those who oppose him has the potential to heal a fractured nation and eventually unify it.Not many countries are able to hold elections during a civil conflict. Yet Ukraine has now done so, much like the United States did during its Civil War. In his second inaugural address in 1865, Abraham Lincoln sought to reconcile the North and South by reminding them to act “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Only then could the US “achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace.”Achieving peace in Ukraine will not mean forgiving the separatists who have killed civilians, Poroshenko said Sunday. Indeed, Ukrainian troops launched air attacks Monday against pro-Russia rebels who took the Donetsk airport by force. But he did promise to grant an amnesty for rebels who hand over their guns.Such an approach toward reconciliation hints that he may also seek to dampen the intense political rivalries that have damaged Ukraine’s democracy since independence in 1991. Much of that rivalry has been driven by oligarchs – including himself – in a contest over control of government favors. To set a new example, Poroshenko says he will relinquish control of his confectionery business. He also plans to end a system that has provided “corrupt benefits” to oligarchs and their families. This would be one of many reforms that the Ukraine is already making – including a plan to decentralize power to the regions – that will help unify the country.Poroshenko also hopes to reconcile Ukraine’s drive to join the European Union with Russia’s strong interest in a Ukraine that does not upset the current geopolitical balance with Europe. This task will surely test his well-honed negotiating skills, perhaps even more so than talks with the separatists.As elections results came in Sunday, Poroshenko seemed more pleased with the record voter turnout than his own victory. The turnout shows that Ukrainians are ready for a stable democracy, one governed by modesty instead of weaponry.
Ukraine launches air strikes against gunmen
Russia quickly welcomed Petro Poroshenko’s offer for talks, raising hopes that his election will indeed ease the protracted crisis that has fueled tensions unseen since the end of the Cold War.But Ukraine’s military launched airstrikes Monday against separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern capital of Donetsk in what appeared to be the most visible operation of the Ukrainian troops since they started a crackdown on insurgents last month.In Donetsk, a city of one million, sustained artillery and gun fire was heard from the airport. Fighter jets and military helicopters were seen flying overhead, and dense black smoke rose in the air.An Associated Press journalist saw several vehicles full of dozens of heavily armed men arrive to the area adjacent to the airport. Half an hour later, several flatbed trucks full of reinforcements came in.Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for Kiev’s anti-terrorist operation, wrote on his Facebook account that the military had given an ultimatum to the armed men who had occupied the airport to lay down their arms. He said the gunmen didn’t comply and the military launched an air strike.Denis Pushilin, a leader of the separatists, said they had sent their men to the airport after some of their supporters were detained.Many flights to or from Donetsk were delayed or canceled on Monday. Access to the airport was blocked by police.In Kiev, international observers hailed Ukraine’s presidential vote as a „genuine election,” saying it was held freely and fairly.Ukraine’s New Leader Vows Talks With Russia Play VideoCandy magnate Poroshenko, known for his pragmatism, supports building strong ties with Europe but also has stressed the importance of mending relations with Moscow. Upon claiming victory in Sunday’s vote, he said his first step as president would be to visit the Donbass eastern industrial region, where pro-Russia separatists have seized government buildings, declared independence and battled government troops in weeks of fighting.”Peace in the country and peace in the east is my main priority,” Poroshenko said Monday, signaling that he would bring to an end the Ukrainian army’s much-criticized campaign to drive out the armed pro-Russia separatists.The tycoon looked decidedly cool and composed Sunday night when the exit poll results were announced. On Monday, he got emotional when he was asked about the crisis in the east.”The anti-terrorist operation cannot and should not last two or three months,” he said. „It should and will last hours.”The military operation has caused civilian deaths and destroyed property — angering many eastern residents — while still failing to crush the rebellion.The president-elect also had harsh words for the pro-Russia gunmen, comparing them to Somalian pirates.”Their goal is to turn Donbass into a Somalia where they would rule with the power of machine guns. l will never allow that to happen on the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko said, adding that he hoped Russia would support his efforts to stabilize the east.Poroshenko’s spokesman Andriy Zhigulin told the Associated Press that the date for his inauguration has not been set yet.Ukraine Holds Crucial Election Play VideoIn Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia appreciated Poroshenko’s statements about the importance of Ukraine’s ties with Russia and his pledge to negotiate an end to fighting in the east.”We are ready for dialogue with representatives of Kiev, with Petro Poroshenko,” Lavrov said at a briefing, adding it was a chance that „cannot be wasted.” He emphasized that Moscow saw no need for any involvement by the United States or the European Union in those talks.”We don’t need any mediators,” he said pointedly.Lavrov also noted Russia’s longstanding call for the Kiev government to end its military operation in eastern Ukraine.The rebels had vowed to block Sunday’s voting in the east. Less than 20 percent of the polling stations were open there after gunmen intimidated residents by smashing ballot boxes, shutting down polling centers and issuing threats.But nationwide, about 60 percent of Ukraine’s 35.5 million eligible voters turned out Sunday, and long lines snaked around polling stations in the pro-Western capital, Kiev.Joao Soares, special coordinator for the OSCE observer mission in Kiev, hailed Sunday’s vote and „a clear resolve of the authorities which resulted in a genuine election largely in line with international commitments.””Ukrainian authorities should be commended for their efforts in the extraordinary circumstances to facilitate an election” which was held in parts of Ukraine’s volatile east, Soares said.He said monitors did see multiple threats, intimidation and abduction of election officials in the east, which is overrun by pro-Russian militia.With votes from 75 percent of the precincts counted Monday, Poroshenko was leading with about 54 percent in the field of 21 candidates. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was running a distant second with 13 percent. If those results hold, Poroshenko would avoid a runoff election next month. Election officials said official results would be announced by June 5.Speaking to reporters, Poroshenko struck a tone of unity Monday, saying he had no „rivals or political opponents in the race” and all of the other main candidates have congratulated him on his win.”More than ever, Ukraine now needs to be united,” he said.The election, which came three months after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was chased from office by crowds following months of street protests and allegations of corruption, was seen as a critical step toward resolving Ukraine’s protracted crisis.Since his ouster in February, Russia has annexed the Crimea Peninsula in southern Ukraine, the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk have declared their independence from Kiev, and the interim Ukrainian government has launched an offensive in the east to quash an uprising.The interim Kiev government and the West have accused Russia of backing the separatist uprising. Moscow has denied the accusations.President Barack Obama praised Ukrainians for participating in the voting „despite provocations and violence.” Obama said the U.S. supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, rejects Russia’s „occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea” and is eager to work with the next president._Vasilyeva reported from Kiev. Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov and Lynn Berry in Moscow and Laura Mills in Kiev contributed to this report.
Thai coup leader: Don’t protest, it’s no use
BANGKOK (AP) — Bolstered by an endorsement from Thailand’s king, the nation’s new military ruler issued a stark warning Monday to anyone opposed to last week’s coup: don’t cause trouble, don’t criticize, don’t protest — or else the nation could revert to the „old days” of turmoil and street violence.Related Stories
Speaking in his first public appearance since the coup, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha defended the army’s takeover, saying he had to restore order after seven months of increasingly violent confrontations between the now-ousted government and demonstrators who had long urged the army to intervene.”I’m not here to argue with anyone. I want to bring everything out in the open and fix it,” said Prayuth, who spoke at the army headquarters in Bangkok dressed in a crisp white military uniform.”Everyone must help me,” he said, adding: but „do not criticize, do not create new problems. It’s no use.”The tough words came as an aide to former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she had been released Monday from military custody after being held for three days at an undisclosed location without access to a telephone. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Yingluck had returned to her home.In a gruff, 20-minute appearance, Prayuth warned the media and social media users to avoid doing anything that could fan the conflict. He also called on anti-coup protesters who have been staging small-scale demonstrations to stop.”Right now there are people coming out to protest. So do you want to go back to the old days? I’m asking the people in the country, if you want it that way, then I will have to enforce the law.”View galleryPeople cover their mouths as they stand in front of riot police during a rally at the Victory Monume …Earlier Monday, a royal command sent in the name of King Bhumibol Adulyadej officially endorsed Prayuth to run the country and called for „reconciliation among the people.”Bhumibol, who is 86 and in fragile health, did not attend the ceremony, in which Prayuth knelt down before a large picture of the monarch and offered a decorated cone of banana leaves. The endorsement is a formality, but in a country where the king’s word is supreme, it is one that carries enormous weight.Thursday’s coup, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army.The country is deeply split between an elite establishment based in Bangkok and the south that cannot win elections on one side, and a poorer majority centered in the north that has begun to realize political and economic power on the other.Despite Prayuth’s threat to crack down on anti-coup protesters, soldiers did not use force against several hundred people who gathered again Monday at the city’s Victory Monument and eventually dispersed on their own, vowing to return the next day.”Freedom is more important, isn’t it?” said Khao Thitipong. „If we don’t have freedom, we don’t have life.”View galleryThai soldiers move in to secure the Victory Monument square to bar protesters from staging anti-coup …Through a loudspeaker, a soldier taunted the protesters, saying they had been paid to come out. „Can you still call yourselves patriots?” he said.The soldier also accused international journalists at the scene of inciting conflict. „Do you think they are good for Thailand?” he said, before addressing them directly in English: „Foreign media, you be careful.”In his speech, Prayuth defended the takeover, saying the army had to intervene because of sporadic violence that began last November as anti-government protests gathered steam. At least 28 people have been killed since then and more than 800 injured in grenade attacks, gun fights and drive-by shootings.”We are not doing this for the soldiers. I’m doing this to protect the honor and dignity of all Thais. We cannot step back anymore. We have to stop arguing,” he said. „The most important thing right now is to keep peace and order in the country.”After declaring martial law May 20, Prayuth invited political rivals and Cabinet ministers for two days of peace talks to resolve the crisis. But those talks lasted just four hours. At the end of the meeting, Prayuth ordered everyone inside detained, and announced the coup on state television almost immediately afterward.The junta has ordered more than 200 people — including most of the ousted government — to report to the authorities. They include scholars, journalists and political activists seen as critical of the regime.Thai Army Chief to Detail Interim Constitution Play VideoSome have been released, but others are being summoned daily — including several more late Monday. Other activists have fled or are in hiding, and human rights groups describe a chilling atmosphere with soldiers visiting the homes of perceived critics and taking them away.Prayuth said the army was taking people into custody to give them time „to calm themselves down” and none was being tortured or beaten.”When summoned, they will be asked about what they’ve done. … If they are calm and still, they will be released, in three days, five days, seven days,” Prayuth said.On Monday, the army released ex-lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban, who led half a year of demonstrations against the deposed government.Suthep was escorted to the criminal court by security officers and formally charged with murder for giving the army orders to crack down on protesters in 2010 when he was serving as deputy prime minister. But he was immediately released on bail and grinned broadly as walked out of the courthouse.There has been no armed resistance to the coup, but a soldier was fatally shot Monday in the eastern province of Trat, where three people were killed in February in a drive-by shooting and grenade attack on a protest rally against the former government. Police Maj. Gen. Thisathat Buranarat said about 40 soldiers who surrounded a house containing suspects linked to the attack exchanged gunfire with them, and one of the three inside escaped.The operation followed a raid last week on a house in Bangkok’s western outskirts that found a cache of weapons matching those used in the February attack.The junta has yet to map a way out of the crisis, but Prayuth said there would be political and administrative reforms. On Monday, he gave the green light for the Finance Ministry to seek billions of dollars in loans to pay debts owed farmers under a disastrous rice scheme instituted by the ousted government.After the speech, the general took only two questions from reporters.Asked if he would appoint a new prime minister, Prayuth replied gruffly: „Don’t ask about something that hasn’t happened. It’s already in the plans. Take it easy. There will be one.”Asked when elections would be held, Prayuth said that could happen when the crisis ends. It „depends on the circumstances,” he said. „I don’t have a schedule … as quickly as possible.”Then he ended the news conference abruptly, saying „that’s enough.”_Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Kay Johnson contributed to this report.
Nigerian defense chief says abducted girls located
Air Marshal Alex Badeh told demonstrators supporting the much criticized military that Nigerian troops can save the girls. But he added, „we can’t go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.”He spoke to thousands of demonstrators who marched to Defense Ministry headquarters in Abuja, the capital. Many were brought in on buses, indicating it was an organized event.Asked by reporters where they had found the girls, Badeh refused to elaborate.”We want our girls back. I can tell you we can do it. Our military can do it. But where they are held, can we go with force?” he asked the crowd.People roared back, „No!””If we go with force what will happen?” he asked.”They will die,” the demonstrators responded.That appeared to leave negotiation the sole option, but a human rights activist close to negotiators said a deal to swap the girls for detained Boko Haram members was agreed last week and then scuttled at the last minute by President Goodluck Jonathan.View galleryIn this Monday, May 26, 2014, photo, the Nigerians United Against Terrorism group attends a demonstr …The activist who is close to those mediating between Boko Haram extremists and government officials said the girls would have been freed last week Monday.Jonathan had already told British officials that he would not consider an exchange. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.Nigeria’s military and government have faced national and international outrage over their failure to rescue the girls seized by Boko Haram militants from a remote northeastern school six weeks ago.President Jonathan was forced this month to accept international help. American planes have been searching for the girls and Britain, France, Israel and other countries have sent experts in surveillance and hostage negotiation.A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said the department cannot confirm the reports about the Nigerian girls at this point. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation, spoke on background.Jonathan’s reluctance to accept offered help for weeks is seen as unwillingness to have outsiders looking in on what is considered a very corrupt force.Soldiers have told The Associated Press that they are not properly paid, are dumped in dangerous bush with no supplies and that the Boko Haram extremists holding the girls are better equipped than they are.Some soldiers have said officers enriching themselves off the defense budget have no interest in halting the five-year-old uprising that has killed thousands.Soldiers near mutiny earlier this month fired on the car of a commanding officer come to pay his respects to the bodies of 12 soldiers who their colleagues said were unnecessarily killed by the insurgents in a night-time ambush.The military also is accused of killing thousands of detainees held illegally in their barracks, some by shooting, some by torture and many starved to death or asphyxiated in overcrowded cells.More than 300 teenagers were abducted from their school in the town Chibok on April 15. Police say 53 escaped on their own and 276 remain captive.A Boko Haram video has shown some of the girls reciting Quranic verses in Arabic and two of them explaining why they had converted from Christianity to Islam in captivity. Unverified reports have indicated two may have died of snake bites, that some have been forced to marry their abductors and that some may have been carried across borders into Chad and Cameroon.Boko Haram — the nickname means „Western education is sinful” — believes Western influences have corrupted Nigerian society and want to install an Islamic state under strict Shariah law, though the population 170 million people is divided almost equally between Christians and Muslims._Associated Press Writers Bashir Adigun in Abuja and Will Lester in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.
Eastern Libya oil rebel rejects new government
TRIPOLI (Reuters) – The leader of the protesters occupying Libyan oil ports said on Monday he did not recognize Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq’s new government and suggested a previously agreed deal to end his blockade could be in jeopardy.Ibrahim Jathran, who wants more autonomy from Tripoli for his eastern region, had agreed with Maiteeq’s predecessor to steadily end the protests, which have cut the OPEC member country’s oil exports after the ports fell under his control last summer.Jathran’s statement added to the opposition to Maiteeq, a businessman backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, who was appointed two weeks ago in a chaotic, parliamentary vote that prompted anti-Islamist factions to challenge his legitimacy.Libya’s parliament, the General National Congress, has been paralyzed by infighting among pro- and anti-Islamist, tribal and regional factions vying for influence in the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.”All options are on the table,” Jathran said, without a direct reference to the oil accord. „If the parliament keeps with its decision on the new government, then we will take a different position than we have before.”Keeping ports closed will be a blow to Maiteeq’s new government, with the country’s oil production down to 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) compared with 1.4 million bpd because of the Jathran blockade and other pipeline protests.In a further complication, a deputy parliamentary president sent a letter on Monday to Maiteeq’s predecessor, Abdullah al-Thinni, asking him to stay on because a justice ministry body had ruled Maiteeq’s initial election by parliament was illegal.It was not clear how Thinni would respond to the request, which his spokesman said he had received. He asked to step down from the prime minister’s post after gunmen attacked his family. His predecessor was ousted by parliament in March.Three years after Gaddafi’s demise, rival brigades of former fighters allied with competing political factions are the real power brokers, often challenging the weak central government to make their own demands.A renegade former army general, Khalifa Haftar, has also challenged Maiteeq’s appointment as the third premier since March, reflecting deeper political turmoil.A week ago, gunmen claiming loyalty to Haftar attacked parliament as part of his campaign against Islamists, and he demanded lawmakers hand over power to a panel of judges.Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who broke with the autocrat in the 1980s and spent years in U.S. exile, claims his irregular forces are fighting to purge the country of Islamist militants because the government and parliament failed.Libya has proposed an early election in June to vote in a new parliament as a way to ease the crisis, though Maiteeq said on Monday he expected his government would stay on past the vote for the new legislature.(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
Pope says ‘no privileges’ for bishops on abuse
„Three bishops are being investigated,” Francis told reporters on his return flight from the Middle East when asked about the thousands of scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.”One of them has already been convicted. There are no privileges. Priests who do this are betraying the Lord,” said the Argentine pontiff, who has set up a new committee to root out abuse.Francis also said he would be celebrating a mass next week at his Vatican residence, St Martha’s, with „six or eight victims” and would then meet with them privately to talk about their ordeal.The pope last month personally asked forgiveness for the „evil” of abuses and promised more action in response to accusations of cover-ups and excessive leniency by the Vatican.At a UN hearing earlier this year, Vatican officials revealed that 3,420 abuse cases had been handled over the past decade by the Catholic Church’s Canon Law prosecutors.View galleryPope Francis celebrates a mass at the site known as the Cenacle, or Upper Room, where Christians bel …As a result of these cases, 848 priests were defrocked — expelled from the priesthood. A further 2,572 were ordered to „live a life of prayer or penance”, for example in a monastery.The Pope also commented that the celibacy of priests is not a matter of Church dogma, while defending its value amid calls among some Catholics for the requirement to be dropped.Pope Francis said „there are married priests in the Church” citing married Anglican ministers who joined the Catholic Church, Coptic Catholics and the priests of some Eastern churches.The celibacy of priests „is not a dogma”, the pontiff confirmed, apparently leaving the door open to debate on the subject.The Church, and notably the current pope’s predecessor Benedict XVI, had previously said that the celibacy issued was not a matter of unbendable church dogma unlike, for example, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.One suggestion which has been made among church faithful is of the ordination of married men, especially retired men, who are already very engaged in church business.It is not envisaged that single men could become priests and subsequently marry.