Ukraine rebels pay pensioners in dollars By Yulia Silina6 hours agoDonetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) – Ukraine’s pro-Russian rebels in battle-scarred Donetsk said Friday they had started paying dollars to pensioners who have been cut off from Kiev’s social benefits despite serving valiantly in Soviet-era wars.Related Stories
But the announcement raised immediate questions about where the separatist government — cut off from Ukrainian banks and claiming no Russian assistance — was getting the hard currency and how widespread the programme actually was.The insurgents themselves gave contradictory accounts for their sudden source of foreign wealth.The Donetsk rebel parliament’s speaker called the decision „temporary” and affecting only war veterans who had reached retirement age.”When we introduced the dual currency system (at the start of the year), we decided to accept municipal service and tax payments in dollars,” Andrei Purgin told AFP by telephone.”Some people started paying in dollars and our central bank began accumulating hard currency. Now our bank is paying it out.”Purgin’s account contradicts interviews conducted by AFP showing locals treasuring their dollars because of its relative strength against Ukrainian hryvnias and Russian rubles used by some in the war zone.But the region’s self-proclaimed deputy finance minister offered a different account.People queue at an Ukrainian checkpoint near Artemivsk on June 11, 2015, to leave the territory cont …”The republic’s industry has shifted its focus on Russia,” Oksana Taran told reporters in Donetsk — the insurgents’ de facto capital and central city in a province famous for its gigantic steel mills and plentiful coal mines.”So its only natural that our republic started receiving rubles and dollars. Russia’s payments came in these currencies,” she said.Russia does not officially import Donetsk coal and steel products. And it categorically rejects either funding or arming the militia governments or fighters.Taran did not explain the sort of trade involved. And Purgin failed to spell out why the dollar payments were only temporary or when they might be phased out.But the handful of dressed-up elderly that lined up for their greenbacks Friday morning did so before a bank of Russian state TV cameras — present in force whenever a Kremlin public relations campaign was involved.- Public relations war -Kiev’s pro-Western authorities in November controversially stopped paying social benefits to the residents of regions overseen by pro-Russian gunmen — a decision that provoked an uproar in Moscow.Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the decision was difficult but necessary because the fighters were pilfering money sent from Kiev and using it to fund their campaign.Militants have overtaken regional government agencies that Kiev was using to distribute various benefit payments. Ukrainian banks had also shut down their regional branches as a precaution that month.The Kremlin accused Poroshenko of human rights violations and even war crimes — a charge that received some support from pro-Moscow right-wing parties in Europe.Russian state television has since worked hard to paint a picture of local adoration of insurgency leaders who were looking after citizens abandoned by the Kiev authorities.”The pensioners eagerly started using this service,” a reporter from Moscow’s Life News — a TV channel and website linked closely to Russia’s state security service — said in a live broadcast from Donetsk.”I received my pension for June,” a sharply-dressed man who identified himself as Mikhail told the channel.”I travel to Russia a lot,” Mikhail said.
Ukraine‘s Mariupol steel plants in critical state after gas cut-off 14 hours ago KIEV (Reuters) – Two of Ukraine’s largest steel plants are in a critical situation and may have to cut production, owner Metinvest said on Friday, after fighting in the separatist east severed gas supplies to the port city of Mariupol and two other towns.Mariupol, a southeastern government-controlled city on the Sea of Azov, lies close to the frontline with rebel territories. Metinvest’s Ilyich and Azov Steel plants employ 10 percent of Mariupol’s population.The interior ministry accused rebels on Friday of shelling the pipeline, causing damage which gas transport monopoly Ukrtransgaz said had left three towns, including Mariupol, without gas supplies for up to two days.”The situation (at the plants) …is critical. They are considering switching the blast furnaces to low run and limiting their steelmaking and rolling processes,” Metinvest said in a statement.Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said Russia-backed had deliberately targeted the pipeline in a bid to destabilize Mariupol.”They’re doing this on purpose to sow panic in Mariupol, to shut down the factories so that people don’t get wages. It’s part of the Russian plan,” he said in a government meeting.Rebel officials denied responsibility for the attack on the pipeline around 100 km north of Mariupol. „The area indicated by Ukrainian authorities is beyond the reach of our mortars,” separatist news service DAN quoted them as saying.The industrial hub has been under threat from rebel attacks for months despite a ceasefire deal. Control of the city would help the rebels form a corridor to the Crimea peninsula which Russia annexed from Ukraine last year.Production has fallen significantly at the plants since fighting erupted last April but they have kept working despite severe supply disruptions.Output at Ilyich, which is producing around half as much steel as before the conflict, was 1.1 million tonnes in the first four months of 2015, while Azov Steel produced 590,000 tonnes in the first quarter.Overall, steel production in Ukraine was down by 28 percent to 9.247 million tonnes in the first five months of 2015 compared with the same period last year, producers’ union Metalurgprom said this month.Steel, chemical and agricultural goods make up the majority of Ukraine’s exports.(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Jason Neely and Susan Thomas)
Why Republican candidates should want to be shut out of debates
Now name the last guy who was ruined by one. That one’s easier: Rick Perry pretty much saw the bottom fall out of his 2012 campaign because he couldn’t immediately name the three Cabinet departments he was so gung-ho to eliminate. It was a bad moment, to be sure, but what it really underscored was how treacherous these modern debates can be, when everybody’s just waiting for the one embarrassing clip they can replay and tweet for days.
Iran says concerned over cyber-security of nuclear talks: Fars 7 hours agoNegotiators of Iran and six world powers face each other at a table in the historic basement of Palais …ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran expressed concern on Friday over cyber-security of nuclear talks with six world powers after reported cyber-attacks on venues linked to the negotiations on its disputed nuclear program, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.Related Stories
Russian computer security company Kaspersky Lab said on Wednesday that a computer virus was used to hack into sites including three luxury hotels that have hosted the nuclear negotiations in Austria and Switzerland.Fars said the Iranian Foreign Ministry had written to the Austrian and Swiss governments expressing „serious concern”.”Tehran has also asked to be informed about the results of investigations over the issue,” it said.Switzerland and Austria are investigating the allegations.”Iran wants all necessary measures … taken to secure the talks, including cyber security, as soon as possible,” Fars cited the ministry’s letter to Austria as saying.Iran and the six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – are trying to clinch a deal by June 30 under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions.Iran denies any ambition to develop nuclear weapons and says its program is for generating electricity and other peaceful purposes.Both Kaspersky and U.S. security company Symantec said the virus shared some programming with previously discovered espionage software called Duqu, which security experts believe to have been developed by Israelis.Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, has rejected as baseless reports on its possible link to the computer virus.On Friday, Russian news agency TASS quoted a diplomatic source as saying the nuclear talks had virtually stalled and the deadline for a final deal may have to be postponed.(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
Somali Islamists target African union military convoy in attack By Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh11 hours agoAfrican Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) tanks patrol after fighting against Islamist insurgents al …By Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh NAIROBI (Reuters) – The African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia said on Friday a convoy of Ethiopian soldiers was attacked a day earlier by the al Shabaab Islamist group and that a logistics team was headed to the scene to seek further details.The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab carries out frequent attacks in Somalia as it seeks to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law and overthrow the Somali government, which is backed by Western donors and African peacekeepers.”What we know is that al Shabaab attempted to ambush AMISOM yesterday evening but Ethiopian national defence forces (ENDF) of AMISOM repulsed them,” said Paul Njuguna, a spokesman for the peacekeeping force known as AMISOM.AMISOM is made up of troops mainly from Kenya, Uganda and Burundi. Ethiopia has also sent in soldiers, but they are not under AMISOM command.Al Shabaab said through a spokesman it had been behind the attack and claimed it had killed 30 soldiers and captured a truck equipped with an anti-aircraft gun. Al Shabaab and officials often given conflicting figures.The militants also said they had blocked the main road from the capital Mogadishu to another major town, Baidoa, impeding AMISOM’s access to the site of Thursday’s attack, and that they had carried out a suicide car bomb attack against another Ethiopian convoy that was sent for reinforcement.”Now we understand they are advancing towards on foot since we made the road impassable,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman, told Reuters on Friday.Ethiopian officials could not immediately be reached to comment.
„We don’t think it’s right that they send us the refugees, they need to be stopped on Serbian territory,” Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an interview on Kossuth public radio.”We take every option into consideration, including the possibility of complete physical closure of borders,” Orban, 52, said, adding that a decision could be made next Wednesday.The cabinets of both countries will hold a summit early July to tackle the issue.The borders of the passport-free Schengen zone „do not need to be touched at this point… it’s time to reinforce the external borders,” he added.Serbia is not yet a member of the EU, though it has started membership talks, while Hungary is part of the Schengen zone.A billboard with a state-funded anti-immigration poster reads in Hungarian ‘If you come to Hunga …Last year, Hungary received more refugees per capita than any other EU country apart from Sweden, shooting up to almost 43,000 people from just 2,000 in 2012.So far this year, some 54,000 migrants have entered Hungary, and the total this year is expected to be up to 130,000, Orban’s chief of staff Janos Lazar said Thursday.Earlier this year there was a spike in the number of people from Kosovo entering, but the vast majority now are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.According to official data, 95 percent of them cross into Hungary from Serbia.Austria, which borders Hungary and has also seen a sharp rise in the number of migrants, said this week that it is sending 40 police to help reinforce the Hungary-Serbia border.Orban’s comments came amid a anti-immigration campaign involving billboards with slogans such as, „If you come to Hungary, you cannot take Hungarians’ jobs.”- Xenophobia -Some of the ads have been vandalised, and several spoof billboards popped up over the last few days featuring the official design.Local media reported that one in Szombathely, southwest of the capital Budapest said: „If you come to Hungary, could you please bring a sane prime minister?”A satirical party, The Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog, says it has collected 25 million forints (80.000 euros, $89,800) in donations in three days with the promise of putting up more spoof billboards.The government has also sent out a questionnaire on immigration to eight million voters that has been sharply criticised by the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR amongst others.At the same time a poll in April said that xenophobia has reached a 14-year high while the anti-immigration Jobbik party has seen its poll ratings rise in some surveys.
Shell mulls pulling out of Ukrainian shale gas project June 11, 2015 10:30 AMAnglo-Dutch firm Shell signed a deal with the Ukrainian government in early 2013Â to explore the Yuzivska field, an important agreement for Kiev as it seeks to reduce its dependence on Russian energy (AFP Photo/Carl Court)Related Stories
London (AFP) – Shell is considering exiting a major shale gas project in eastern Ukraine, a source said Thursday, almost a year after freezing exploration owing to fighting between government troops and pro-Russian rebels.The Anglo-Dutch oil company signed a deal with the Ukrainian government in early 2013 to explore the Yuzivska field, an important agreement for Kiev as it seeks to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.However Shell announced in July 2014 that it was prevented from working on the site, located in part in the rebel bastion of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, due to „force majeur” — forces outside its control, namely the proximity to the fighting.”Due to the said events, project implementation conditions have been materially changed,” a Shell spokeswoman told AFP on Thursday.”Therefore, we have begun discussions with the Ukrainian government and our partner Nadra Yuzivska LLC on the way forward with the PSA, pursuant to its terms.”A source close to the matter confirmed that withdrawing from the project altogether was one of the options under consideration by the oil firm.The Ukrainian government estimated in 2013 that the field could produce between 10 and 20 billion cubic metres of gas every year.The Yuzivska field covers about 8,000 square kilometres across the regions of Donetsk and Kharkiv.Ukraine is considered one of the most promising countries for the exploration of shale gas in Europe, alongside Poland and Romania.
Exclusive: U.S.-Cuba deal expected in early July to restore ties, reopen embassies – sources By Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick3 hours agoView phoCuban-themed murals adorn the buildings along SW 8th Street, known locally as „Calle Ocho” …By Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration is expected to announce an agreement with Cuba in early July to reopen embassies and restore diplomatic relations severed more than five decades ago, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.The two sides hope to conclude the deal by the first week of next month, clearing the way for Secretary of State John Kerry to visit Havana soon afterwards for a flag-raising ceremony to upgrade the U.S. Interests Section to a full-scale embassy, the sources said.Since a breakthrough between the two former Cold War rivals announced in December, negotiators have settled all but a few differences and were confident they would soon be resolved, several sources told Reuters.They said the exact timetable for the formal embassy opening was unclear because of Kerry’s recovery from a broken leg suffered in a May 31 biking accident in France, as well as the looming June 30 deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran, which would dominate Kerry’s schedule over the next weeks.Restoration of relations would be the latest phase in a normalization process, which is expected to move slowly because of lingering problems over issues such as Cuba’s human rights record. A U.S. embargo will remain in place, and only Congress can lift it.The sources said the administration hoped to formally notify Congress within the next two weeks of its intention to reopen the Havana embassy. The State Department is required by law to give Congress at least 15 days’ notice of such an action.Cuba’s Communist government is likely to act in sync with the United States on reopening of the embassies, issuing its own announcement on restoring ties, one source said. But it was unclear how fast the two sides would act in naming ambassadors.As part of its preparations to turn its interests section in Washington into a full-fledged embassy, Cuba erected a large flagpole on the front lawn of the building on Wednesday. The flag itself will await the formal announcement of relations.Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro pledged full restoration of ties on Dec. 17. The two leaders met in Panama in mid-April.MAJOR ISSUES RESOLVED, OFFICIALS SAY Cuba was formally removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism late last month, a critical step toward rapprochement 54 years after Washington cut off relations at the height of the Cold War and imposed an economic embargo.U.S. and Cuban negotiators have resolved all but a few minor differences since the last round of high-level talks in May in Washington, the sources said.The main obstacles had been U.S. demands for relative freedom of movement for their diplomats on the island, comparable to that in Russia and Vietnam, while the Cubans had objected to U.S. training courses in journalism and information technology given at the U.S. interests section in Havana.Negotiators are now settling issues such as how many shipping containers will be allowed into Havana for renovating the U.S. mission there.U.S. officials say there is little, if any, chance that hardline anti-Castro lawmakers in Congress would be able to block the restoration of ties.The White House declined comment on the timing of any announcements. There was also no comment from the Cuban government.(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by David Storey and Ken Wills)
Moldova’s PM resigns after questioning by prosecutor By Alexander Tanas10 hours agoMoldovan Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici talks to reporters at a news conference in Chisinau, Moldova, …By Alexander Tanas CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s prime minister resigned on Friday after state prosecutors, whom he has accused of moving slowly over the disappearance of $1 billion from the country’s banks, questioned him over his school certificates.”I am tendering my resignation because I don’t want to take part in political games … I am a manager and not a politician and I thought very carefully about my decision,” Chiril Gaburici told journalists.The departure of the 38-year-old pro-Europe businessman Gaburici after just over 100 days in office comes as the tiny ex-Soviet country, one of Europe’s poorest, seethes with resentment over the missing cash, equivalent to around one-eighth of annual GDP.The country of 3.5 million lying between Ukraine and Romania has been ruled since 2009 by pro-Western parties which have negotiated a political and free trade deal with the European Union and are dedicated to taking it into mainstream Europe.But economic mismanagement, trade pressure from Russia and the failure of successive governments to tackle corruption mean nostalgia for Soviet times and traditional links with Moscow remains high among large sections of the population.The European Commission said Gaburici’s resignation had come at a critical time, when political action was still needed to push through reforms and „redress the dire economic situation of the country”.”It is crucial that a new stable government is swiftly formed which is empowered to take bold steps … the massive lost funds need to be recovered and those responsible held accountable,” Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic added.Popular anger generated by the banking scandal may be reflected in local elections this weekend which many analysts say might show a swing to pro-Moscow parties against Gaburici’s minority coalition government, which is supported by two pro-European parties.Moldova’s future has come more into focus since Russia seized neighboring Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula last year. Russian troops are stationed in a strip of Moldova since the breakup of the Soviet Union, protecting a self-proclaimed independent statelet called Transdniestria which is loyal to Moscow.Gaburici’s resignation has to be formally accepted by President Nicolae Timofti. The latter on Friday began to canvas party leaders for candidates for the prime minister’s post, indicating he would accept Gaburici’s departure.State prosecutors have now opened a case against him over the forgery of school documents to gain entry to higher educational establishments.Though these charges against Gaburici have long lurked in the background, the prosecutors appear to have brought things to a head after he called last Monday for them to resign because of their inability to track down the embezzlers involved in the banking swindle. He also asked for the resignation of the central bank chief.SCHOOL DIPLOMAS Gaburici last Monday denied he had been involved in falsifying his school diplomas – the charges allege a forged signature and official stamp – and said on Friday he would cooperate with the investigation against him.Though only in power a short time, Gaburici, who formerly ran Moldovan mobile telephone company Moldcell, has been identified with a loss of spending power for the national currency the leu which has lost 35 percent in value against the dollar this year.Moldova’s economy grew 4.6 percent in 2014 but may contract 2 percent this year, according to a government forecast.Russia, the main supplier of energy, has banned imports of wine, vegetables and meat from Moldova in retaliation for its westwards moves, though Moscow’s food quality supervisory body on Friday said it would ease restrictions on imports of some fruit from Transdniestria and the Gagaauza area, both regions which support close links with Russia.(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels, Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Lady Gaga helps open European Games open in AzerbaijanBy | Associated Press – 7 hours agoFireworks explode over the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2015 European …US singer Lady Gaga gestures, during the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Games, …US singer Lady Gaga performs during the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Games …Fireworks explode over the stadium as actors perform during the opening ceremony …An actor performs during the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Games in Baku, …The Germany team arrive at the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Games in Baku, …BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — The first European Games opened in Azerbaijan on Friday with an extravagant opening ceremony featuring Lady Gaga, although even her star power failed to dispel some of the concerns hanging over the event.The games in the oil-rich nation’s capital Baku have become a focal point for criticism Azerbaijan’s human rights record, and worries over the competition’s sporting credibility.They were opened by the country’s President Ilham Aliyev, who has held power since 2003 and whose regime has been accused of jailing political dissidents on trumped-up charges.The ceremony featured all the pomp of an Olympic opening as Aliyev entered with a flaming torch at the start of an eclectic show combining Greek myth, a giant floating pomegranate and a video message from physicists at the Switzerland-based CERN research center.”This spectacular celebration is the victory of independent Azerbaijan and each Azerbaijani citizen,” said Aliyev’s wife Mehriban Aliyeva, who heads the organizing committee for the games. „Dear athletes, these games are for you.”The venue for the extravaganza was Baku’s 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, whose walls lit up in the colors of the Azerbaijani flag during a ceremony steeped in nationalism, including the booing of the delegation from traditional rival Armenia.That stadium will also illustrate the European Games’ struggles to establish itself as a new major sports event when it hosts a low-level track and field competition. Many sports will be of near-Olympic standard, especially combat events like boxing and wrestling, but others like athletics and swimming will not feature star names.An element of tragedy also hung over the opening after a 15-year-old Austrian swimmer was left with serious spinal injuries when she was hit by a bus while walking in the athletes’ village on Thursday. Two teammates received less serious injuries.The games are the brainchild of the European Olympic Committees and the organization’s president Patrick Hickey.”We are witnessing, we are creating a landmark moment in European sport,” he said.Hickey did not mention human rights, although he said „sport has a unique power to effect positive change” in society.Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were among the world leaders in attendance.Lady Gaga’s performance was kept a secret until part-way through the ceremony, with the American singer performing John Lennon‘s song „Imagine” while playing a piano covered in flowers. The singer, who wore a simple white smock as opposed to one of her signature eccentric outfits, was given a rapturous reception for her performance, which included an unusually full-throated rendition of the final verse of Lennon’s low-key classic.”I’m extremely honored to be playing at the opening ceremony in Baku, and to be celebrating all of the amazing athletes who will compete in the European Games in this beautiful city,” she said in comments released by organizers.Under pressure from human rights activists, Azerbaijan’s government has demanded that politics and sport be kept separate during the games. However, politics intruded into the ceremony when the athletes from Armenia, Azerbaijan’s traditional rival, were roundly booed by the crowd, who also shouted „Azerbaijan!”Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region and some adjacent territory have been under the control of Armenian soldiers and local Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire that ended a six-year war.Other teams were warmly welcomed, with Azerbaijan’s neighbor Turkey and fellow ex-Soviet states Ukraine and Russia receiving some of the loudest cheers – apart from the roar reserved for the host nation’s team.”I know I have made everybody – all my friends and family back home – really, really happy and I am honored myself,” Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams told The Associated Press earlier Friday as she prepared to be Britain’s flagbearer at the ceremony. „It’s an amazing opportunity and it is a once in a lifetime thing.”The ceremony saw athletes from Kosovo parade for the first time under their own flag at a major games, as one of the 50 nations which have sent athletes to compete across 20 sports.Protests against Azerbaijan’s human rights record took place in cities around the world Friday, although in Baku, where demonstrations are heavily restricted, opposition groups did not announce any protests ahead of the opening ceremony.The day before, jailed journalist Khadija Ismayilova criticized Azerbaijan’s government, writing that the country was in a „human rights crisis” and beset by high-level corruption.”Things have never been worse,” said Ismayilova’s letter, released by the PEN organization, which said it had been smuggled out of prison in pieces.The games run through June 28.