Archive for February, 2014

President Obama “deeply concerned” by reports Russian troops are meddling in Ukraine — Calls Putin’s response “destabilizing”

February 28, 2014

President Obama arrives to speak about the situation in Ukraine in the briefing room of the White House on February 28, 2014 in Washington. Obama said he was  ‘deeply concerned’ by reports of Russia military in Ukraine.    AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKIBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

By Aamer Madhani

USA Today

WASHINGTON–President Obama said he was “deeply concerned” on Friday over reports that Russian troops are meddling in Ukraine as armed men took up positions in Ukraine’s Crimean region.

“We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside Ukraine,” Obama said in brief comments at the White House. He added, “It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine and of international laws.”

“Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia or Europe,” he said.

Earlier on Friday, Ukraine’s interior ministry accused Russia of a “military invasion and occupation” on Friday, saying Russian troops have taken up positions around a coast guard base and two airports on its strategic Crimea peninsula.

Ukraine’s parliament also sent an urgent plea to the U.N. Security Council for a meeting on the crisis and adopted a resolution demanding Russia halt actions it says are aimed at splitting Crimea from the rest of the country.

Ukraine’s autonomous province of Crimea is about 50% Russian speaking and many though not all say they identify more with Russia than Ukraine.

Russian jets this week have increased patrols along the Ukrainian border, and thousands of Russians troops have held military exercises near the Russia-Ukraine border, raising concerns about Russian interference.

Obama said that Vice President Biden spoke with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday to express the Obama administration’s concerns.

“Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world,” Obama said. “And indeed the United States will stand with the international community in affirming there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”

The White House on Thursday urged Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty amid the events unfolding on the Crimea peninsula.

“We strongly support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Carney said. “We expect other nations to do the same.  And so we are closely watching Russia’s military exercises along the Ukrainian border.”

Before Friday’s comments, the White House has tried to downplay tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the situation in Ukraine. Obama and Putin have also butted heads over the civil war in Syria, where the Russians have sided with Bashar Assad as the U.S. has backed the opposition.

Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone for about an hour a week ago, shortly after the Ukrainian government and opposition leaders announced a deal to head off the political crisis in Kiev.

“Now, Mr. Putin has a different view on many of those issues, and I don’t think that there’s any secret on that,” Obama said. “And our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.”

Armed men patrol at the airport in Simferopol, Crimea on 28 February  2014.

Armed men carrying Russian navy flags arrived at Simferopol airport in several trucks

Moving in: part of a convoy or Russian armoured personnel characters parked on a road near the town of Bakhchisarai in Ukraine. Russian authorities said they were not an invading force but to provide 'security'. The convot appeared to be made up of BTR-80 armoured vehicles, which each carry a crew of three, seven infantry soldiers, and are armed with a 30mm machine gun.

Moving in: part of a convoy or Russian armoured personnel characters parked on a road near the town of Bakhchisarai in Ukraine. Russian authorities said they were not an invading force but to provide ‘security’. The convot appeared to be made up of BTR-80 armoured vehicles, which each carry a crew of three, seven infantry soldiers, and are armed with a 30mm machine gun.

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Transcript of Obama’s Remarks on Ukraine

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody.

Over the last several days, the United States has been responding to events as they unfold in the Ukraine. Now, throughout this crisis, we have been very clear about one fundamental principle: the Ukrainian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future. Together with our European allies, we have urged an end to the violence and encouraged Ukrainians to pursue a course in which they have stabilized their country, forge a broad-based government and move to elections this spring.

I also spoke several days ago with President Putin, and my administration has been in daily communication with Russian officials. And we’ve made clear that they can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability and success of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of the people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interests.

However, we are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine. Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties and a military facility in Crimea. But any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia or Europe. It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people.

It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws. And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.

The events of the past several months remind us of how difficult democracy can be in a country with deep divisions. But the Ukrainian people have also reminded us that human beings have a human universal right to determine their own future.

Right now, the situation remains very fluid. Vice President Biden just spoke with prime minister — the prime minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment, the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine.

I also commend the Ukrainian government’s restraint and its commitment to uphold its international obligations. We will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies, we will continue to communicate directly with the Russian government, and we will continue to keep all of you in the press corps and the American people informed as events develop.

Thanks very much.

Includes video:

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Outgoing United States Ambassador to China Gary F. Locke Ridiculed By China’s State Media

February 28, 2014

Photo: Gary F. Locke, the first Chinese-American ambassador to China, at his farewell news conference in Beijing. Ng Han Guan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By MICHAEL FORSYTHE
The New York Times

The departing United States ambassador, Gary F. Locke, gave a farewell news conference in Beijing on Thursday, at which he praised the deepening economic ties between the world’s two biggest economies and urged China and Japan to cool down escalating tensions over a territorial dispute.

His carefully chosen words were not well received by the state-run China News Service. Following Mr. Locke’s remarks, it published a scathing review of his tenure modeled after a famous August 1949 essay by Mao Zedong, “Farewell, Leighton Stuart,’’ slamming the last American ambassador under the collapsing Nationalist government in Nanjing.

“Farewell, Gary Locke’’ departs from the almost wonkish critique of United States foreign policy offered up by Mao, opting instead for an extended comparison of Mr. Locke, a Chinese-American, to a banana.

“Gary Locke is a U.S.-born, third-generation Chinese-American, and his being a banana — ‘yellow skin and white heart’ — became an advantage for Obama’s foreign policy,’’ opened the commentary, written by a person identified as Wang Ping. (Many Asian-Americans consider “banana” an offensive term.)

“However,” the commentary continued, “after a while, a banana will inevitably start to rot.’’

The “rot’’ included Mr. Locke’s trips to restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, in China’s far west, which stirred an “evil wind,’’ the commentary continued. Like other essayists with a nationalist bent, Wang Ping also took aim at Mr. Locke’s portrayal as a humble person who carried his own bag and flew economy class. Such gestures, which the commentary cast as insincere, were broadcast widely on China’s social media when Mr. Locke first arrived in Beijing in 2011 and won him admiration from many Chinese, who couldn’t imagine their own officials abandoning their privileges.

Mr. Locke, in his remarks Thursday at the United States Embassy, said that he was proud of his Chinese heritage and that had visited his ancestral home in the southern province of Guangdong three times as ambassador. “But I’m thoroughly American and proud of the great values that America has brought to the entire world and all that America stands for,’’ he told reporters.

Mr. Locke’s successor is Max Baucus, a longtime United States senator from Montana who was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The China News Service commentary also referred disparagingly to Mr. Locke’s dealings with the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who sought shelter in the American embassy after escaping house arrest in 2012, calling him Mr. Chen’s “guide dog.” Mr. Chen was subsequently allowed to travel to the United States.

“When Gary Locke arrived, the skies in Beijing became hazy,’’ the commentary said. “When he left, the skies suddenly became blue.’’

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An aerial photo shows Chinese marine surveillance ship Haijian No. 66 (top) trying to approach a Japanese fishing boat (bottom) as Japan Coast Guard vessel Ishigaki cruises next to the Chinese ship, in the East China Sea, near what are known as the Senkaku isles in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 23, 2013.   Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

(Reuters) – China and Japan must ease tension in the disputed East China Sea to avoid severe “unintended consequences”, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said on Thursday, days before he steps down as Washington’s first Chinese-American envoy in Beijing.

Asia’s two largest economies have been locked in a war of words after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on December 26, which China sees as a symbol of militarism because it honors wartime leaders along with millions of war dead.

“The last thing we need is some unintended incident that leads to unintended consequences, very severe consequences,” Locke, who departs China on Saturday to be replaced by U.S. Senator Max Baucus, told reporters.

“It’s important that both sides lower the temperature and focus on diplomacy,” he said, adding that the United States takes no sides in the territorial dispute that flared in 2012 over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.

Sino-Japanese ties have been plagued by China’s bitter memories of Japan’s occupation of parts of the country before, and during, World War Two.

China’s Defense Ministry kept up the rhetoric against Japan on Thursday, saying its army, as the defenders of the country’s sovereignty, would “never allow a repeat performance of historic tragedies”.

China and the United States have numerous diplomatic disagreements in the region, including China’s moves to assert sovereignty in the South and East China Sea and U.S. support for self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as a wayward province.

Locke’s 2-1/2 year term was marked by a series of high-profile diplomatic incidents between Washington and Beijing.

In 2012, blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest to seek refuge in the embassy and later travelled to New York to study on a U.S.-brokered deal which overshadowed high-level U.S.-Chinese foreign policy and economic talks.

Locke said the handling of the Chen incident was “a testament” to how well the two governments worked to address a sensitive human rights matter.

He was also ambassador when Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief, went to ground in the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu in February 2012 until he was coaxed out and placed under investigation by China’s ruling Communist Party.

Wang’s flight triggered revelations about the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011 by Gu Kailai, the wife of the controversial top official in Chongqing, Bo Xilai. Bo was jailed for life in September for corruption and abuse of power in the worst political scandal since the 1976 downfall of the Gang of Four led by the widow of former leader Mao Zedong at the end of the Cultural Revolution.

The Wang incident was an “intense 48-hour period, but one that I think ended up very, very well and, of course, has perhaps changed the trajectory of politics here in China”, Locke said, without elaborating.

Locke, who was a governor in Washington state and also served as commerce secretary, said he was not considering another run for office after leaving Beijing.

“I will be very active in helping other candidates, but I have no intention of being a candidate for any other office myself,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Li Hui; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

Ukraine Government Insists Russia is Conducting “An Armed Invasion”

February 28, 2014

BBC

Ukraine has accused Russia of carrying out an armed invasion by sending naval forces to occupy Sevastopol airport in the Crimea region.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet denies its servicemen are blocking the airport.

Another Crimean airport, Simferopol, has also been occupied by armed men, thought to be pro-Russia militia.

Relations between the two countries have been strained since Viktor Yanukovych was ousted as Ukrainian president last week.

Mr Yanukovych is now in Russia and expected to hold a news conference later in the city of Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border.

He disappeared after leaving office but resurfaced in Russia on Thursday, asserting that he is still Ukraine’s lawful president.

Ukraine’s general prosecutor has said he will ask Russia to extradite Mr Yanukovych, if it is confirmed that he is still there.

In other developments:

  • The BBC has seen eight trucks with the black plates of the Russian army moving towards Simferopol
  • Unconfirmed reports say eight Russian military helicopters have arrived in Sevastopol
  • Ukraine’s central bank has put a 15,000 hryvnia (1,000 euro; £820) limit on daily cash withdrawals
  • Armed Forces chief Yuriy Ilyin, appointed earlier this month by Mr Yanukovych, is sacked
  • Ukraine’s parliament calls on the UN Security Council to discuss the unfolding crisis in Crimea

Lynchpin of struggle

These tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the wake of Mr Yanukovych’s departure have been particularly evident in Crimea, Ukraine’s only Russian-majority region.

The BBC’s Bridget Kendall, in Moscow, says the Crimea is becoming the lynchpin of a struggle between Ukraine’s new leaders and those loyal to Russia.

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Armed men patrol at the airport in Simferopol, Crimea on 28 February  2014. Armed men carrying Russian navy flags arrived at Simferopol airport in several trucks
Armed man at Simferopol airport They have declined to say who they are, and are wearing no identifying insignia
Unidentified men - whom the Ukrainian interior minister says are Russian Naval troops - block a road to a military airport Belbek not far from Sevastopol Men whom Ukraine says are Russian naval troops have also blocked roads to Sevastopol airport
The protesters' camp at Independence square in central Kiev Meanwhile people are still reeling from the violence in Kiev, which led to the ousting of Mr Yanukovych.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Russian soldiers had arrived in Sevastopol military airport near Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Base on Friday morning.

The men were patrolling outside, backed up by armoured vehicles, but Ukrainian military and border guards remained inside, Mr Avakov said.

“I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms,” Mr Avakov said on his Facebook page.

Christian Fraser says barriers and armed men are blocking Sevastopol airport

Armed men also arrived at Simferopol airport overnight, some carrying Russian flags.

A man called Vladimir told Reuters news agency he was a volunteer helping the group there, though he said he did not know where they came from.

I’m with the People’s Militia of Crimea. We’re simple people, volunteers,” he said.

Andriy Parubiy, acting chairman of Ukraine’s National Security Council, has claimed that both airports are now back under the control of Ukrainian authorities.

The airport occupation is latest in a series of moves to raise fears of unrest in Crimea, which traditionally leans towards Russia.

On Thursday, a group of unidentified armed men entered Crimea’s parliament building by force, and hoisted a Russian flag on the roof.

The Crimean parliament later announced it would hold a referendum on expanding the region’s autonomy from Ukraine on 25 May.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged his government to maintain relations with Kiev, but he is also giving the Crimean government humanitarian aid.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has called on all sides to “step back and avoid any kind of provocations”.

Financial strain

On top of its political problems, Ukraine also faces huge financial hurdles.

It says it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default on its loans.

Russia has suspended the next instalment of a $15bn loan because of the political uncertainty.

Switzerland and Austria announced on Friday that it had launched an investigation against Mr Yanukovych and his son Aleksander for “aggravated money laundering”.

Austria also said it had frozen the assets of 18 Ukrainians suspected of violating human rights and involvement in corruption. It did not give any names.

Crimea – where ethnic Russians are in a majority – was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.

Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars – whose animosity towards Russia stretches back to Stalin’s deportations during World War Two – have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.

Russia, along with the US, UK and France, pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine in a memorandum signed in 1994.

Are you in the Crimea region of Ukraine? Email your stories to haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk adding ‘Ukraine’ in the subject heading and including your contact details.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26379722

Government Audit: Healthy Meals in School Lunches Rejected By Kids

February 28, 2014

Second-grader Jonathan Cheng (center) looks at fruits and vegetables during a school lunch at Fairmeadow Elementary School in Palo Alto, Calif., on Dec. 2, 2010. (Associated Press)

By Stephan Dinan
The Washington Times

The federal government’s changes to school lunch menus have been disastrous, causing problems for cafeterias trying to comply with the rules and leaving the menu so expensive or unpalatable that more than 1 million students have stopped buying lunch, according to a government audit released Thursday.

One school district told federal investigators that it had to add unhealthy pudding and potato chips to its menu to meet the government’s minimum calorie requirements. Other school districts removed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from their elementary school menus.

Five of the eight school districts surveyed by the Government Accountability Office, the official watchdog for Congress, said they believed students were going hungry because of smaller entree portions demanded by the rules.

Cafeterias regularly reported finding fruits and vegetables, which they are required to serve, ending up in trash cans. Although no studies have been completed, the government has found an increase in what it calls plate waste in some districts.

Despite the hiccups, school food authorities said they generally support the nutritional changes and think the menus are moving in the right direction.

“Although school lunch participation has declined, it is likely that participation will improve over time as students adjust to the lunch changes,” GAO investigators said.

“Five of the districts we visited reported that, if the past is an indicator, participation will improve over time as students adjust to the new food items, and three noted the importance of nutrition education for students and parents to help make the transition to healthier school meals more successful,” they said.

Neither the Agriculture Department, which wrote the rules, nor the office of first lady Michelle Obama, who has made school nutrition a priority, responded to messages seeking comment on the report.

GAO investigators said Agriculture Department officials generally agreed with the report’s recommendations, though the two sides disagreed on whether the department is able to properly monitor whether districts are complying with the rules.

Lunch trays are required to have at least a half-cup of fruits or vegetables, and milk must contain no more than 1 percent fat. The rules also ban trans fats and set higher minimum calorie levels for each student meal.

After the standards went into effect in the 2012-13 school year, the GAO said, the number of students buying school lunches — which had been on a steady increase — dropped by a total of 1.2 million students.

GAO investigators talked with students and found that some ended up buying food from vending machines or from a la carte lines in the cafeteria, or went off campus to eat.

One of the school districts that investigators analyzed said it stopped allowing students to eat off campus.

“With a closed campus policy, students are required to stay on the school campus during the lunch period, which increases the likelihood that they will participate in the school lunch program,” investigators concluded.

GAO investigators said 321 school districts dropped out of the school lunch program altogether in the previous year, and many did so to avoid the mandates.

“Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn’t eat,” Superintendent Gary Lewis in Catlin, Ill., told The Associated Press last year. “So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they’re hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness.”

Investigators said schools reported a number of problems implementing the standards. Some districts said switching from canned to fresh produce meant they had to have more frequent shipments — and that meant an increased likelihood of workplace injuries because of extra unloading and lifting.

“Staff in one [school food authority] noted that the increased amount of time and effort to prepare fruits and vegetables also led to morale issues when staff saw students throw the fruits and vegetables in the trash,” the investigators said.

Some schools also said they had to buy spoons and ladles to adjust to the new portion sizes.

The GAO said the eight districts it visited were Caddo Parish Public Schools in Louisiana, Carlisle Area School District in Pennsylvania, Chicago Public Schools, Coeur d’Alene School District in Idaho, Irving Independent School District in Texas, Mukwonago Area School District in Wisconsin, Spokane Public Schools in Washington, and Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

The report didn’t specify which district added pudding and potato chips to its menu to meet calorie guidelines.

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Putin Talking To U.S., Britain, Western leaders who tell him ‘don’t interfere in Ukraine’

February 28, 2014
  • Blockading airport in Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea
  • Armed men also took over other main Crimean airport – no violence reported
  • Ukraine ask U.N. Security Council to call a session to discuss the crisis
  • Country’s new interior minister branded the act an ‘armed invasion’
  • Russia granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych
  • Ukraine have asked for Yanukovich to be extradited from Russia
  • Ukraine restricts foreign currency withdrawals to about 1,000 euros a day
  • Russian military helicopters have flown to Ukraine according to Interfax
  • UK Foreign office alert warns against all travel to Crimea

By Jill Reilly

 

U.S. and Britain have both made crisis phone calls to President Putin to urge him not to intervene Ukraine’s Crimea as tensions in the region reach dangerous news levels.

Today armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region in what the new Ukrainian leadership described as an invasion and occupation by Moscow’s forces.

More than 10 Russian military helicopters flew into Ukrainian airspace over Crimea, Kiev’s border guard service said, accusing Russian servicemen of blockading one of its units in the port city of Sevastopol, where part of Moscow’s Black Sea fleet is based.

Tonight the Kremlin put out a statement outlining President Vladimir Putin’s orders on Ukraine.

Scroll down for video

Moving in: part of a convoy or Russian armoured personnel characters parked on a road near the town of Bakhchisarai in Ukraine. Russian authorities said they were not an invading force but to provide 'security'. The convot appeared to be made up of BTR-80 armoured vehicles, which each carry a crew of three, seven infantry soldiers, and are armed with a 30mm machine gun.

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Moving in: part of a convoy or Russian armoured personnel characters parked on a road near the town of Bakhchisarai in Ukraine. Russian authorities said they were not an invading force but to provide ‘security’. The convot appeared to be made up of BTR-80 armoured vehicles, which each carry a crew of three, seven infantry soldiers, and are armed with a 30mm machine gun.

 

A Russian soldier on an armoured personnel carrier halted on a road in Ukraine around 20 miles from Sebastapol, where there is a large Russian military presence. British civilians have been told by the Foreign Office to leave Crimea immediately, although an evacuation has not been arranged.

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A Russian soldier on an armoured personnel carrier halted on a road in Ukraine around 20 miles from Sebastapol, where there is a large Russian military presence. British civilians have been told by the Foreign Office to leave Crimea immediately, although an evacuation has not been arranged.

 

Armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region on Friday in what Ukraine's government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, stoking tension between Moscow and the West

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Armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region on Friday in what Ukraine’s government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, stoking tension between Moscow and the West

 

Two soldiers stand on top of a Russian armoured personnel carrier as it is parked on a road near Bakhchisarai, in the Crimea. The presence of RUssian armour on the move has raised tensions in the area, which has a majority Russian population.

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Two soldiers stand on top of a Russian armoured personnel carrier as it is parked on a road near Bakhchisarai, in the Crimea. The presence of RUssian armour on the move has raised tensions in the area, which has a majority Russian population.

 

A solider on board a Russian armoured personnel carrier, one of a convoy of up to nine vehicles which was spotted on the move in the Ukraine, around 20 miles from Sebastapol on Friday.

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A solider on board a Russian armoured personnel carrier, one of a convoy of up to nine vehicles which was spotted on the move in the Ukraine, around 20 miles from Sebastapol on Friday.

 

A solider on board a Russian armoured personnel carrier, one of a convoy of up to nine vehicles which was spotted on the move in the Ukraine, around 20 miles from Sebastapol on Friday.

 

Ordering his government to work with  Ukrainian and foreign partners to find a financial package to shore up  Ukraine’s collapsing finances, Putin struck a measured note compared to  the military muscle-flexing of other officials, who had put thousands of Russian troops on high alert.

More…

 

The Kremlin said in its statement Putin had ordered his government ‘to  conduct consultations with foreign partners, including the International Monetary Fund, on the provision of financial aid to Ukraine’.

The three-paragraph statement issued at 11:45 p.m. offered little insight  into the mind of a man who hoped Ukraine would play a central role in  his project for a trade bloc stretching from the frontiers of China to  the edge of the EU.

US warns Russia: Stay out of the Ukraine

              

Secretary of State John Kerry gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference

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Russian President Vladimir Putin

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John Kerry, left and right President Putin. Speaking at a news conference with the foreign minister of Colombia, Kerry said he had raised the issue of the airports as well as reports of Russian armored vehicles and personnel in Ukraine with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

 

But  it spoke volumes to his attitude towards Western support for the new  leadership in Ukraine, and contained a veiled warning along the lines of – if you hold talks on rescuing Kiev from bankruptcy without us, Moscow will act.

 

Russia looks  unlikely to press on with its $15-billion bailout for Ukraine, which had been seen as a reward for Yanukovich’s decision to spurn a trade deal  with the European Union in favour of closer ties to Moscow, and Ukraine  is now looking for funds from the West.

A mission from the International Monetary Fund is due in Kiev next week,  and Ukraine’s new leadership has said it will meet any conditions.

‘For him (Putin), Kiev no longer exists. There was an agreement with Western countries which those Western countries did not fulfil. I think that is uppermost in his thoughts,’ said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin  doctor.

‘He was tricked and he has to punish that.’

There was no immediate way to confirm whether the Kremlin had any connection  with the fast-moving events in Crimea, Ukraine’s only region with an  ethnic Russian majority, which Ukraine’s government described as an  invasion by Russian forces.

Ukraine's ex-President Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being ousted, telling a news conference that he was going to fight for his country's future

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Ukraine’s ex-President Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being ousted, telling a news conference that he was going to fight for his country’s future

 

Ukraine's fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych gives a news conference in Rostov-on-Don

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Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych arrives for a press conference

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This afternoon Yanukovych told a news conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don:  ‘I intend to keep  fighting for the future of Ukraine against those who are using fear and  terror to seize the country’

Map locating the city of Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, where mysterious armed troops occupy the airport; includes information on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. MCT 2014<p>
With UKRAINE, by MCT

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Speaking at a news conference with the foreign minister of Colombia, Kerry said  he had raised the issue of the airports as well as reports of Russian  armored vehicles and personnel in Ukraine with Russian Foreign Minister  Sergei Lavrov.

‘While we were told that they are not engaging in any violation of the  sovereignty and do not intend to, I nevertheless made it clear that that could be misinterpreted at this moment and that there are enough  tensions that it is important for everybody to be extremely careful not  to inflame the situation and not to send the wrong messages,’ Kerry  said.

‘The question is  whether or not what is happening now might be crossing a line in any way and we are going to be very careful in making our judgments about  that,’ he added.

Prime Minster David Cameron said today ‘he is concerned by the situation in Crimea, and it is important that Russia respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

‘We are particularly concerned by the situation in Crimea – every country should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

‘Russia has made that commitment and it’s important that Russia keeps its word. The world will be watching.’

Angela Merkel’s office said the Chancellor discussed Ukraine with Putin during which she expressed concern about destabilisation of the country.

This afternoon Ukraine’s ex-President Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since  being ousted, telling a news conference that he was going to fight for  his country’s future.

He told journalists in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don: ‘I intend to keep fighting  for the future of Ukraine against those who are using fear and terror to seize the country’.

Ukraine’s president, who was last seen on Saturday, said the current parliament was ‘illegitimate’, and  described those who drove him from power as ‘young neo-fascist thugs’  representing only a minority of Ukrainians.

He said he was ‘forced’ to leave the country when he was in Crimea after his family received threats.

Asked how he managed to get to Russia, the fugitive president said he got out ‘thanks to patriotic officers who did their duty and helped me to save  my life.’

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Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2569934/Ukraine
-Russian-military-blocking-airport.html#ixzz2ueJ57Wpf

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The White House has said that by fleeing the capital, President Viktor Yanukovych abdicated power

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The White House has said that by fleeing the capital, President Viktor Yanukovych abdicated power

On Thursday, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag over the parliament building

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On Thursday, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag over the parliament building

Yanukovych has not been seen publicly since Saturday, and he declared Thursday in a statement that he remains Ukraine's legitimate president

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Yanukovych has not been seen publicly since Saturday, and he declared Thursday in a statement that he remains Ukraine’s legitimate president

John Kerry said that Russia has told the United States that it will respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and that military exercises near the Russian-Ukraine border are not a prelude to an intervention

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John Kerry said that Russia has told the United States that it will respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and that military exercises near the Russian-Ukraine border are not a prelude to an intervention

Biden called Yatsenyuk to tell him the U.S. will give full support as Ukraine seeks to restore order in the wake of a major political crisis.

The White House has said that by  fleeing the capital after recent deadly protests in Kiev swept in a new  government, President Viktor Yanukovych had abdicated power, but  Yanukovych in a statement still claimed authority.

Biden had  spoken to him regularly during the crisis until he fled.

Yanukovych has a news conference scheduled today in Russia’s south near the Ukrainian border.

Yatsenyuk was overwhelmingly approved by parliament Thursday.

He is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer and has said Ukraine’s future lies with the European Union.

On Thursday, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper  rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and  raised the Russian flag over the parliament building.

It scrambled fighter jets on Thursday to patrol borders in the first  stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold  War brinksmanship.

Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday elected a new government led by a pro-Western technocrat who promptly pledged to prevent any national break-up.

Moscow has been sending mixed signals about Ukraine but pledged to respect its territorial integrity. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine, a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization, closer into Moscow’s orbit.

Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko shakes hands with a man as she arrives to visit the tent camp of her supporters in the center of Kiev today

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Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko shakes hands with a man as she arrives to visit the tent camp of her supporters in the center of Kiev today

 

Judicial authorities in Geneva said Friday they have launched a criminal investigation into alleged money laundering by ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych and his son

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Judicial authorities in Geneva said Friday they have launched a criminal investigation into alleged money laundering by ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych and his son

 

Ukraine’s population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West.

Crimea, which was seized by Russian forces in the 18th century under Catherine the Great, was once the crown jewel in Russian and then Soviet empires.

It only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

In a bid to shore up Ukraine’s fledgling administration, the International Monetary Fund has said it is ‘ready to respond’ to Ukraine’s bid for financial assistance.

The European Union is also considering emergency loans for a country that is the chief conduit of Russian natural gas to western Europe.

Ukraine ethnic divisions map.jpg

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Ukraine’s finance ministry has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default.

Yesterday Secretary of State  John Kerry said that Russia has told the United States that it will  respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and that military exercises near the  Russian-Ukraine border are not a prelude to an intervention.

Kerry warned Russia this week against a military intervention the former  Soviet republic and said it could face a strong response from the West,  though he did not specify what that might be.

‘We will look to Russia for the choices that it makes in the next days for  their confirmation of these statements,’ Kerry said at a State  Department news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter  Steinmeier.

Ukraine's newly appointed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk delivers a speech at the Ukrainan parliament on Thursday

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Ukraine’s newly appointed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk delivers a speech at the Ukrainan parliament on Thursday

 

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukraine's new prime minister that the U.S. welcomes the formation of the country's new government

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukraine’s new prime minister that the U.S. welcomes the formation of the country’s new government

 

Vladimir Putin granted shelter to Ukraine's fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych has a news conference scheduled today  (file photo)

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Vladimir Putin granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych has a news conference scheduled today  (file photo)

 

‘Words are words. We have all learned that it’s actions and  the follow-on choices that make the greatest difference.’

Kerry predicted that the military exercise will not be ‘so prolonged that it is going to have an impact on events there.’

‘Everybody needs to step back and avoid provocations,’ Kerry said. Kerry said the U.S. also supports a vote Thursday by Ukraine’s parliament to  approve the transitional government that will run the country until  elections in May.

But in Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region, gunmen  stormed government buildings and raised a Russian flag over the regional parliament.

Moscow is  ‘concerned’ about the takeover in Crimea, and Kerry said Lavrov  ‘disclaimed that it had anything to do with any formal Russian  initiative.’

Further unrest in Ukranie Pro-Russia demonstrators wave flags in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine

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Further unrest in Ukranie Pro-Russia demonstrators wave flags in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine

 

Ukrainian men help pull one another out of a stampede as a flag of Crimea is seen during clashes at rallies held by ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars near the Crimean parliament building

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Ukrainian men help pull one another out of a stampede as a flag of Crimea is seen during clashes at rallies held by ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars near the Crimean parliament building

 

An ethnic Russian Ukrainian man holds the Crimea flag on top of an old Soviet tank during rallies near the Crimean parliament building yesterday

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An ethnic Russian Ukrainian man holds the Crimea flag on top of an old Soviet tank during rallies near the Crimean parliament building yesterday

 

 

FINANCIAL WOES FOR RUSSIA

Russian stock indexes and the rouble hit new lows on Friday on an escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea.

Ukraine’s interior minister accused Russia of armed invasion and occupation after Russian troops from the Sevastopol naval base took over a military airport near the city.

This follows the occupation of another airport in the Crimean capital Simferopol by armed men.

At 0730 GMT the rouble-denominated MICEX stock index was down 1.2 percent while the dollar-denominated RTS index was also down 1.2 percent.

The rouble was down 0.4 percent against the dollar to 36.18 , and by 0.4 percent to 49.63 against the euro. , an all-time low. It fell 0.4 percent to 42.24 against the dollar-euro basket , also an all-time low, pushing it beyond the edge of the corridor announced by the Russian central bank, which stood at 35.20 to 42.20 as of Feb. 27.

At the edge of the corridor the central bank carries out unlimited interventions to support the rouble, but it moves the corridor by five kopecks as soon as it has expended $350 million in reserves.

‘They don’t want to see a breakdown into violence,’ Kerry said. Even so, he struck a  skeptical tone, noting that Russia can’t credibly claim to protect  Ukraine’s territorial integrity if it is also encouraging a separatist  movement.

‘Nowhere is there a greater connection, a link to Russia in several different ways as there is in Crimea,’ Kerry told reporters.

‘But as the days unfold this  should not become a struggle between the United States and Russia, East  and West. This is about the people of Ukraine.’

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. expects the interim  government to protect the security and civil rights of all of citizens  in Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population.

Steinmeier said it’s important for Kiev’s new leaders to ‘show that it is a  government for all Ukrainians and that it now works together with  international institutions, and with its neighbors, to stabilize the  country financially.’

‘East and West should not argue now about Ukraine’s future,’ he said.

In a statement before the news conference, Steinmeier said welcomed a move by the International Monetary Fund to send a fact-finding team to Kiev. He said he will discuss with IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Friday what the financial institution can do in terms of providing immediate aid.

‘We are talking with Russia about help pledged to Ukraine not being withdrawn or canceled,’ he said. Kerry was asked if the Ukraine should be integrated into the European Union  and NATO – a possibility that has strong backing in Kiev and sparked  protests against Yanukovych.

Kerry said he would advise the new  government to hold off and ‘focus on the things that need to be focused  on now.’

Rage: An anti-Yanukovych protester argues in front of the Ukrainian parliament in central Kiev

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Rage: An anti-Yanukovych protester argues in front of the Ukrainian parliament in central Kiev

 

An ethnic Russian Ukrainian holds a Russian flag as Crimean Tatars rally near the Crimean parliament building

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An ethnic Russian Ukrainian holds a Russian flag as Crimean Tatars rally near the Crimean parliament building

 

Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea

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Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea

 

Force: Anti-Yanukovych protesters sit on top of an armoured vehicle as it drives past a barricade in central Kiev today

Force: Anti-Yanukovych protesters sit on top of an armoured vehicle as it drives past a barricade in central Kiev today

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Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2569934/Ukr
aine-Russian-military-blocking-airport.html#ixzz2ueJXCSKU

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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, March 1, 2014 — “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray and use the sacraments of healing.”

February 28, 2014

Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 346

Reading 1 jas 5:13-20

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Beloved: Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing a song of praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
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Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. Elijah was a man like us; yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain upon the land. Then Elijah prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the earth produced its fruit.
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My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
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Responsorial Psalm ps 141:1-2, 3 and 8

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R. (2a) Let my prayer come like incense before you. O LORD, to you I call; hasten to me; hearken to my voice when I call upon you. Let my prayer come like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice. R. Let my prayer come like incense before you. O LORD, set a watch before my mouth, a guard at the door of my lips. For toward you, O God, my LORD, my eyes are turned; in you I take refuge; strip me not of life. R. Let my prayer come like incense before you.
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Gospel mk 10:13-16

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People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection• The Gospel of two days ago indicated the advice of Jesus concerning the relationship of the adults with little ones and with the excluded (Mk 9, 41-50). Yesterday’s Gospel indicated the advice on the relationship between man and woman, husband and wife (Mk 10, 1-12). Today’s Gospel indicates the advice on the relationship between parents and sons. Jesus asked for the greatest acceptance for the little ones and the excluded. In the relationship man-woman, he asked for the greatest equality. Now, with the sons and their mother, he asks for the greatest tenderness.• Mark 10, 13-16: Receive the Kingdom like a child. People brought little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples wanted to prevent this. Why? The text does not say it. Perhaps because according to the ritual norms of the time, the small children with their mothers lived almost constantly the legal impurity. To touch them meant to become impure! If they touched Jesus, he would become impure! But Jesus does not feel uncomfortable with this ritual norm of legal purity. He corrects the disciples and welcomes the mothers with the children. He touches them, embraces them saying: “Let the little children come to me, do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs”. And he comments: “In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”. And then Jesus embraces the children and blesses them, and laid his hands on them. What does this phrase mean? (a) The children receive everything from their parents. They cannot merit what they receive, but live from gratuitous love. (b) The parents receive the children as a gift from God and take care of them with the greatest possible love. The concern of the parents is not to dominate the children, but to love them, educate them in a way in which they can grow and be fulfilled!• A sign of the Kingdom: To welcome the little ones and the excluded. There are many signs of the acting presence of the Kingdom in the life and the activity of Jesus. One of these is the way of welcoming, of accepting the little ones and the children:

a) To welcome them and not scandalize them. One of the hardest words of Jesus was against those who cause scandal to the little ones, that is, who are the reason so that the little ones no longer believe in God. For them it is better to have a millstone hung round their neck and be thrown into the sea (Mk 9, 42; Lk 17, 2; Mt 18, 6).

b) To identify oneself with the little ones. Jesus embraces the little ones and identifies himself with them. Anyone who receives a child, “receives me” (Mk 9, 37). “And as long as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me”. (Mt 25, 40).

c) To become like children. Jesus asks the disciples to become like children and to accept the Kingdom as they do. Otherwise it is not possible to enter into the Kingdom (Mk 10, 15; Mt 18, 3; Lk 9, 46-48). He makes the children teachers of adults! And that is not normal. Generally, we do the contrary.

d) To defend the right that children have to shout and yell. When Jesus, entering into the Temple, turned over the tables of the money changers, the children were those who shouted the most: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt 21, 15). Criticized by the high priests and by the Scribes, Jesus defends them and in defending them he recalls the Scriptures (Mt 21, 16).

e) To be pleasing for the Kingdom present in little children. Jesus’ joy is great, when he perceives that the children, the little ones, understand the things of the Kingdom which he announced to the people“. “I bless you, Father!” (Mt 11, 25-26). Jesus recognizes that the little ones understand the things of the Kingdom better than the doctors!

f) To welcome, accept and take care. Many are the little children and the young whom Jesus accepts, takes care of and raises from the death: the daughter of Jairus, she was 12 years old (Mk 5, 41-42), the daughter of the Canaanite woman (Mk 7, 29-30), the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7, 14-15), the epileptic boy (Mk 9, 25-26), the son of the Centurion (Lk 7, 9-10), the son of the public officer (Jn 4, 50), the boy with the five loaves of bread and two fish (Jn 6, 9).

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Personal questions

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In our society and in our community, who are the little ones and the excluded? How do we welcome and accept them?

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In my life, what have I learnt from children concerning the Kingdom of God?

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Concluding Prayer

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Yahweh, I am calling, hurry to me, listen to my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be like incense in your presence, my uplifted hands like the evening sacrifice. (Ps 141,1-2)

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http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-mark-1013-16

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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We all need healing, be it physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual.  The Lord continues to heal as He had always done during His earthly ministry.  But He has not stopped healing us because He commanded His disciples to continue His work of healing and exorcism.   Indeed, we read the primitive Church continued the ministry of healing through the apostles.   Over the years, the healing ministry took on a more sacramental and structured form.  By the time of St James, we see the sacrament of healing in the form of the anointing of the sick and the confession of sins to one another.  It is from this basis that the sacraments of healing as celebrated in our Church today are founded.  Today, the Church continues to heal through the sacraments of the sick and reconciliation.

It is a pity that many Catholics lack appreciation of these two sacraments of healing when Christ comes to heal us sacramentally, that is, in a tangible way, through the use of holy oil in the sacrament of the sick and through the absolution given by the priest in the sacrament of reconciliation.  Why does the Lord heal us in this way if not the fact that we are Incarnational beings?  Even children need to be touched.  We read that Jesus “put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.”  Of course, we must not receive the sacraments of the sick and forgiveness of sins in a superstitious manner.  Rather, Jesus knows that as human beings we need to be touched to feel the power of God.  He knows too that we need to hear the words of forgiveness and so He spoke to the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven.”  And at Pentecost, Jesus specifically gave the power to His apostles to forgive, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:23) And also to Peter, He gave him the authority to pardon sins when He said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  (Mt 16:19)

So what is preventing Catholics from making full use of these two sacraments?  There are two reasons, ignorance and sin, especially the foundational sin of pride.  Firstly, many Catholics have been misled into thinking that these two sacraments are invention of the Church to control the laity.  Far from the truth, because all of us, regardless of whether we are the pope, bishop or priest, need to avail ourselves of these two sacraments.   Even the Pope needs to look for a priest to have his sins absolved and a priest to anoint him when they are sick. In fact the Pope, bishops and priests frequent the sacrament of reconciliation more often than the lay faithful because we know the healing power of this sacrament and because we are aware of our sinfulness.  Without regular celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation our hearts will become numbed to our sins.  Just as no one can baptize himself, so no one can forgive himself.  Jesus wants us to come to Him through the established channels of grace in the sacraments of the sick and reconciliation.

In truth, it is our pride that prevents us from going for the sacrament of reconciliation; we do not want to expose our wretchedness and sinfulness to another human being. In human relationships, we need to hear the words of forgiveness when we have hurt someone we love. Why should it different when it comes to hurting God?  We too would like the hear God’s pronouncement of forgiveness; and what is more tangible than to hear it from the ministers that He has chosen to act on His behalf.  So no matter what reasons we give to  justify our not celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, it all boils down to our pride and ego.  We do not want to humble ourselves and admit that we are sinners before God and before man.

Secondly, many fail to see the relationship between healing and forgiveness.  We cannot speak of healing without forgiveness, received and given.  Healing is always of the mind and the body which are closely interconnected.  The human person is one composite whole.  He is an embodied spirit.  So although spirit and body are distinct, they are not separable.  Both act in tandem with each other.  The body can affect the spirit and vice versa.  If the soul or the mind is sick the body will eventually lose its immune resistance.  And if the person is emotionally wounded, he will eventually fall into depression and then physically ill.  The illness of a person could begin from physical sickness and then affect the human spirit.  Thus, the sacrament of confession together with the sacrament of the sick are intended to bring healing to the mind, spirit and body.  The first step to healing is always the forgiveness of sins and the capacity to forgive.  Once a person is liberated from his or her sins, he is able to see others’ compassion and set those who have hurt them free.

Thirdly, many see their sins as a personal sin against God.  All our sins, regardless how private or personal they are, are always sins against God, Christ and His mystical body.  If Christ is hurt by our sins, so is His body the Church.  Any member of the Body of Christ who sins has sinned against the community because by His sins, he has weakened the holiness of the Church and often makes the Church less credible.  Because one also sins against the community, forgiveness must be sought from the community, of which the Bishop as the head of the Christian community forgives his or her sins through his deputy, his priests.  At any rate, it is the whole Christ, head and body that wants to forgive us, not just the head without the body.  As in the early Church, it is not just confessing to someone but to the elder of the Church.  For this reason, St James exhorted his community to call for the elder.  He wrote, “If any one of you is in trouble, he should pray; if anyone is feeling happy, he should sing a psalm. If one of you is ill, he should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him.”

Of course, the sacraments of reconciliation and the sick are more than just the forgiveness of sins but restoration of a person’s general health.  Forgiveness of sins, which is the fundamental healing that takes place, is followed by the healing of the body as well.  And of course when such a prayer is made by a man of faith, the prayer is more efficacious, for as St James taught, “The prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you; the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully. Elijah was a human being like ourselves – he prayed hard for it not to rain, and no rain fell for three-and-a-half years; then he prayed again and the sky gave rain and the earth gave crops.”

Let us pray for the gift of humility and faith.  This is what the gospel is inviting us to do.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  To be like little children means to surrender our lives to God in faith for forgiveness and healing.  It calls for humility, like a child asking for forgiveness, and recognition of our need for healing.  Without the humility of a child and faith, we cannot receive the sacraments of the sick and reconciliation.  But when we humble ourselves before the Lord, like Naaman the leper, we will be healed and be set free from our fears, anger and unhappiness.

We must also encourage those who have not availed themselves of these sacraments by removing their ignorance and fears.  St James tells us, “My brothers, if one of you strays away from the truth, and another brings him back to it, he may be sure that anyone who can bring back a sinner from the wrong way that he has taken will be saving a soul from death and covering up a great number of sins.”  Let us help those who are broken within and within to be reconciled with God and their fellowmen.  By bringing them to Christ, we save his soul.

http://www.csctr.net/01-march-2014-saturday-7th-week-in-ordinary-time/

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Thai protest leader announces end to Bangkok shutdown — PM To Face Charges of Negligence over Government Rice Subsidy Scheme

February 28, 2014

BANGKOK, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) — Thai anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on Friday night announced the operation to paralyze the capital Bangkok, which has lasted from Jan. 13, will be ended on March 3.

Protesters will withdraw from all rally sites in the city except the one at the Lumpini Park, Suthep said while addressing protesters.

All future activities will be moved to the park, he added.

The shutdown operation, during which a number of government offices and major intersections have been besieged or occupied, has been aimed at pressuring caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down. Yingluck has repeatedly and categorically rejected the request.

But Suthep added that to abandon rally sites does not mean the fight to oust the Yingluck government is over.

“We’ll continue to close down government offices and businesses of the Shinawatra family as usual and our fight will be more intense,” Suthep was quoted by Bangkok Post as saying.

A string of shooting and bomb explosions at protest sites over the past days has resulted in the death of four children and other persons, as well as injuries to dozens. The attackers have remained at large.

Suthep apologized to people in Bangkok for the inconvenience the operation has brought about, saying, “I’m determined to end this by March so we can start national reform.”

Suthep earlier proposed holding one-on-one talks with Yingluck, demanding that the talks be broadcast live on TV.

In response, Yingluck said that she agreed to peaceful talks, provided they are in line with the constitution and Suthep is ready to terminate the prolonged street protest to facilitate the wrapping-up of the incomplete election process.

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From the BBC

Supporters of the Thai PM have blocked access gates, as Jonathan Head reports

 

Thailand’s embattled prime minister has sent her lawyers to an anti-corruption panel to hear charges of negligence over a government rice subsidy scheme.

PM Yingluck Shinawatra’s opponents, who are seeking to replace her, say the programme was rife with corruption.

If found guilty, Ms Yingluck could be removed from office and face a five-year ban from politics.

Thailand’s political crisis has become increasingly violent since mass anti-government protests began in November.

Ms Yingluck, who flew to the northern city of Chiang Rai on Wednesday, did not attend the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in person.

Instead, she sent her lawyers to hear the charges set against her.

Blockading tactics

The prime minister, who denies the corruption charges, says she is willing to co-operate with the NACC “to establish the facts”.

The rice subsidy programme – a flagship policy of Ms Yingluck’s administration – saw the Thai government buying farmers’ crops for the past two years at prices up to 50% higher than world prices.

The policy was originally popular with farmers. However, it has led to Thailand’s rice exports being badly hit and accumulated losses of at least $4.4bn (3.2bn euros: £2.6bn).

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra leaves the Thai Air Force headquarters after a cabinet meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, on 25 February 2014. PM Yingluck Shinawatra is under intense pressure to step down and make way for an interim government
Anti-government protesters wave Thai flags during a rally outside the national police headquarters in Bangkok on 26 February 2014. Demonstrators have been blocking official buildings, including the prime minister’s office, since late last year
A government supporter shouts slogans during a rally outside the National Anti-Corruption Commission office in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, 27 February 2014 On Thursday, government supporters rallied outside the NACC to prevent officials from entering
Anti-government protesters hold posters of victims of a recent bomb blast, six-year-old Patcharakorn Yosubon (L) and her brother four-year-old Koravitch Yosubon (C), as they march in a rally outside the national police headquarters in Bangkok, 26 February 2014 Several people, including children, have been killed in violent attacks

Recently, the scheme has left many farmers out of pocket, as the government cannot borrow money to make the payments until a new parliament has convened.

Ms Yingluck says she was only in charge of formulating the policy, not the day-to-day running of the scheme.

She has complained that the commission has treated her unfairly, the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok reports.

For the first time since anti-government protesters began blockading ministries in Bangkok last year, the prime minister’s supporters have begun to use the same tactic, our correspondent adds. They surrounded the office of the NACC and chained the gate to prevent officials from entering.

As a result, the hearing had to be moved to another location.

A spokesman for Ms Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party suggested that the NACC was biased against the prime minister.

“People have started to notice that if it is a blue [Democrat] government it is always slow. But if it is a red [Pheu Thai] government it is always quick. Isn’t that true? We want the NACC to answer this,” spokesman Prompong Nopparit said in quotes carried by AP news agency.

Tensions have been on the rise in recent weeks, with shootings and recent grenade attacks targeting anti-government protest sites.

Four children were among the dead in separate violent attacks in the Thai capital, Bangkok, last weekend. At least 20 people have died since hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets on 24 November.

‘Avoid confrontation’

The protests have disrupted the government’s ability to function over the last three months, blocking roads and government agencies to pressure Ms Yingluck to resign.

Anti-government demonstrators want Ms Yingluck’s government replaced with an unelected “people’s council”.

However, Ms Yingluck’s party has broad support from rural areas, and there are fears that any confrontation between Ms Yingluck’s supporters and opponents could turn violent.

National security chief Paradorn Pattanatabutr told Reuters news agency: “The government must do everything it can to avoid confrontation and to prevent each side setting up stages or rallies near each other.”

The US has expressed concern over the violence in Thailand.

“Violence is not an acceptable means of resolving political differences,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“We reiterate our call for all sides to exercise restraint and urge Thai authorities to investigate thoroughly and transparently all recent acts of violence.”

Ex-President Yanukovych Speaks From Russia: Russia Seems In Charge in At Least Part of Ukraine

February 28, 2014
  • Blockading airport in Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea
  • Armed men also took over other main Crimean airport – no violence reported
  • Ukraine ask U.N. Security Council to call a session to discuss the crisis
  • Country’s new interior minister branded the act an ‘armed invasion’
  • Russia granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych
  • Ukraine will ask Russia to extradite Yanukovich if his location is confirmed
  • Ukraine restricts foreign currency withdrawals to about 1,000 euros a day
  • Russian military helicopters have flown to Ukraine according to Interfax

By Jill Reilly

Ukraine’s ex-President Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being ousted, telling a news conference that he was going to fight for his country’s future.

His speech came as what appeared to be Russian troops took control of two airports in the Crimea , and Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service said Russian marines have taken positions outside its Coast Guard base in the Sevastop.

Hours before the press conference Ukraine’s prosecutor general announced it is preparing to seek extradition of Yanukovych – he is wanted on suspicion of mass murder in last week’s violent clashes between protesters and police, in which  more than 80 people were killed.

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Ukraine's ex-President Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being ousted, telling a news conference that he was going to fight for his country's future

Ukraine’s ex-President Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being ousted, telling a news conference that he was going to fight for his country’s future

 

Ukraine's fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych gives a news conference in Rostov-on-Don

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Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych arrives for a press conference

This afternoon Yanukovych told a news conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don:  ‘I intend to keep fighting for the future of Ukraine against those who are using fear and terror to seize the country’

 

This afternoon Yanukovych told journalists in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don: ‘I intend to keep fighting  for the future of Ukraine against those who are using fear and terror to seize the country’.

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Ukraine’s president, who was last seen on Saturday, said the current parliament was ‘illegitimate’, and described those who drove him from power as ‘young neo-fascist thugs’ representing only a minority of Ukrainians.

He said he was ‘forced’ to leave the country when he was in Crimea after his family received threats.

Asked how he managed to get to Russia, the fugitive president said he got out ‘thanks to patriotic officers who did their duty and helped me to save my life.’

He said he is staying in Rostov because he has a good old friend living nearby who is giving him shelter.

‘Nobody ousted me’ Yanukovich finally turns up in Russia

              

Armed Russian navy servicemen surround a Ukrainian border guard base in Balaclava, in the Crimea region

Armed Russian navy servicemen surround a Ukrainian border guard base in Balaclava, in the Crimea region

 

Armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region on Friday in what Ukraine's government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, stoking tension between Moscow and the West

Armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region on Friday in what Ukraine’s government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, stoking tension between Moscow and the West

 

An armed Ukrainian border guard looks out of a window as the base is surrounded by armed Russian navy servicemen in Balaclava

An armed Ukrainian border guard looks out of a window as the base is surrounded by armed Russian navy servicemen in Balaclava

 

‘I will return to Ukraine as soon as the safety of myself and my family can be guaranteed,’  Mr Yanukovych said.

Yanukovych said he had not met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia but  talked with him on the phone, adding that he hopes the Russian leader  will find time to meet him.

He denied giving orders to shoot protestors but said police have the right to self-defence.

Yanukovych lambasted the West for allegedly betraying a Feb. 21 agreement between  the government and the opposition, saying that recent actions by the  opposition run counter to the EU-brokered agreement.

Meanwhile, a top Ukrainian security official said the two airports in Crimea were now under Ukrainian control despite attempts by gunmen to ‘seize’ them.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister said earlier that Russian navy troops were blocking access to the airports in Simferopol and Sevastopol, describing it as a ‘military invasion and occupation.’

But Ukraine’s security council chief Andriy Parubiy insisted later that the airports were still under Ukrainian control, according to the Interfax news agency, which is run by the Kremlin.

‘Russian forces’ seize airports in Ukraine’s Crimea region

              

Russian military forces are blockading an airport in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, an act Ukraine's new interior minister has announced branded an 'armed invasion'

Russian military forces are blockading an airport in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, an act Ukraine’s new interior minister has announced branded an ‘armed invasion’

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As events in the Crimea region heighten tensions with neighboring Russia, this morning armed men also took over the other main Crimean airport, Simferopol, according to a Facebook post by Mr Avakov

As events in the Crimea region heighten tensions with neighboring Russia, this morning armed men also took over the other main Crimean airport, Simferopol, according to a Facebook post by Mr Avakov

As events in the Crimea region heighten tensions with neighbouring Russia, Ukraine’s Parliament, , adopted a resolution calling for a U.N. Security Council meeting on the nation’s crisis and demanding that Russia halt steps which it says are aimed against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It said it was appealing to the Security Council to call a session to consider the problems in Ukraine in the light of a 1993 understanding in which the big powers agreed to guarantee the territorial integrity of the country.

The request came as U.S. Vice  President Joe Biden told Ukraine’s new prime minister that the U.S.  welcomes the formation of the country’s new government.

Biden’s message was an important signal of U.S. recognition for Arsenij  Yatsenyuk, named to the post Thursday in a boisterous parliamentary  session, as the de facto leader of the former Soviet republic.

Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings were seen patrolling the airport in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea

Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings were seen patrolling the airport in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea

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The move came as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukraine's new prime minister that the U.S. welcomes the formation of the country's new government

The move came as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukraine’s new prime minister that the U.S. welcomes the formation of the country’s new government

Biden called Yatsenyuk to tell him the U.S. will give full support as Ukraine seeks to restore order in the wake of a major political crisis.

The White House has said that by  fleeing the capital after recent deadly protests in Kiev swept in a new government, President Viktor Yanukovych had abdicated power, but  Yanukovych in a statement still claimed authority.

Biden had  spoken to him regularly during the crisis until he fled.

Yanukovych has a news conference scheduled today in Russia’s south near the Ukrainian border.

Yatsenyuk was overwhelmingly approved by parliament Thursday.

He is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer and has said Ukraine’s future lies with the European Union.

The White House has said that by fleeing the capital, President Viktor Yanukovych abdicated power

The White House has said that by fleeing the capital, President Viktor Yanukovych abdicated power

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On Thursday, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag over the parliament building

On Thursday, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag over the parliament building

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Yanukovych has not been seen publicly since Saturday, and he declared Thursday in a statement that he remains Ukraine's legitimate president

Yanukovych has not been seen publicly since Saturday, and he declared Thursday in a statement that he remains Ukraine’s legitimate president

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John Kerry said that Russia has told the United States that it will respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and that military exercises near the Russian-Ukraine border are not a prelude to an intervention

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John Kerry said that Russia has told the United States that it will respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and that military exercises near the Russian-Ukraine border are not a prelude to an intervention

On Thursday, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper  rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and  raised the Russian flag over the parliament building.

It scrambled fighter jets on Thursday to patrol borders in the first  stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold  War brinksmanship.

Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday elected a new government led by a pro-Western technocrat who promptly pledged to prevent any national break-up.

Moscow has been sending mixed signals about Ukraine but pledged to respect its territorial integrity. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine, a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization, closer into Moscow’s orbit.

Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko shakes hands with a man as she arrives to visit the tent camp of her supporters in the center of Kiev today

Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko shakes hands with a man as she arrives to visit the tent camp of her supporters in the center of Kiev today

 

Judicial authorities in Geneva said Friday they have launched a criminal investigation into alleged money laundering by ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych and his son

Judicial authorities in Geneva said Friday they have launched a criminal investigation into alleged money laundering by ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych and his son

 

Ukraine’s population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West.

Crimea, which was seized by Russian forces in the 18th century under Catherine the Great, was once the crown jewel in Russian and then Soviet empires.

It only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

In a bid to shore up Ukraine’s fledgling administration, the International Monetary Fund has said it is ‘ready to respond’ to Ukraine’s bid for financial assistance.

The European Union is also considering emergency loans for a country that is the chief conduit of Russian natural gas to western Europe.

Ukraine ethnic divisions map.jpg

Ukraine’s finance ministry has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default.

Yesterday Secretary of State  John Kerry said that Russia has told the United States that it will  respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and that military exercises near the  Russian-Ukraine border are not a prelude to an intervention.

Kerry warned Russia this week against a military intervention the former  Soviet republic and said it could face a strong response from the West,  though he did not specify what that might be.

‘We will look to Russia for the choices that it makes in the next days for  their confirmation of these statements,’ Kerry said at a State  Department news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter  Steinmeier.

Ukraine's newly appointed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk delivers a speech at the Ukrainan parliament on Thursday

Ukraine’s newly appointed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk delivers a speech at the Ukrainan parliament on Thursday

 

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukraine's new prime minister that the U.S. welcomes the formation of the country's new government

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukraine’s new prime minister that the U.S. welcomes the formation of the country’s new government

 

Vladimir Putin granted shelter to Ukraine's fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych has a news conference scheduled today  (file photo)

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Vladimir Putin granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych has a news conference scheduled today  (file photo)

 

‘Words are words. We have all learned that it’s actions and  the follow-on choices that make the greatest difference.’

Kerry predicted that the military exercise will not be ‘so prolonged that it is going to have an impact on events there.’

‘Everybody needs to step back and avoid provocations,’ Kerry said. Kerry said the U.S. also supports a vote Thursday by Ukraine’s parliament to  approve the transitional government that will run the country until  elections in May.

But in Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region, gunmen  stormed government buildings and raised a Russian flag over the regional parliament.

Moscow is  ‘concerned’ about the takeover in Crimea, and Kerry said Lavrov  ‘disclaimed that it had anything to do with any formal Russian  initiative.’

Further unrest in Ukranie Pro-Russia demonstrators wave flags in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine

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Further unrest in Ukranie Pro-Russia demonstrators wave flags in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine

 

Ukrainian men help pull one another out of a stampede as a flag of Crimea is seen during clashes at rallies held by ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars near the Crimean parliament building

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Ukrainian men help pull one another out of a stampede as a flag of Crimea is seen during clashes at rallies held by ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars near the Crimean parliament building

 

An ethnic Russian Ukrainian man holds the Crimea flag on top of an old Soviet tank during rallies near the Crimean parliament building yesterday

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An ethnic Russian Ukrainian man holds the Crimea flag on top of an old Soviet tank during rallies near the Crimean parliament building yesterday

 

 

FINANCIAL WOES FOR RUSSIA

Russian stock indexes and the rouble hit new lows on Friday on an escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea.

Ukraine’s interior minister accused Russia of armed invasion and occupation after Russian troops from the Sevastopol naval base took over a military airport near the city.

This follows the occupation of another airport in the Crimean capital Simferopol by armed men.

At 0730 GMT the rouble-denominated MICEX stock index was down 1.2 percent while the dollar-denominated RTS index was also down 1.2 percent.

The rouble was down 0.4 percent against the dollar to 36.18 , and by 0.4 percent to 49.63 against the euro. , an all-time low. It fell 0.4 percent to 42.24 against the dollar-euro basket , also an all-time low, pushing it beyond the edge of the corridor announced by the Russian central bank, which stood at 35.20 to 42.20 as of Feb. 27.

At the edge of the corridor the central bank carries out unlimited interventions to support the rouble, but it moves the corridor by five kopecks as soon as it has expended $350 million in reserves.

‘They don’t want to see a breakdown into violence,’ Kerry said. Even so, he struck a  skeptical tone, noting that Russia can’t credibly claim to protect  Ukraine’s territorial integrity if it is also encouraging a separatist  movement.

‘Nowhere is there a greater connection, a link to Russia in several different ways as there is in Crimea,’ Kerry told reporters.

‘But as the days unfold this  should not become a struggle between the United States and Russia, East  and West. This is about the people of Ukraine.’

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. expects the interim  government to protect the security and civil rights of all of citizens  in Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population.

Steinmeier said it’s important for Kiev’s new leaders to ‘show that it is a  government for all Ukrainians and that it now works together with  international institutions, and with its neighbors, to stabilize the  country financially.’

‘East and West should not argue now about Ukraine’s future,’ he said.

In a statement before the news conference, Steinmeier said welcomed a move by the International Monetary Fund to send a fact-finding team to Kiev. He said he will discuss with IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Friday what the financial institution can do in terms of providing immediate aid.

‘We are talking with Russia about help pledged to Ukraine not being withdrawn or canceled,’ he said. Kerry was asked if the Ukraine should be integrated into the European Union  and NATO – a possibility that has strong backing in Kiev and sparked  protests against Yanukovych.

Kerry said he would advise the new  government to hold off and ‘focus on the things that need to be focused  on now.’

Rage: An anti-Yanukovych protester argues in front of the Ukrainian parliament in central Kiev

Rage: An anti-Yanukovych protester argues in front of the Ukrainian parliament in central Kiev

An ethnic Russian Ukrainian holds a Russian flag as Crimean Tatars rally near the Crimean parliament building

An ethnic Russian Ukrainian holds a Russian flag as Crimean Tatars rally near the Crimean parliament building

Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea

Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea

 

Force: Anti-Yanukovych protesters sit on top of an armoured vehicle as it drives past a barricade in central Kiev today

Force: Anti-Yanukovych protesters sit on top of an armoured vehicle as it drives past a barricade in central Kiev today

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-military-blocking-airport.html#ixzz2uda6dGGp

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If They Aren’t Russian Soldiers, Who Are Those Masked Men At Crimea’s Airports?

February 28, 2014

Photo: Armed men patrolled the street outside Simferopol’s airport in the Crimea region of Ukraine on Friday. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

By and PATRICK REEVELL
The New York Times

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Armed men of uncertain allegiance took up positions at two airports here in Ukraine’s Crimean region on Friday, fueling concerns about possible Russian military intervention or a separatist rebellion in a region with stronger historical ties to Russia than to Ukraine’s central government in Kiev.

Although there were no confrontations or bloodshed by midafternoon, the appearance of a large number of masked men with assault rifles unnerved residents and travelers, who were buffeted by warnings from Kiev of military meddling by Moscow and statements from the deposed Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, that the country had been taken over by fascists and “bandits.”

In Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea, men dressed in camouflage and carrying assault rifles moved into position at the international airport and a second airfield nearby. Their military uniforms bore no insignia and it was not clear who they were or who was commanding them. They declined to answer questions, but did not interfere with normal airport operations.

An unidentified armed man patrolled in front of the airport in Simferopol, Ukraine, on Friday.  Credit Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Reuters reported that about 20 armed men wearing the uniform of Russia’s Black Sea fleet surrounded a Ukrainian border guard post near the port city of Sevastopol, 50 miles southwest of Simferopol. The Russian navy maintains a large force in the region.

Moscow denied that its forces have moved into Crimea and attributed the presence of troops there to “internal political processes in Ukraine,” according to a statement from the foreign ministry. It said it had not violated agreements not to intervene in Ukrainian affairs.

In Kiev, the speaker of Parliament, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, who is now the acting president of Ukraine, convened a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council to discuss the situation in Crimea.

Announcing the meeting in Parliament, Mr. Turchynov said, “Terrorists with automatic weapons, judged by our special services to be professional soldiers, tried to take control of the airport in Crimea.”

Mr. Yanukovych, in a news conference Friday in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia not far from Crimea, said that the region should remain part of Ukraine, despite its historic, linguistic and cultural ties to Russia. “I think that everything that is happened in Crimea is a natural reaction to the gangster coup that happened in Kiev,” he said.

He added, “People of Crimea don’t want to submit and they will not submit to Bandera thugs,” referring to the World War II era nationalist leader who was vilified by the Soviet Union.

Credit Baz Ratner/Reuters

In Semferopol, the armed men set up positions around a central administrative building, but they did not appear to enter the terminals. The airport, by all appearances, was operating normally, with flights arriving and departing roughly on schedule. There were no roadblocks or checkpoints on the roads leading to the airport or on the grounds of the airport.

One local resident who was at the airport said that he did not know who the men were. “They’re not talking,” he said.

Meanwhile, another confrontation was underway at a second airport, called Belbek, that is used for military and some civilian flights.

Pro-Russia demonstrators marched with a huge Russian flag in Simferopol, in the Crimea region of Ukraine, on Thursday night.  Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

In a post on his Facebook page, the interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said that units believed to be affiliated with the Russian military had blocked access to the airport overnight, with some Ukrainian military personnel and border guards inside. Mr. Avakov wrote that the men blocking the airport were also wearing camouflage uniforms with no identifying insignia, but he added, “They do not hide their affiliation.”

Mr. Avakov said that the airport was not functioning and that “there is no armed conflict yet.”

At the international airport, Mr. Avakov said, the Ukrainian authorities confronted the armed men and told them, “You soldiers have no right to be located here.” The uniformed men responded curtly, “We do not have instructions to negotiate with you,” he said.

Igor K. Tresilaty, who identified himself as assistant to the general director at the international airport, said Friday that the soldiers were remaining in common areas outside the airport, in the restaurant and in parking lots. He said he did not know who they were and expressed no curiosity about them, saying only that they looked professional.

“They’re walking around, but we, nor the police, can’t have any complaint against them because they’re not violating anything, they’re not touching anyone,” Mr. Tresilaty said.

Crimeans supporting Russia marched into a square in front of the barricaded regional parliament building, waving flags and chanting, “Rossiya, Rossiya.”  Credit Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Crimea, denied that its forces were involved in the deployment at one of the airports. But the national Parliament in Kiev issued an appeal for Russia to “stop moves that show signs of undermining national sovereignty” in Ukraine, Reuters reported, and it urged the United States and Britain to honor commitments made in the early 1990s to protect the country’s territorial integrity.

Parliament also called on the United Nations Security Council to debate the issue, apparently seeking to broaden the dispute.

The rapid-fire developments came a day after a well-orchestrated power grab by pro-Russian forces played out across Simferopol on Thursday: Armed militants took control of government buildings; crowds filled the streets chanting “Russia, Russia,” and legislators called for a vote to redefine relations with Ukraine. The region is currently autonomous, meaning it has greater local control over its affairs.

Police officers, nominally under the control of the Ministry of Interior in Kiev, made little or no effort to control the crowds and, in some cases, even applauded their pro-Russia zeal. The police stood aside as the armed militants who seized government buildings overnight on Thursday built a barricade outside the regional legislature. The authorities ordered an emergency holiday, leaving streets mostly empty except for the protesters chanting for Russia, and many shops closed.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea, a tinderbox of ethnic, political and religious divisions, has had repeated outbursts of pro-Russia fervor that all ultimately fizzled. But the events Thursday and Friday, coupled with the fragile state of Ukraine’s new and barely functioning central government, represented a far more serious challenge to the territorial integrity of the country and an already unsettled geopolitical balance between Russia and the West.

Crimea’s Tatar population, which was deported en masse from its homeland by Stalin, mostly wants the region to stay part of Ukraine, and although traditionally very peaceful, it has now started organizing self-defense units to fend off possible attacks by ethnic Russian militants.

It was not immediately clear what, if any, direct role Russia played in engineering the tumult, but the situation here matches in some ways a situation that previously played out in areas like Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where largely pro-Russia populations broke away from Georgia, a former Soviet republic like Ukraine, to effectively become Russian protectorates.

The pace of developments, set largely by well-organized pro-Russia groups that marched through Simferopol in military-style formations, has perhaps outrun even Moscow’s capacity for geopolitical machinations. Having mobilized its air and ground forces around Ukraine on Wednesday for previously unannounced military exercises in Western Russia, Moscow has raised expectations among its most zealous supporters that it will intervene to support their cause.

But any open military intervention would risk plunging Crimea, a vital outpost for the Russian Navy, into bloody chaos and also undermine security inside Russia, particularly in heavily Muslim areas.

UK: German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster

February 28, 2014

By Quentin Letts

 

To the murmuring, purring pleasure of Westminster’s massed Europhiles, the undisputed ruler of Germany and Continental Europe began the day in typically stolid fashion.

Angela Merkel’s mid-morning speech was an orthodox Brussels affair. It was only later in the day, at a Downing Street press conference, that she showed a flash of Brandenburg ankle. The miracles of a goodish lunch.

Modern Germany is a land of coalitions; they rather went off the single-party thing on April 30, 1945. Controlled, calm, level-decibel consensus is how they do things. Consensus compulsory.

The undisputed ruler of Germany and Continental Europe: German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster during her visit to London yesterday

The undisputed ruler of Germany and Continental Europe: German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster during her visit to London yesterday

 

She had been given the rare honour of addressing parliamentarians from both Houses. The Royal Gallery was not quite full but the large crowd, with several thirty-something parliamentary assistants standing at the back alongside David Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn, was a sign of curiosity and respect.

More from Quentin Letts…

Curiosity: what was she like, this slightly square, short Chancellor with the stooped shoulders and the Prussian-helmet hairdo (a coal scuttle Stahlhelm, not one of those boiled-leather Pickelhaube jobs).

Respect: in part for the leader of an important European ally but also because she started her years in the East German dictatorship and because she is the first woman to lead her country.

Would she help Mr Cameron’s hopes for EU renegotiation? Or would it be ‘Nein, nein, nein’?

First person I spotted on arrival was notorious Euro-pusher Lord Hannay, a sometime Foreign Office mandarin who sits in the Lords as a Crossbencher but might as well represent the European Commission party. He already looked satisfied.

Lots of other EU-pluggers arrived, among them Labour frontbencher Lord Liddle who wants us to think about joining the Euro, plus his old boss Peter Mandelson. Reach for your garlic bulbs, girls.

The Commons side of the room was slower to fill. Nick Clegg was early, standing erect as a prairie dog while others took their seats. He likes to be seen.

Ed Miliband arrived, followed at dagger-stabbing distance by Chuka Umunna. Mr Cameron was not quite last to arrive but did so with his customary crinkly-eyed expressions of delight when spotting the faces of bruised old tuskers in the crowd. It’s a bit like seeing a game-show host walk out on stage.

The Royal Gallery is as big as the inner gubbins of the Isle of Wight car ferry. Its silk-papered walls are lined by art work showing a scene from Waterloo, Marshal Blucher of Prussia arriving just in time to save the Duke of Dave’s bacon. Sorry, the Duke of Wellington.

There was no music. Pity. I do love a bit of martial pomp, even a blast of state trumpets, but perhaps all the military bandsmen are in Afghanistan.

Oratorical flourishes, surprises, jokes, came there none: Jimmy Tarbuck Mrs Merkel ain't. But there was, undeniably, something impressively resilient, determined about the little blob of blue at the lectern

Oratorical flourishes, surprises, jokes, came there none: Jimmy Tarbuck Mrs Merkel ain’t. But there was, undeniably, something impressively resilient, determined about the little blob of blue at the lectern

 

Frau Merkel’s entry went off without any more theatrical aplomb than everyone standing. This rendered her invisible. We all resumed our seats and found that giant of men, Squeaker Bercow, glooping her with compliments.

When she began her speech it was in English and she recalled her first visit to London, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She and her husband had gone for a walk in Hyde Park and looked for Speakers’ Corner, ‘the very symbol of free speech’.

Go there most days of the week now and you will find not much more than a drab ice cream hut, a Boris bikes stand and maybe a bearded loon railing against the West.

Her words echoed in the room. The tone did not vary. It was like listening to train announcements at Potsdam Hauptbahnhof or the encouraging chants of a breast-stroke coach at a municipal swimming pool.

Oratorical flourishes, surprises, jokes, came there none. Jimmy Tarbuck she ain’t. But there was, undeniably, something impressively resilient, determined about the little blob of blue at the lectern in the distance.

Her message, though couched in impeccable dullness, was as unyielding as a pair of chapping lederhosen.

When it ended, the only people smiling were the Europhiles. But her mood at No 10 was less stubborn. ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’

They must have slipped some thing into her beetroot and goat’s cheese salad.

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Angela-unyielding-pair-lederhosen-writes-QUENTIN-LETTS.html#ixzz2ud2ydx1S

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