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Verbatim: Hague, Maduro, Bowie

From Kiev to Caracas, what people are saying as the news turns...

1. British Foreign Secretary Hague: Ukraine Is Europe's Biggest 21st Century Crisis

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2014-03-03 Read Later

“The biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century.”

Speaking to BBC Radio, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that the crisis in Ukraine, where Russian troops have seized control of the Crimean Peninsula, is potentially disastrous.

“The world cannot just allow this to happen,” he said.

Meanwhile, at a press conference with Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, Hague warned Russia of “consequences and costs” over its intervention, which Yatseniuk described as “declaration of war to my country,” Sky News reports.

During his interview with the BBC, Hague spoke of “significant diplomatic and economic costs” for Russia. This echoed news of the suspended participation of the other seven countries for the next G8 summit, due to take place in Sochi in June; as well as more trouble for Russia’s currency, the rouble. The Russian central bank was forced to announce an emergency interest rate hike, raising its key lending rate to 7% after the rouble hit all-time lows against the euro and the dollar, Reuters reports.

Follow the stock markets’ latest updates on The Guardian’s finance blog

The Ukrainian crisis worsened over the weekend after the Russian Parliament approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to send in troops, putting the Ukrainian army on full alert, the BBC reports. According to U.S. officials, Russia now has some 6,000 airborne and ground troops in Crimea, leading them to concede that Moscow was in “complete operational control” of the much-coveted peninsula, The Guardian reports.

Speaking to the UN Council on Human Rights in Geneva, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the decision was not an aggression but a matter of defending human rights and Russian citizens, who constitute a majority of Crimea‘s population, RT reports.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC during Meet The Press, “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests,” a criticism Salon characterizes as “ironic” in light of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Kerry is expected to fly to Kiev on Tuesday.

The BBC’s North America editor Mark Mardell said the crisis would also be a test of President Obama’s leadership, “one that will demonstrate how much clout the U.S. has in the world.”

Photo: Alexei Pavlishak/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA


Crunched By: Marc Alves

2. Ukraine Accuses Russia Of "Military Invasion"

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2014-02-28 Read Later

“I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms.”

After news that the two main airports in Ukraine’s region of Crimea had been raided by armed groups, the country’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov accused Russia of being behind “an armed invasion and occupation,” Reuters reports.

Representatives of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which has its base at the Sevastopol military airport located near the city’s port, said in a statement that its forces were not involved in the raid. But they acknowledged that, “Given the unstable situation around the Black Sea Fleet bases in the Crimea, and the places where our service members live with their families, security has been stepped by the Black Sea Fleet’s anti-terror units,” Voice Of Russia reports.

The identity of the gunmen is unclear, as journalists on location such ITV’s James Mates were not able to confirm whether they were Ukrainian or Russian. Others such as RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky described the men’s uniforms as being different from that of Russian troops.

Airport officials, however, are reported to have described the gunmen as “self-defense squads” and refused to described the events as a “takeover,” adding confusion to the situation. According to RT, Igor Stratilati, a spokesman for Simferopol airport, said the men had been looking for Ukrainian airborne troops and left when they couldn't find any.

At the time of writing, there had been no official reaction from Moscow. For more on the events in Crimea, here is an on-the-ground Kommersant/Worldcrunch report.

Armed men outside Simferopol airport — Photo: Sarah Corp via Twitter

Crunched By: Marc Alves

3. Erdogan's Compromising Communications: Round Two

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2014-02-27 Read Later

"Don't take it. Whatever he has promised us, he should bring this. If he is not going to bring that, there is no need.” 

ANKARA — A second damning audio recording of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, this time asking his son to hold out for more money on a business deal, was published Wednesday on YouTube.

No specific company names are mentioned in the latest recording, Reuters reports, but the voice purportedly of the prime minister’s son Bilal Erdogan refers to a “Mr. Sitki,” saying he could not carry out a transaction.

An accompanying text within the YouTube clip says the reference is to Sitki Ayan, the chairman of Istanbul-based company Turang Transit Tasimacilik. The basis for that conclusion was not clear.

A similar audio recording was uploaded Monday, in which the prime minister supposedly tells his son to dispose of large sums of cash amid a corruption investigation. Erdogan called it a “treacherous attack” and part of a campaign to unseat him. Since then, there has been a rash of anti-government protests in Turkey demanding his resignation .

Photo: Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Crunched By: Julie Farrar

4. Kerry Says Ukraine Is Not West Vs. East

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2014-02-26 Read Later

“This is not West versus East. It is not Russia or the United States. This is about the people of Ukraine.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for nations to work together to bring stability to Ukraine, saying this isn’t a “zero-sum game” between West and East, the BBC reports.

During talks on Ukraine with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in Washington Tuesday, Kerry said the U.S. wanted “to work with Russia and other countries, with everybody available, to make sure this is peaceful from this day forward.”

The new administration in Kiev, in place until the early presidential election May 25, is facing ongoing opposition from Ukraine’s southern and eastern Russian-speaking regions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has insisted on Russia’s “policy of non-intervention,” saying it would apply to Ukraine. But the country, which has backed ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, has also warned other states against seeking “unilateral advantages” in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, political instability has led to fears of separatism amid nationalist and neo-fascist acts being reported throughout Ukraine, Russia Today reported.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ukraine’s interim president Olexander Turchynov called separatism a “serious threat” for the country. Addressing parliament, he said he would take measures against the risk of separatism in majority Russian-speaking regions.

Large ethnic Russian populations have called the ousting of former President Yanukovych illegal and protested against the actions of the interim administration. In the Crimean city of Simferopol, the Russian flag was briefly erected by protestors over the city’s administration building, according to RT.

The protestors are calling for the restoration of the Crimea constitution of 1992, in which the region would have its own president and foreign policy. An extraordinary session of the Crimean parliament is set to take place on Wednesday.

For more on the developments in Ukraine and the threat of separtism, we offer this Worldcrunch series from newspapers around the world.

Photo: Bao Dandan/Xinhua/ZUMA

Crunched By: Patrick Randall

5. After Signing Drastic Anti-Gay Bill, Ugandan Leader Calls Gay "Disgusting"

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2014-02-25 Read Later

“They’re disgusting. What sort of people are they?”

KAMPALA — During a CNN interview Tuesday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called homosexuality “unnatural” and characterized it as a matter of choice. The comments came the day after he signed a drastic anti-gay bill.

The new Ugandan law makes homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. Under the law, people “promoting” or reaching out to homosexuals can also be punished, therefore limiting the actions of LGBT activists. It has sparked anger among human rights groups across the world.

The bill Museveni signed was “watered down” compared to a previous version, introduced in 2009, according to the BBC. Its original legislation included a death penalty clause for homosexual acts and would have made it a crime not to report gay people. These clauses were removed amid international outcry.

During the interview, Musevini called homosexuals “disgusting.” “I’ve been told recently that what they do is terrible. Disgusting. But I was ready to ignore that if there was proof that that’s how he is born, abnormal,” he said. “But the proof is not there.”

Originally, the Ugandan president refused to sign the bill because he regarded homosexuality “as an inborn problem” and didn’t want to punish people for being born "abnormal.” But a commissioned group of Ugandan government scientists decided homosexuality was “learned,” leading Musevini to change his mind.

He also told CNN the West should “respect African societies and their values,” adding, “If you don’t agree, just keep quiet. Let us manage our society, then we will see. If we are wrong, we shall find out by ourselves, just the way we don’t interfere with yours.”

The new bill has caused shocked reactions around the world. The White House urged “the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law,” calling the bill “an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda.” The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the bill “violates a host of fundamental human rights.”

Anti-homosexual attitudes are prevalent in Africa generally, and in Uganda 96% of the country’s inhabitants think society should not accept homosexuality, according to a study by Pew Research. Same-sex relations are illegal in 38 African countries.

Photo: Shao Haijun/Xinhua/ZUMA

Crunched By: Patrick Randall

6. Maduro Calls For Peace, Invites Opponent To Join Him

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2014-02-24 Read Later

“Come Capriles, take a step forward towards peace.”

CARACAS — After more than two weeks of violent protests that have left at least 10 people dead, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on opposition leader Henrique Capriles to attend a Monday meeting with him. 

In a Sunday television interview, Maduro challenged Governor Capriles to meet with him, noting that the men have political differences but that he hoped his challenger would work for peace. “We have our differences: You’re a capitalist, I’m a socialist. You support privatization, I don’t. I believe in the people, in public ownership. You have strong relations with the United States, I believe in South America,” Maduro said.

Late Sunday night Capriles tweeted that he will consult with the organized communities in the Miranda state where he is governor about whether to attend the meeting with Maduro, pleading for a stop to the lies and rubbish being spread. He also added that he wants Monday’s Federal Council meeting broadcast on television so the country can see and hear the truth.

“We will consult with the organized communities within Edo our presence tomorrow in the Federal Council, enough with the rubbish and lying.” 

“Tomorrow in the afternoon there’s a Federal Council meeting, it’s in the constitution, we want it broadcast on the [tv] channel and the country can see and hear the truth.”

During his interview, Maduro also announced a “National Peace Conference,” which will take place Wednesday with people from all sectors of society: political and religious groups, and unions. The president added that he will ask the National Assembly to form a Truth Commission to investigate the wave of protests that the president said sought to “justify foreign intervention in Venezuela.” 

He also noted that he will adjust the agenda of an upcoming meeting between South American leaders to show evidence that proves an attempted Feb. 12 coup, according to Correo del Orinoco.

Support for Hugo Chavez’s successor is waning after three weeks of discord: Independent polling agency Hinterlaces found that only 42% of Venezuelans believe that Maduro should complete his current term of office, which expires in 2019. The poll, cited by Globovision television, said 29% of those surveyed said that he should face a recall vote.

Photo: Screengrab via YouTube 

Crunched By: Julie Farrar

7. Jailed Former PM Freed As Ukraine Opposition Asserts Authority

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2014-02-22 Read Later

“Today our whole country can see the sun and the sky, because today the dictatorship fell.” 

KIEV — Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former prime minister whom President Viktor F. Yanukovych jailed two years ago, was freed from a prison hospital Saturday as opposition protesters continued their three-month-long presence in Independence Square despite Friday's compromise deal.

A journalist for the Ukrainian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that, as Tymoshenko left the hospital, she told supporters, “Today our whole country can see the sun and the sky, because today the dictatorship fell.”

The Ukraine Parliament voted Saturday to dismiss the president from his duties, although so far Yanukovych has refused to acknowledge the parliament’s authority to strip him of his power. But protesters took over the presidential palace Saturday, not to mention his office and other key buildings, and he fled the capital. 

BBC Russia’s Moscow correspondent captured an image of the former prime minister, and wrote on Twitter that the photo was taken as she was on a plane headed to Kiev. Read more from The New York Times.

Photo: Jüri Maloverjan via Twitter

8. China's Reaction To Obama's Dalai Lama Meeting

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2014-02-21 Read Later

“The United States’ arrangement for its leader to meet the Dalai would be a gross interference in China’s internal affairs.”

As President Barack Obama prepares to welcome the Dalai Lama at the White House later today, China warned the U.S. that the meeting would “seriously damage” the already strained ties between the two countries, Reuters reports.

“The United States’ arrangement for its leader to meet the Dalai would be a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and is a serious violation of the norms of international relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

The Obama administration sees the meeting as a manner to promote a “middle way” to solve the crisis between Tibet and China, The New York Times reports.

“It must be pointed out that Tibetan affairs are purely a domestic matter of China, and no foreign country has the right to meddle,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman continued. “The Dalai is a political exile who for a long time has wielded the banner of religion to engage in anti-China separatist activities.”

Read more about the Dalai Lama on Worldcrunch.

Photo: Alan Bennett/London News Pictures/ZUMA

Crunched By: Marc Alves

9. David Bowie Wades Into Scottish Independence Debate

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2014-02-20 Read Later

“And Scotland, stay with us.”

LONDON — Supermodel Kate Moss, appearing in David Bowie’s stead at Wednesday night’s Brit Awards, delivered a political message from the singer, who urged Scotland not to approve independence from the UK

The 67-year-old Bowie won “Best Male Solo Artist” at the annual Brit Awards, an honor he last received 30 years ago.

Wearing an original Ziggy Stardust stage outfit from 1972, Moss read Bowie’s acceptance speech: “In Japanese myth, the rabbits from my old costume which Kate is wearing live on the moon. Kate comes Venus and I from Mars. I’m completely delighted to have a Brit for being the Best Male, but I am, aren’t I Kate? I think it's a great way to end the day, thank you very, very much,” she said before adding, “And Scotland, stay with us.”

On Sept. 18, Scotland voters will go to the polls to decide whether after 300 years to continue being part of the UK.

Here’s more from Les Echos on the issue. And read more from The Independent about Bowie’s Brit Awards statement.

Photo: Screenshot via YouTube

10. Finger-Pointing As Kiev Violence Escalates

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2014-02-19 Read Later

"They crossed the limits when they called people to arms."

KIEV — In an address to the nation broadcast early Wednesday, after the bloodiest day in his country's monthslong showdown with protesters, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych blamed opposition leaders and "radical forces" for the escalating violence.

Renewed clashes between Ukrainian police and anti-government protesters left 25 dead and hundreds injured, the health ministry said in a statement early Wednesday.

It was by far the worst violence to hit the Ukrainian capital since the beginning of the Maidan movement in November.

The Kyiv Post reports that the violence erupted as riot police launched an assault on Kiev's Independence Square in an attempt to uproot the opposition stronghold. According to BBC News, the police took control of a corner of the square for the first time since December..

"Black Tuesday" the Russian daily Komsomolskaia Pravda on Feb. 19.

In his statement, Yanukovych said there was a "better and more effective" way to end the unrest, refering to dialogue and compromise. "It is not too late to stop the conflict," he added.

"I once again urge the leaders of the opposition, who argue that they too seek a peaceful settlement immediately disassociate themselves from the radical forces that provoke bloodshed and clashes with law enforcement," the president continued.

Through the night, opposition leaders took to the stage on the Independence Square and urged protesters to stand firm, and called on Ukrainians from around the country to join them.

Vitaly Klitschko, the former boxer and head of the Udar party, said "this is an island of freedom and we will defend it." Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of the Fatherland party, called upon Yanukovych to "stop the bloodshed and call a truce".

Late Wednesday morning, the Ukrainian president announced Feb. 20 would be a day of mourning for those who have died in the Kiev insurgency," according to RT.

Photo: Emeric Fohlen/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Crunched By: Patrick Randall

11. UN Likens North Korea To Nazi Germany

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2014-02-18 Read Later

“Now the international community does know. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn't know.”

The United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights in North Korea, established almost a year ago, has published a report likening human rights abuses and crimes against humanity it found in the country to what happened in the last days of Nazi Germany, describing acts of systematic torture, starvation and killings.

Speaking at a press conference, Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge and one of the three commissioners, said: “When you see that image in your mind of bodies being burned, it does bring back memories of the end of World War II, and the horror and the shame and the shock,” The Guardian reports.

Kirby then said that countries could not justify their inaction by ignorance and urged them to act. “Now the international community does know. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn’t know. It’s too long now. The suffering and the tears of the people of North Korea demand action.”

The report also criticizes China for “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity” for sending defectors back to North Korea. According to Reuters, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry replied, “Of course we cannot accept this unreasonable criticism. We believe that politicizing human rights issues is not conducive towards improving a country’s human rights.”

Photo: 65th founding anniversary of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea — Zeng Tao/Xinhua/ZUMA

Crunched By: Marc Alves

12. Venezuela Expels Three U.S. Officials

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2014-02-17 Read Later

“No government in the world will give us orders.”

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced during a national television broadcast that he had expeled three unnamed officials from the U.S. embassy, Processo reports. Hugo Chavez’s successor accused them of conspiring against his government and supporting opponents involved in the deadly anti-government protests last week.

Speaking about the American officials, Maduro said: “We are determined to defend our country. Let them go and conspire in Washington and leave Venezuela be. We don’t interfere in anybody’s business. They must respect our country. No government in the world will give us orders.”

According to the government-backed newspaper Correo del Orinoco, Maduro also believes that Leopoldo López, the opponent accused of inciting violence at last week’s march, might be a target for the “ultra right-wing,” who are said to want him dead to then blame the government and cause more clashes. The government has issued a warrant for López, who called for new protests tomorrow in a video posted online.

Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

Crunched By: Marc Alves
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