Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saudis parade nuclear missiles for the first time in defiance of US-Iranian nuclear accord

DEBKAfile Special Report April 29, 2014, 10:49 PM (IDT)
DF-3 nuclear missiles at Saudi military parade
DF-3 nuclear missiles at Saudi military parade
Saudi Arabia became the first Middle East nation to publicly exhibit its nuclear-capable missiles. The long-range, liquid propellant DF-3 ballistic missile (NATO designated CSS-2), purchased from China 27 years ago, was displayed for the first time at a Saudi military parade Tuesday, April 29, in the eastern military town of Hafar Al-Batin, at the junction of the Saudi-Kuwaiti-Iraqi borders.
The DF-3 has a range of 2,650 km and carries a payload of 2,150 kg. It is equipped with a single nuclear warhead with a 1-3 MT yield.

Watched by a wide array of Saudi defense and military dignitaries, headed by Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz, the parade marked the end of the large-scale “Abdullah’s Sword” military war game.

Conspicuous on the saluting stand was the Pakistani Chief of Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif alongside eminent visitors, including King Hamad of Bahrain and Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report the event was deliberately loaded with highly-significant messages, the foremost of which was that the Middle East is in the throes of a nuclear arms race in the wake of the Iranian program.

1. The oil kingdom was saying loud and clear that it has obtained nuclear missiles and is ready to use them in the event of an armed conflict with Iran.

2.  The message for Washington was that Riyadh adheres to its adamant objections to the comprehensive accord for resolving the Iranian nuclear question which is racing toward its finale with the six world powers led by the US. The Saudis share Israel’s conviction that this pact - far from dismantling Iran’s nuclear capacity - will seal the Islamic Republic's elevation to the status of pre-nuclear power. The result will be a Middle East war in which the Saudis will take part.

3.  The participation of the nuclear DF-3 missiles in the “Abdullah’s Sword” exercise signified Riyadh’s estimate that the coming conflict will see the use of nuclear weapons.

4.  By showing off their ageing Chinese missiles, the Saudis intimated that they had acquired the more advanced generation of this weapon, which they are keeping under wraps.  debkafile’s intelligence sources report that in recent visits to Beijing, high-ranking Saudi officials negotiated the purchase of Dong-Feng 21 (DF-21), whose range is shorter, 1,700 km, but more precise and effective in view of its terminal radar guidance system. The West has no information about when the new Chinese missiles were delivered to Saudi Arabia.

5.  The presence of the top Pakistani soldier at the parade of military and nuclear hardware was meant as corroboration of Islamabad’s active role as the source of the Saudi nuclear arsenal.

6.   The Saudis no longer rely on the American nuclear umbrella. They are developing their own nuclear strike force with the help of China and Pakistan.

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Ukraine unrest: Kiev 'helpless' to quell parts of east

BBC News online -- 30 April 2014
Pro-Russian militiaman in Luhansk, 30 April Pro-Russian militiamen in Luhansk. The activists occupy scores of government buildings in the east
Ukraine's acting President Olexander Turchynov has admitted his forces are "helpless" to quell unrest driven by pro-Russian activists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Mr Turchynov said the goal was now to prevent the unrest spreading.

Activists have seized scores of government buildings and taken hostages including international monitors.

Mr Turchynov also said Ukraine was on "full combat alert", amid fears Russian troops could invade.


The events in Ukraine are increasingly like watching the proverbial train wreck in slow motion. Acting President Olexander Turchynov's admission that the government is "helpless" and has lost control over large parts of the country's east only solidifies that sensation.
Mr Turchynov said the focus now was to stop the unrest from spreading to other regions, especially Odessa and Kharkiv. So far these cities have seen some turbulence, but nothing on the level of what has happened in Donetsk and Luhansk.
The government's hope is to keep a lid on the situation until the 25 May presidential elections. That date now seems an eternity away, and one wonders if the government, or the country, will last that long.
"I would like to say frankly that at the moment the security structures are unable to swiftly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions back under control," he said during a meeting with regional governors.

He admitted security personnel "tasked with the protection of citizens" were "helpless".
"More than that, some of these units either aid or co-operate with terrorist groups," he said.
Mr Turchynov added: "Our task is to stop the spread of the terrorist threat first of all in the Kharkiv and Odessa regions."

The acting president said that the tens of thousands of Russian troops stationed just over the border meant that "the threat of Russia starting a war against mainland Ukraine is real".

Russia, which annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine last month, has said it has no plans to invade the east.

President Vladimir Putin has insisted there are "neither Russian instructors, nor special units nor troops" inside Ukraine.

However, Moscow has also warned that its soldiers are ready to act if Russian interests are threatened.
Pro-Russian militiaman in Donetsk, 30 April Pro-Russian activists in Donetsk. Kiev says some security forces are acting with the militiamen
Olexander Turchynov Mr Turchynov said Ukraine was on "full combat alert"
Pro-Russia activists near Sloviansk, 30 April Pro-Russia activists check a car near Sloviansk, where international observers are being held
Ukrainian soldiers near Sloviansk, 29 April Ukrainian soldiers have tried to carry out some limited operations against the militiamen
Eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population, was a stronghold for former President Viktor Yanukovych before he was overthrown by protesters in February.

Pro-Russian activists there continue to detain some 40 people, including seven military observers linked to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) seized last week.
OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told the BBC that negotiators had visited the detainees and they were in good health.
But he gave no estimate as to how long it might take to broker their release.

Activists continue to storm buildings in the east - on Wednesday they took the regional police building and town hall in the city of Horlivka, local officials said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia over Ukraine

The US and EU have accused Russia of failing to implement the terms of a deal agreed in Geneva aimed at defusing the crisis by disarming illegal militias.

They have both stepped up sanctions against Russia this week, naming more individuals and companies facing travel bans and asset freezes.
Moscow blames Kiev for the unrest and has condemned the sanctions.

Separately on Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Russia was "experiencing recession now" and that the damage caused by the Ukraine crisis was weighing heavily on the economy.

It predicts $100bn (£59bn) will leave the country this year. Russia's central bank said recently that foreign investors had withdrawn $64bn in the first three months of 2014.

East Ukraine flashpoints
Map of towns in Ukraine reporting major protests by pro-Russian separatists

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Mendacious Philanthropist

"Although Tsai is not a named beneficiary of the trust, she had complete control over Marston's finances and had the ability to distribute the trust's assets at her discretion."
"Based on the fact that Marston is 92 years old, was not in good health and did not drive, there was nothing to indicate that those purchases primarily benefited Marston or were purchased in her best interests."
Legal Court affidavit
150 Bradley Place, Palm Beach where Nancy Tsai lives. Tsai  faces charges that she took advantage of a 92-year-old woman muddled by Alzheimers, conning her into spending $2.35 million on a penthouse and a Bentley, according to arrest records.
Christin Angle Real Estate/    150 Bradley Place, Palm Beach where Nancy Tsai lives. Tsai faces charges that she took advantage of a 92-year-old woman muddled by Alzheimers, conning her into spending $2.35 million on a penthouse and a Bentley, according to arrest records.
Imagine, a glamorous wealthy socialite from Palm Beach arrested by police on suspicion of embezzlement. Clearly a misdirection of police resources. Claiming that someone like Nancy Tsai, well known as a philanthropist and a member in good standing of the Palm Beach leisure celebrity class would stoop so low as to exploit a 92-year-old woman afflicted with Alzheimer's disease; accused of grand theft in looting large sums of money from the woman's trust account.

Who do they think they're dealing with? This is a woman who founded the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, a champion of the arts, a former Torontonian married to a millionaire real estate developer. And on his demise she married a billionaire investor and Wall Street fund manager. She was arrested in her Palm Beach condominium, to appear on the public "Booking Blotter" of the Palm Beach police. Ruinous to her reputation.

Nancy Tsai had known Helga Marston, now 92, for 40 years, and she was well trusted. So much so that she opened a trust account at UBS Financial on her behalf and was granted Power of Attorney, later named trustee to the account. UBS Financial became nonplussed then serious concerned when it understood large amounts to have been drawn from the account administered by Ms. Tsai for the uber-wealthy Ms. Marston.

$2,292,000 for a penthouse apartment; $302,000 to renovate the apartment; $170,000 for a 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 coup, registered to Ms. Tsai; $101,200 for a 2013 Mercedes S550, an executive-level sedan; and lease payments for a 2013 Mercedes E350S4 luxury wagon. Oh, and other incidental expenses like flight in a private jet from West Palm Beach to Toronto as sole passenger. Restaurant and shopping bills, the whole shtick.

Let's face it, though, those are a lot of costly vehicles for an extremely elderly woman who doesn't drive. But Ms. Tsai wanted everything to be just so for her friend. Ms. Marston signed her agreement for the penthouse to be in Ms. Tsai's name. That occurred after Ms. Marston's doctor, Gabriela Goldstein, informed police her patient had "zero" mental capacity.

Oh, and again just incidentally, Ms. Tsai and her daughter, E. Sarah Paul were named in a March 2013 amended will as beneficiaries of the wealthy Ms. Marston's property. It's just so sad that suspicion falls on trustworthy people just because they want to do the right thing for elderly people who are confused by age and medical-health circumstances.

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Convulsing Eastern Ukraine

Most residents of eastern Ukraine where revolutionary fervour appears to have taken hold of a relatively limited segment of the 'pro-Russian', ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking population, viewing violence and threats all about them, have no wish to place themselves in harm's way. They haven't joined either side to protest against or for Kyiv, against or for Russia.

Most likely would support an agreement with Kyiv that would recognize somewhat greater autonomy for the Donbass region, but most definitely not association with Moscow.

Polls have been consistent in their conclusion that roughly 70 percent of residents  would prefer to remain with Kyiv, rather than have Moscow responsible for their futures. More emphatic political power within Ukraine, yes; secession in reflection of Russia absorbing Crimea, not at all.

But the pro-Russians are extreme in their violent declarations denouncing Kyiv and celebrating Moscow, and their threats against moderates are well-recognized.

There is always the example of the mayor of Kharkiv, 260 km north of Donetsk, Hennadiy Kernes, who waffled in his support of former President Viktor Yanukovych. Declaring himself kindly disposed to Russia, but unwilling in the final analysis, to see eastern Ukraine hive off toward Russia, he was the victim of an attempted assassination, shot in the back by unknown assailants whose identity most people could clearly guess at.

A Ukrainian soldier was killed, another injured in Donetsk when they inspected a homemade bomb. In Slavyansk, journalists are being 'detained' along with supporters of the Kyiv western-oriented government. But it is the capture of three Ukrainian military security personnel, their humiliation at being deprived of their trousers, their mouths bound with packing tape, heads and bodies bludgeoned that express the savagery of the Russian activists.

That, along with the detention of the now-seven military observers associated with the Organization for Security & Co-operation in Europe, draws a picture of the lawlessness and defiance of authority that the region is falling into. The thugs, dressed in camouflage fatigues and the obligatory, intimidating black masks, arm themselves with baseball bats and metal cudgels in the public arena.

On Monday a large demonstration in Donetsk with several thousand supporters of a unified Ukraine took place in a calm and orderly atmosphere. The people gathered there felt safe enough, removed from the presence of the Russian activists who were gathered two kilometres away in Lenin Square. The unarmed pro-Kyiv demonstrators waved Ukrainian flags and sang the national anthem.

Pro-Russian protestors Ukraine

They felt safe because present alongside them were also several busloads of riot police. Suddenly a swaggering mob of pro-Russian militants marching ten abreast raced into the presence of the peaceful protesters, flailing them with their cudgels and bats. The police  fired a few rounds of tear gas and several stun grenades at the several hundred pro-Russian men, young and middle-aged, with a scattering of women among them.

The police, there to guard the peaceful demonstrators soon disappeared, however, leaving the pro-Kyiv people to fend for themselves against "the Donetsk People's Republic" who clubbed anyone who hadn't managed to move quickly enough in retreat to save themselves from a brutal drubbing, getting their skulls cracked open by the raving militants.

Pro-Russia activists Ukraine

The inability of the central government in Kyiv to exert control over the Donbass region is alarming to the residents who for the most part want nothing to do with the extremists' chaos-driven mandate delivered by Russia to foment fear and violence, and create the atmosphere, a la Crimea, for a referendum where the force of violent minority threats will succeed in mirroring the events that led to Crimea's annexation.

attached image

If the Kyiv government remains incapable of policing and bringing order to its territory, there is every reason to expect that Moscow will be more than willing to step in to fill the gap. Only Moscow's military manoeuvres to save Ukraine from its own ineptitude will not be for the greater benefit of bestowing legitimacy in the region on Kyiv, but for the Kremlin to blandly state it was required to manifest its presence in support of ethnic Russians in the region.

After mercilessly thrashing those peaceful Kyiv-biased protesters who became their victims, the Russian thugs retreated with victorious shouts of "Russ-i-ya!", back to their redoubt in Lenin Square.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

‘Barrel bombs’ prompt calls for Syria embargo

Al Aribaya -- 29 April 2014
A man carries a boy that survived shelling after what activists said were explosive barrels thrown by forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar Al-Assad in Al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo April 27, 2014. (File photo: Reuters) 
An international human rights group called on the United Nations Security Council to block the flow of weapons to Syrian regime forces, claiming that it was launching attacks using “barrel bombs,” Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. to block the flow of arms to any group committing abuse against civilians in the troubled country, where the civil war has killed an estimated 150,000 people over the past three years.

Infographic: Syria’s barrel bombs

(Design by Farwa Rizwan/ Al Arabiya News)

“The Security Council should impose an arms embargo on Syria’s government, as well as on any groups implicated in widespread or systematic human rights abuses,” HRW said.

The group said it documented attacks launched by the regime against opposition strongholds in northern of Aleppo province since February 22, adding that attacks which cannot distinguish between fighters and civilians are “unlawful.”

Its statement comes over two months after a February 22 Security Council resolution demanded an end to attacks on civilian areas.

Such attacks “continue despite a United Nations Security Council Resolution unanimously passed on Feb. 22, 2014, demanding that all parties in Syria cease the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas,” HRW said.

Since that date, HRW said it “has documented at least 85 strike sites in [opposition-held] neighborhoods of Aleppo city... including two government barrel bomb attacks on clearly marked official hospitals.”

According to the group, the strikes involved “unguided, high-explosive barrel bombs,” and “indiscriminately” hit civilians.

Since last December, Syria’s government launched 15 aerial raids targeting opposition areas. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the attacks, and thousands of families fled to the countryside of the province, and towards neighboring Turkey in the north.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally registered to stand for re-election next month. The HRW statement came a day after his announcement.

“President Assad is talking about elections, but for Aleppo’s residents, the only campaign they are witnessing is a military one of barrel bombs and indiscriminate shelling,” HRW deputy Middle East and North Africa director Nadim Houry said.

On the other hand, the group also called for an end to systematic abuses committed by armed rebel groups, who have weapons supplied to them as well.

“At least some of the improvised weapons used [by rebels fighting an offensive on government areas in Aleppo] are prone to indiscriminate effects when used to attack populated residential areas,” it said.

(With AFP)
Last Update: Tuesday, 29 April 2014 KSA 15:03 - GMT 12:03

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Secret US-Hizballah talks. Washington plans to include Lebanon, Syria deals in Iran nuclear pact

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 29, 2014, 9:12 AM (IDT)
US in secret talks with Hassan Nasrallah
US in secret talks with Hassan Nasrallah
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' initiation of a unity pact with the Hamas extremists last week did not come out of the blue. It was prompted by the direct contacts the Obama administration has secretly established with the Lebanese Hizballah. Abbas reasoned that if Washington can start a dialogue with a terrorist organization, so too can his own PLO and Fatah.

debkafile’s Washington sources report that the Obama administration appears to have carried over to Lebanon the doctrine set out by the late Richard Holbrooke for Afghanistan, whereby dialogue with Taliban should be made the centerpiece of Washington's strategy for US troop withdrawal. Holbrooke’s influence on Secretary of State John Kerry dated back to his run for the presidency in 2004.

In Lebanese terms, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah has become the equivalent of Taliban’s Mullah Mohammad. Hizballah has scored high in the Syrian war. Its military intervention on the side of Bashar Assad in the last year is credited with turning the Syrian army’s fortunes around from near defeat in 2013 to partial triumph in key areas of Syria this year. Nasrallah is able to boast that his movement’s commitment to the Syrian conflict is its central mission and will remain so until rebel and al Qaeda forces are finally vanquished.

What the Hizballah leader is trying to put across, in terms of the Holbrooke doctrine, is that like Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, he, Nasrallah, holds the key to resolving the Syrian civil war.
The Obama administration bought this premise and decided to apply it to broadening the rapidly progressing dialogue with Tehran to related areas. The plan developed in Washington was to seize the momentum of the nuclear track and ride it to a broad US-Iranian understanding that embraces a comprehensive nuclear accord with Tehran as well as understandings for resolving the Syrian and Lebanese questions.

Administration officials figure that Nasrallah heeds no one but the ayatollahs in Tehran. He may talk big but he knows that his fate is in the hands of his Iranian masters. If Iran decides it is time for him to go, it will be curtains for him. His involvement in the Syrian war is considered to be contingent on the strategic decisions of Iran’s leaders. (He was a lot less confident in the winter of 2013 when Hizballah’s home bases were being smashed in lethal suicide bombings.)

Iran also determines which weapons are supplied to the Hizballah units fighting in Syria, in which sectors they fight and how to respond to his pleas for reinforcements.

In Washington’s view, Hizballah’s involvement in the Syrian war has increased its leader’s dependence on Tehran. He accordingly has little room for maneuver in contacts with US representatives and if he turns difficult, they are sure they can turn to Tehran to force him in line.
It is also believed in administration circles that the secret Saudi exchanges with Tehran (first revealed by DEBKA Weekly) will eventually produce Riyadh’s acceptance of Hizballah as a dominant factor in Syria and Lebanon.

However, many Middle East experts find the US take on Hizballah to be naïve and simplistic and strongly doubt that the path it has chosen will bring Nasrallah – or Tehran - around to serving America's will or purposes. They draw a parallel with the underlying US assumptions which ultimately led the Palestinians-Israeli talks off track.

But expectations of the Hizballah track are high and strongly guide the actions of President Obama, John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and CIA Director John Brennan. And so, in early March, the first secret rendezvous took place in Cyprus between CIA officers and Hizballah intelligence and security operatives.

According to a number of Mid East intelligence sources, two such meetings have since been conducted and initial US-Hizballah understandings reached relating to the volatile situations in Syria and Lebanon.

Our intelligence sources add that US Ambassador to Beirut David Hale has been in charge of preparing these meetings and implementing the understandings reached.

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Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russia activists seize Luhansk HQ

BBC News online -- 29 April 2014
Pro-Russian activists storm the regional administration's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) Armed pro-Russian activists have occupied a number of government buildings in east Ukraine
A large crowd of pro-Russian separatists has stormed the regional administration's headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk.

A few dozen men, some reportedly armed with metal bars, smashed windows and doors to break into the building.
Activists shouting "Referendum Russia" later flew a Russian flag over it.

Earlier, Russia criticised sanctions imposed by the US and EU on individuals and companies over their alleged actions aimed at destabilising Ukraine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the US had "essentially lowered an 'Iron Curtain'" by targeting Russia's high-tech sector.

The EU, he added, had proved that it was "under Washington's thumb".

Mr Ryabkov also stressed that Russia had no intention of invading eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia activists have seized government buildings in more than a dozen towns and cities.

Until now, only the local office of the State Security Service (SBU) in Luhansk, a city of 465,000 people less than 30km (20 miles) from the Russian border, had been targeted.
Pro-Russian activists climb into the regional government's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) A small group of men broke windows to gain access to the building in Luhansk, which was not protected
Pro-Russia activists inside the regional government's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) Once inside, they opened the building's main entrance to allow in demonstrators gathered outside
Ukrainian interior ministry security personnel, surrounded by pro-Russia activists, leave the regional government's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) Inside the courtyard, the activists found dozens of security personnel in riot gear
Pro-Russian activists confront interior ministry security personnel outside the regional government's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) There was a stand-off between the activists and security personnel, but no-one was attacked

But on Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered outside the headquarters of the regional government to demand a referendum on granting greater autonomy to the east.

A group of men armed with sticks and metal bars broke into the building, whose entrances were not protected by police. They then pulled down the Ukrainian flag flying from the roof and replaced it with a Russian one, and opened the main entrance to the crowd.

Inside the building's courtyard, the activists found security personnel in riot gear massed together in a defensive position. There was a stand-off, but no violence, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Map of towns in Ukraine reporting major protests by pro-Russian separatists

"The regional leadership does not control its police force," Stanislav Rechynsky, an aide to the interior minister in Kiev, told Reuters news agency. "The local police did nothing."

Mr Rechynsky added that the government had information to suggest that the separatists would now seize the local television centre.
Eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population, was a stronghold for former President Viktor Yanukovych before he was overthrown by protesters in February.
The interim government has rejected the pro-Russian activists' demands for greater autonomy, fearing they could lead to the break-up of the country or more regions being annexed by Russia, as happened with Crimea last month.
Pro-Russian activists continue to detain some 40 people, including seven military observers linked to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) seized last week.
The self-styled "mayor" of the town of Sloviansk, where the observers are being held, has said he will discuss their release only if the EU drops sanctions against separatist leaders. Vyacheslav Ponomarev said their imposition "only aggravates the situation".
On Tuesday, the EU published a fresh list of 15 individuals facing travel banks and asset freezes.
Sarah Rainsford saw pro-Russians clash with united Ukraine protesters

It included Gen Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Lt Gen Igor Sergun, identified as the head of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and pro-Russian separatist leaders in Crimea and in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Luhansk and Donetsk were also named.

On Monday, the US announced sanctions against seven individuals and 17 companies it said were linked to President Vladimir Putin's "inner circle". Those targeted include Igor Sechin, head of oil giant Rosneft, and Sergei Chemezov of the hi-tech firm Rostec.

The US and EU first imposed visa bans and asset freezes on a number of senior Russian officials and companies after Crimea was annexed.

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Chibok abductions: Nigeria girls' taken abroad'

BBC News online -- 29 April 2014
A screen grab taken from a video released on You Tube in April 2012, apparently showing Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (centre) sitting flanked by militants Boko Haram has often targeted educational establishments
Some of the schoolgirls abducted by suspected militant Islamists in northern Nigeria are believed to have been taken to neighbouring states, a local leader has told the BBC. 

Pogo Bitrus said there had been "sightings" of gunmen crossing with the girls into Cameroon and Chad.
Some of the girls had been forced to marry the militants, he added.

Mr Bitrus said 230 girls were missing since militants attacked the school in Chibok, Borno state, two weeks ago.

The Islamist group Boko Haram has been blamed for the night-time raid on the school hostel in Chibok town. It has not yet commented on the allegation.
In this photo taken Monday, April, 21. 2014. Security walk past burned government secondary school Chibok, were gunmen abducted more than 200 students in Chibok, Nigeria. The girls were seized from their hostel late at night
Mr Bitrus, a Chibok community leader, said 43 of the girls had "regained their freedom" after escaping, while 230 were still in captivity. This is a higher number than previous estimates, however he was adamant it was the correct figure.

The students were about to sit their final year exam and so are mostly aged between 16 and 18.
"Some of them have been taken across Lake Chad and some have been ferried across the border into parts of Cameroon," he told the BBC.

Mr Bitrus said there were also reports that the insurgents had married some of the girls.
"We learned that one of the 'grooms' brought his 'wife' to a neighbouring town in Cameroon and kept her there," he told the BBC.
"It's a medieval kind of slavery," he added. 

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau first threatened to treat captured women and girls as slaves in a video released in May 2013.

It fuelled concern at the time that the group is adhering to the ancient Islamic belief that women captured during war are slaves with whom their "masters" can have sex, correspondents say.
Mr Bitrus said everyone in the community felt as though their own daughters had been abducted.
Men were "braving it out", but women were "crying and wailing", he said.

"Whether it is my niece or whoever it doesn't matter. We are all one people," Mr Bitrus told the BBC.
"That's why I'm crying now as community leader to alert the world to what's happening so that some pressure would be brought to bare on government to act and ensure the release of these girls."

The government has said the security forces are searching for the girls, but its critics say it is not doing enough.

Boko Haram has staged a wave of attacks in northern Nigeria in recent years, with an estimated 1,500 killed in the violence and subsequent security crackdown this year alone.
A 60-second guide to Boko Haram

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The Mutual Pain of Sanctions

"The notion that for us to go forward with sectoral sanctions, on our own without the Europeans, would be the most effective deterrent to Mr. Putin, I think, is factually wrong."
"We're going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr. Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the U.S. and Europe is unified, rather than this as just a U.S.-Russian conflict."
U.S. President Barack Obama

Armed men stand guard in front of a regional administrative building seized last night by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Konstantinovka.
Armed men stand guard in front of a regional administrative building seized last night by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Konstantinovka. Photograph: VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images
New brutish outrages in east Ukraine, new sanctions imposed on Russia. How utterly unfair; for what has Russia to do with the criminal acts taking place in Ukraine? Ah, yes, that connection of ethnicity, of clan, of tribe and the blood that courses in the veins of those faithful to Russia and damning Ukraine; the path now taken to distinguish themselves from those loyal to Ukraine and themselves, primed by Russian intervention through covert actions and urgings and discreet promises.

They are called, politely, pro-Russian, and what could be wrong there? They are, undoubtedly, fond of Russia's influence on their lives, and have taken measures to edge themselves closer, much, much closer to Russia's sphere, to not only orbit the blessed warmth of its rays, but to snuggle within them. And Moscow reciprocates; it too welcomes the love so effusively strewn its way, and will advantage their brethren by coddling and embracing them in a possessive hug.

Those pro-Russian separatists have distinguished themselves in the level of their loathing for Ukraine's ownership of their geography. They have pledged themselves to Russia, so the official Ukrainian government position presents as an impossible irritant. And nor is the presence of observers from the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe appreciated. The cure for their impudence is arrest, recognized as the spies that they are.

And the Ukrainian 'secret agents' too, taken into firm custody. Which is to say, humiliated, and beaten, and made an example of; to all others who may wish to infiltrate the steady resolve of the pro-Russians this will be in store for them as well. Filmed, ignominiously without their trousers, bloodstained, beaten, blindfolded, utterly humbled; fascist Ukrainian trash.

Armed and masked rebels filmed hovering menacingly over the eight men representing the European observers from OSCE, their humble spokesman denied yet again that they were spying for NATO. A German OSCE group member assured that they, unlike the battered Ukrainians held in detention, remain in good health as "OSCE officers with diplomatic status".

"I cannot go home of my own free will", the German representative, Axel Schneider stated at the press conference, but an OSCE delegation was busy negotiating their freedom. Which, according to Slavyansk's new, self-styled mayor Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, who has been behaving, along with his crew, suspiciously fascist, said that indeed the men were "hostages of circumstances", who can be released should a prisoner exchange take place.

"We will turn the Russian television back on, but we will not turn the Ukrainian ones off", one activist among a crowd of several hundred pro-Russians in the eastern city of Donetsk said, after taking control of a state television centre. Armed with clubs, they defied Ukrainian police.
A pro-Russian activist walks in front of Ukrainian riot police during a pro-Ukrainian rally in the eastern city of Donetsk April 28, 2014.
A pro-Russian activist walks in front of Ukrainian riot police during a pro-Ukrainian rally in the eastern city of Donetsk April 28, 2014. Photograph: MARKO DJURICA/REUTERS
And in Ukraine's second largest city, the mayor of Kharkiv, 54-year-old Gennady Kernes, once a supporter of Ukraine's deposed president Viktor Yanukovych and more latterly expressing his support for his city, close to the Russian border to remain Ukrainian, has undergone life-saving surgery after being shot in the back by unidentified gunmen. Pro-Russian 'militants' taking exception to his loyalty to Ukraine.

The savagery of two other Ukrainian politicians a week earlier having been abducted, mutilated and killed more than adequately demonstrates the calibre of brutality that these 'pro-Russians' are capable of in their mission to gift Russia with the industrialized heartland of Ukraine, deeming Russia's criminal takeover of Crimea insufficient punishment for Ukraine wishing to keep its geography intact as a sovereign nation.

The sanctions that both America and Europe have hinted at; sectoral in nature, is set to proceed should Russia undertake a full-scale invasion and annexation of eastern Ukraine, a carbon copy of its Crimean venture. Many within Europe shudder at the prospect of more biting sanctions. "Sectoral" measures would blacklist full sections of Russian industry that would certainly affect their own economies.

Introducing fuller restrictions on Russian banks could damage the financial sectors of EU nations, particularly Britain, given Russian investment in their economies. Europe's heavy dependence on Russian gas imports through which the Kremlin could very well decide to raise the price, as they have done with Ukraine, would have further devastating effects on the European economy, still emerging from its recessionary collapse.

The U.S. Treasury and the European Commission have been sharpening their pencils over the past month closely and carefully analyzing the potential impacts on them in imposing further, biting sanctions on Moscow. So how deep is their resolve to punish Russia for the international outrage it has imposed on Ukraine for snubbing closer ties with its former Soviet master?

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Russian and Ukrainian armies shaping up for initial military clash over Slavyansk

DEBKAfile Special Report April 27, 2014, 7:21 PM (IDT)
Ukrainian military buildup round SlavyanskUkrainian military buildup round SlavyanskRussia and Ukraine were heading Sunday, April 27, for their first battle over the rebel-held flashpoint town of Slavyansk, debkafile’s military and US sources report. The outcome will determine who controls the Donetsk region and possibly all of East of Ukraine – the separatists or the provisional government in Kiev. 
With a superior, professional and well-trained force armed with a preponderance of fire power, the Kremlin has several options to choose from for this engagement:
1. To order the 11,000 troops, based at Rostov on Don 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, to cross over and head for Slavyansk and Donetsk.
2.  To send a tank column against the 15,000 Ukrainian troops deployed over the weekend around Slavyansk. According to Russian sources, the force from Kiev is armed with 160 tanks, 230 armored personnel carriers and 150 pieces of artillery and missiles.
3.  To send warplanes and helicopters from the giant Russian airbase of Tsentralniy - a prospect gaining ground in recent hours. This action would broaden the engagement into a major war operation between Russia and Ukraine.
4.  Moscow, Kiev and their backers may understand how such a war began, but once it is under way, no one can tell how it will end.
5. In the event of a major escalation, Moscow ill have to decide whether to throw into battle the special rapid deployment and paratroop units stationed at Tsentralniy, which are held ready for intervention in the Middle East and are now in reserve for action in Ukraine.
6.  The Kremlin must decide whether to go for an overall invasion of Ukraine. debkafile’s military sources report that the force poised on the border is smaller than the 40,000 estimated by Kiev. It consists of 15,000 armored corps soldiers with T-72B tanks and one division each of infantry and paratroops.

A Russian invasion would bring about the partition of Ukraine between the Russian-controlled East + Crimea and the sector ruled by the pro-Western administration of Kiev.

Moscow would find it hard to present this as a “peacekeeping” or “humanitarian” operation.
For Kiev, it might be the last straw that undermines its already shaky rule.

The Ukrainian army’s capacity to beat the Russian invaders, or even stop them in their tracks, is close to nil. Its threat to blockade the more than a dozen towns where separatists are entrenched in official buildings is unconvincing.

Indeed, the Kiev government faces five fairly dismal prospects once a militlary collision begins:
a)   A full-blown military clash will test the limits of US and European readiness to come to its aid against Russian forces. The US and NATO are more likely to pitch in with condemnations and sanctions than by sending troops to the rescue. The Ukrainian government would find itself exposed as incapable of defending itself and bereft of effective international protectors.
b)  The Ukraine government has not been able to summon up international financial or economic assistance.
c)  The 15,000 troops concentrated at Slavyansk have more or less scraped the bottom of the barrel of Ukraine's operational military assets. The 150,000-strong army is sizeable enough but it is not ready for war, and the loyalty of most units and their officers to the Kiev regime is questionable.
d)  If the Ukrainian government opts nonetheless to enter into a lengthy battle with an invading Russian force, it will play into the hands of Moscow, which strongly objects to the May 25 general election. Any delay would further undermine the stability of the interim regime in Kiev.
e)  The Obama administration would find itself in difficult straits. President Barack Obama has repeatedly warned Moscow of “costs” for failing to restrain the pro-Russian separatists’ advances in Ukraine or pull its army back from the border.

He is finding it harder than ever to follow through on a concerted US-European economic and military challenge to Russia’s military steps in and around Ukraine.

In a round of phone calls to British, French, German and Italian leaders Friday, Obama met reluctance on their part to join aggressive sanctions against Moscow over its threats to Ukraine, when they were weighed against the heavy costs to the deep and longstanding trade ties and business partnerships that Europe has developed with Russia.

Obama managed to persuade the G7 to agree on another round of penalties for Moscow but had to delay the announcement of specifics to Monday, April 28.

This frustration was registered in Obama’s remarks in Kuala Lumpur Sunday: The United States will be in a stronger position to deter Vladimir Putin once he sees the world is unified in sanctioning Russia, he said. Russia isn't abiding by a deal reached to de-escalate the conflict. "Russia has not lifted a finger to help" he said and stressed: “The US and Europe must act collectively.”

But America’s allies have made it clear that a broad international coalition for a strong stand against Russia will not be forthcoming. President Obama is left with the option of striking almost alone, or climbing down from his threats.

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Ukraine crisis: Kharkiv mayor Hennadiy Kernes shot

BBC News online -- 28 April 2014
Kharkiv mayor Hennadiy Kernes speaks at the congress of provincial lawmakers and officials in the Ukrainian eastern city of Kharkiv, Saturday, Feb. 22. 2014 Mr Kernes has been described as a "mini-oligarch"

The mayor of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine has been shot and critically wounded amid continuing unrest in the region.
Hennadiy Kernes was recovering after a two-hour operation to repair damage to the chest and abdomen, but his life remained in danger, his office said.

Monday also saw pro-Russian separatists seize a local government building in Kostyantynivka, a town to the south.

The US has meanwhile expanded sanctions to include targets linked to President Vladimir Putin's "inner circle".

The list includes seven new individuals and 17 companies. The European Union is also expected to announce new sanctions.

Western nations accuse Moscow of supporting separatist gunmen who are occupying official buildings in cities across eastern Ukraine.

The separatists continue to hold seven Western military observers who were seized last week in the region.

A pro-Russian armed man holds his weapon in front of the seized town administration building in Kostyantynivka April 28, 2014 Monday saw pro-Russian separatists seize a local government building in Kostyantynivka
An activist attaches a Russian national flag on the barricades in front of the seized office of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, April 28, 2014 Administrative buildings across eastern Ukraine are in the hands of Russian-speaking, pro-Moscow elements
Football fans march in Kharkiv 27/04/2014 Authorities in Kharkiv said several people were injured when football fans marching for a united Ukraine scuffled with pro-Russia supporters in Kharkiv on Sunday
Mr Kernes was reportedly out jogging in Kharkiv on Monday when he was shot in the back by an unknown gunman.

The head of the hospital where Mr Kernes is being treated, the Surgery Institute in Kharkiv, said he had suffered a "very serious wound", and that a number of organs had been damaged.

Valeriy Boyko said the threat to the mayor's life had not been eliminated, but that the bleeding had been stopped, his condition was stable and that intensive care doctors were treating him for shock.
Mr Kernes used to be a supporter of the former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych. He then dropped his support for the ousted president in favour of a united Ukraine.

He has been described as a "mini-oligarch" - a successful businessman wealthy enough to launch a career in politics.

He has been accused of starting his business career as an organised crime boss, a claim he denied while acknowledging that he was once jailed for fraud - a minor offence "partly fabricated" by his enemies, he insisted.

Map of towns in Ukraine reporting major protests by pro-Russian separatists

Kharkiv was also the scene of clashes on Sunday when football fans marching for a united Ukraine scuffled with pro-Russia supporters. The authorities in Kharkiv said several people were injured.

On Monday morning, gunmen wearing uniforms with no insignias moved into the local administrative building in Kostyantynivka and raised the flag of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk Republic".

They were also reported to be in control of the police station in Kostyantynivka, which is located between the town of Sloviansk and the city of Donetsk, both also controlled by separatists.

US President Barack Obama confirmed the stepping up of sanctions against Russia, which he said was part of a "calibrated effort" to change Moscow's behaviour in Ukraine, during a visit to the Philippines.

He said the measures were in response to Moscow's failure to uphold an international accord aimed at peacefully resolving the Ukraine crisis.

A White House statement said the new targets were "seven Russian government officials, including two members of President Putin's inner circle, who will be subject to an asset freeze and a US visa ban, and 17 companies linked to Putin's inner circle, which will be subject to an asset freeze".

President Obama: "The aim is not to go after Mr Putin personally"
Mr Obama said the sanctions were not aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin personally.
"The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he's engaging in could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul," he said.

Meanwhile, ambassadors from the 28 EU member states are meeting in Brussels to agree new sanctions against Russia.

"It is time to tear down the masks: this is not separatism, this is terrorism… Our liberal treatment of the militants and the attempt to portray their activities as separatism amount to aiding the biggest evil of the 21st Century." (Ukrainian news website Obozrevatel)

"The EU's intentions are serious. The capture of the OSCE mission was a direct insult. Sanctions will hit Russia's interests. Russian decision-makers will have to think twice if they are denied access to their bank accounts in Europe." (Popular daily tabloid Segodnya)

"Against the background of the dramatic situation in Sloviansk and other cities... the patriotism of my regional compatriots is not that noticeable. But it is the pro-Ukrainian position of the unarmed majority - despite the weakness or corruption of local security forces - that inspires optimism: we shall overcome!" (Donetsk-based Novosti Donbassa website)
The US and EU already have assets freezes and travel bans in place targeting a number of Russian individuals and firms accused of playing a part in the annexation of Crimea last month.
BBC Europe correspondent Chris Morris says it is expected that the ambassadors will add another 15 people in positions of power to the list of those to whom sanctions apply.

Our correspondent says the White House wants a show of unity from the US and Europe, but there is little consensus within the EU at the moment for implementing broader economic sanctions against Russia.

Eight foreign observers - who were operating under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - were led into Sloviansk town hall by masked gunmen and shown to the media on Sunday.

German monitor Col Axel Schneider, who spoke for the group, stressed they were not Nato officers - contrary to claims made by the separatists - nor armed fighters, but diplomats in uniform.

Later, one of the group - a Swede - was freed for medical reasons.
The fate of five Ukrainian military officers accompanying the mission is unknown.

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Aleppo gripped by barrel bomb fears

    BBC crew witness devastation of air bombardment on Aleppo

    A BBC team has witnessed the devastating effects of air bombardment on Syrian civilians after gaining rare access to rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
    Emergency rescue teams told the BBC the city was living in "danger and fear".
    Thousands of people are reported to have been killed or maimed in a campaign of aerial bombardment in northern Syria this year.

    With cameraman Darren Conway, we were the first Western broadcasters in rebel-held Aleppo this year.

    Um Yahya wept. With two small children at her side, the young mother was standing in what until that morning had been her home. It was now a wreck: a tangle of rubble and cables and dust, with half the ceiling missing and parts of the building completely razed.
    "My husband was sitting at breakfast. We heard the first blast: it sounded far away. But I asked him to go and get the kids off the street. And suddenly it hit us."

    Consumed by shock and grief, she described the moment the barrel bomb landed on her street. "It was as if someone picked me up and threw me inside".

    Her husband, who had gone to find their children, was badly injured and had been whisked off to hospital. Her parents have fled to Turkey and she is now alone with her children. "I have nowhere to go," she said. "I just want my husband and nothing else."

    A man carries a wounded girl following a reported regime bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs in Aleppo One monitoring group says nearly 700 civilians have been killed in and around Aleppo in recent weeks
    Outside, the emergency rescue team of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) scoured through the rubble. With little training and limited equipment from Britain, America and elsewhere, theirs is a task as grim as it is dangerous.

    When there is an attack on residential areas, they race in to search for survivors and - as often as not - to recover bodies.

    In the last year, eight crew members have been killed as they brave bombs and bullets to rescue others.

    Excavation at site of blast Rescuers brave attack to respond at the sites of bombardments in Aleppo
    Khalid Al Heju, the head of the CDF in Aleppo, says it is their responsibility to help those who have no one else to turn to.

    "Our humanity urges us to do this job, to save people from under the rubble and take them to hospital," he says.

    But he admits to living with fear, like so many others in this battered city. "Yes, I am scared, I am so scared. The same position is often hit more than one time.
    "This is creating the most danger and fear for us."

    Like the people they save, they face attacks from the land and air.
    'Indiscriminate, dumb weapons'
    Damaged building in Aleppo The conflict has laid waste to large parts of the city
    Since last September Aleppo, Syria's largest city and its former economic capital, has been at the receiving end of what the pressure group Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls "an indiscriminate and unlawful air war against civilians by the Syrian government". Last month HRW produced a study into the scale of the attacks.


    Barrel bombs are just what their name implies - large cylindrical metal containers filled with explosive and shrapnel that are typically rolled out of the door of a helicopter. They were initially dropped from a low altitude, which afforded a reasonable degree of accuracy, but the possession of portable surface-to-air missiles by the rebels has forced the helicopters higher and any accuracy has disappeared.
    The barrel bombs have become significantly larger over time and on occasion have had additional tanks welded to them with suggestions that these might contain inflammable fuel, additional explosives or even possibly chemicals, such as chlorine.
    Despite being rudimentary weapons, their destructive power is considerable - though they are only one part of a Syrian government's arsenal that has been employed against civilian areas - and their use could well constitute a war crime.
    HRW says the use of barrel bombs has "terrorised" Aleppo in recent months.
    The bombs are crude devices, often made from oil drums or large gas bottles, packed with explosives and bits of metal, that are literally tossed over the side of helicopters.
    The devastation they cause and the fear they instil has forced tens of thousands of people to flee the city this year, according to charities and NGOs working with displaced families.
    "Satellite photos and witness accounts show the brutality unleashed on parts of Aleppo," according to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

    "If these indiscriminate, dumb weapons managed to hit a military target, it would be sheer luck," she says.

    In a rare show of unity over Syria, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution in February that called for an immediate end to "all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs".

    The Violations Documentation Center, an opposition monitoring group, claims nearly 700 civilians have been killed across Aleppo province by warplanes and barrel bombs since the UN resolution was agreed.

    The resolution also called for an immediate end to all forms of violence and called on both sides to cease attacking and besieging civilians as a tactic of war. That has also not happened.

    apartment building in Aleppo Even nightfall brings no respite from the war for Aleppo's residents
    President Bashar al-Assad insists his military is fighting to protect civilians, targeting what he calls "terrorists and foreign extremists". The armed opposition has also been accused of human rights violations and there have have been many cases where the rebels have killed civilians through bombardment, but on a very different scale.

    World's 'indifference' We have been coming to Aleppo since the battle began here, nearly two years ago.
    Sigrid Kaag, who is overseeing the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons: "The biggest bulk of the chemical weapons material is removed but not yet destroyed"
    The report of war is the soundtrack for a city that is a shabby imitation of its former self.
    Whole neighbourhoods lie empty; the facades of buildings have been ripped off, piles of rubble lie where homes used to stand, and roads are blocked by the charred remains of buses that protect passers-by from the scopes of snipers.

    Even in the still of night, in a city consumed by darkness, the war grinds on.
    The battle for Aleppo sharply escalated a few weeks ago as different rebel groups launched a surprise joint attack on government positions.

    Map of the frontlines and contested areas in Aleppo

    Abu Bakri is a leader of the Abu Amara Brigades, one of the groups on the frontline, and claims the bombing has galvanised the rebels.

    "The regime has been threatening citizens with barrel bombs and airstrikes. It made all the armed factions in the city come together and form a joint operations room," he says.
    "We are learning from our mistakes and trying to be more organised with weapons we have and use in better way."

    As many as 70% of Aleppo's residents are thought to have abandoned the city to the two warring groups. "Life here totally sucks," says Feras, a young English teacher living in one of the neighbourhoods that has been attacked. He was afraid to give his family name.

    Aleppo facts

    • Major industrial centre
    • Population of 2.3 million in 2005
    • Mainly Sunni Muslim
    • Largest Christian population in Syria
    • Aleppo Old City is a Unesco World Heritage site
    • Became key battleground in July 2012
    "It isn't a life: [we are] afraid of shells falling on our heads day or night. We don't know if we go this way, if it's safe or not."
    There are no signs of an end to this war, despite President Assad's reported prediction it will be over by the end of the year.

    A trickle of aid makes its way across the border but Syrians feel shunned by what they see as the indifference of the outside world. They are defenceless in the face of incessant attacks, caught between two sides determined to fight to the bitter end and with little hope of either respite or relief.

    Feras supported the revolution when it began. People used to talk about freedom and democracy in Syria. Today the talk is only of bombs and bullets, of deprivation and despair.

    "Many armed groups here are stealing houses, not doing good to people. That's why people here started to hate both sides. We don't want the regime forces or the FSA; [we] just want to live in peace."

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