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Daily Archives: Monday, June 2, 2014

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Things are getting even weirder in the ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk’


Things are getting even weirder in the 'People's Republic of Donetsk'A protester stands near the flag of Donetsk People’s Republic at the Mariupol City Council building.

Gaining entry into the towering regional administration here — seized nearly two months ago by local pro-Russian separatists and converted into their barricaded, trash-strewn headquarters — was fairly difficult.

Grubby, leather-skinned men with blunt weaponry would stop prospective visitors cold, sometimes denying entry even after being presented with official press credentials.

But last Friday, a day after a heavily armed, largely foreign fighting unit called the Vostok Battalion seized the premises and chased out many of its typically ragged inhabitants, few of the men at the door seemed to put up a fight.

Flashing press passes granted by the “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” reporters shuffled through easily.

Almost too easily.

That’s probably because a day earlier, something of an elaborate show had kicked off, partly aimed at casting this diplomatic no-man’s-land in a more disciplined and orderly — if not exactly wholesome — light.

For weeks, the hulking administration building, its façade obscured by junkyard barricades of tires, wood planks and barbed wire, was home to the disenfranchised, largely blue-collar masses that’d driven the protest movement here.

Inside the Soviet-era monolith, the corridors were scattered with broken furniture and festooned with anti-Kyiv slogans and crude denouncements of both Ukrainian and Western leaders.

The repulsive stench of sweat and trash wafted throughout.

It was the separatists’ answer to the sprawling barricades and tent encampments of Maidan, the nerve center of the months-long anti-government protests in Kyiv.

But those days were apparently over.

On Thursday, the Vostok Battalion fighters appeared — masked and heavy weapons drawn — and cleared most of them out of the building within hours, a move leaders said was aimed at rooting out looters and other ruffians that had plagued their ranks.

View from the 11th floor of the Donetsk rebel HQ -- post-barricades.View from the 11th floor of the Donetsk rebel HQ — post-barricades.

That evening, rebel authorities invited journalists inside, offering what they said was proof of their former comrades’ misdeeds: reportedly, water bottles, cigarettes and small snacks, all looted from a local supermarket as the battle for the airport raged on nearby.

“It was apparent that there needed to be a firm crackdown,” said Alexander, a security guard for the rebel leadership, told GlobalPost during a visit to the building the following day.

No longer, he added, would it be acceptable for protesters to roam around in masks with baseball bats.

The building, Alexander went on, would now serve strictly as a government headquarters, not a hang out spot for unwashed protesters.  (more…)

Insurgents assault Ukrainian border guards in Luhansk Oblast; at least 15 wounded, 5 dead


Chechen contingent fighting in anti Ukraine Uprising.Pro-Russia militants fire from a residential area at Ukrainian border guards defending the Federal Border Headquarters in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on June 2, 2014. Ukrainian forces killed five rebels on June 2 while repelling an attack by 500 pro-Russian gunmen on a federal border guard camp in the strife-torn separatist east, Kyiv officials said. The border guard service said seven of its servicemen were wounded when “around 500 terrorists” attacked one of its units stationed outside the industrial city of Luhansk. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEY GAPON

Five Russian-backed separatists were killed, and eight wounded as of 11 a.m. amid ongoing fighting at the Border Guard Service coordination center in Luhansk Oblast after it was assaulted around 12:30 a.m. this morning, the country’s border guard service reports. 

Seven border guard servicemen are also wounded, the statement said, adding that by 1:30 p.m. the fighting had ended, with both sides reaching a truce to evacuate their wounded.

On June 2, about 100 armed insurgents attacked the border guards’ coordination center near Luhansk around 12:30 a.m. The border guards exchanged fire with the insurgents over the next several hours, repulsing two attacks as the group swelled to 400 by 7 a.m.

Their goal was to “destabilize the capability of border guard servicemen to coordinate action along the Ukrainian-Russian border,” stated Vladyslav Seleznyov, counterterrorism operation spokesperson,  via telephone at a news briefing in the Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

At around 4:30 a.m., according to Seleznyov, aviation was sent to the area to assist border guards, but it was unable to open fire as the insurgents were concentrated between residential buildings. But once the fighter jet left the area, “the terrorists left their sheltered positions, which is when the jet returned to destroy their (exposed) equipment and positions,” he added.

He furthermore said that a “counter-operation” was launched in the area and urged residents to stay indoors.

The insurgents used automatic weapons, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades against the border guards throughout the assault, the border guard service said. They also used a DShK heavy-machine gun in the fight.

As of 11 a.m. nearly 500 “terrorists continue to storm the Luhansk Border Guard coordination center…using their favorite Russian tactic of shooting at us from residential flats, roofs and using live shields,” said the border guard service.

Amateur video posted to YouTube appears to show the machine gun being transported from the scene.

Several other videos published on the video site purport to show the early morning attack on the border guard base. In at least one, a burst of gunfire and at least one RPG can be seen traveling from a high point adjacent to where the video is being filmed, exploding on the grounds of the border guard base.

A video of the attack, posted to the Ukrainian border guards service YouTube channel.

Another video is said to show a wounded man dragging himself across a dirt road and into a patch of tall grass. The Kyiv Post could not verify the authenticity of the videos.

A man apparently wounded in the June 2 attack crawls to safety.

By 7 a.m., and during at least six and a half hours of fighting, according to the Border Guard Service website, no help had come from Ukraine’s military or counterterrorism forces, aside from the lone fighter jet.

The crisis in eastern Ukraine escalated last week when insurgents shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter, killing 12 servicemen including a general near Sloviansk, and when several dozen fighters clashed with Ukrainian military forces at the Donetsk airport in an attempt to seize the airstrip.

The fierce airport gunfight resulted in more than 50 insurgent fighters being killed, including dozens from the Vostok Battalion, a group comprised of mainly of fighters from Russia, Chechnya and South Ossieta.

A spokesperson for the Vostok Battalion named Sergei told the Kyiv Post by phone on June 2 that it was unlikely that fighters from the Vostok Battalion were involved in the assault on the Luhansk border guards’ base. “We operate mostly in Donetsk,” he said, adding that he couldn’t be 100 percent certain that his comrades weren’t there.

There have been several attacks on Ukrainian border guards in recent weeks. Border guards have also stopped insurgents from entering Ukraine and seized dozens of weapons they had attempted to smuggle into the country.

A top Pentagon official met with representatives of Ukraine’s State Border Guard yesterday to discuss recent U.S. assistance to Ukraine’s border security mission – just hours before the attack.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet condemned this morning’s attack at a press conference today “as another example of deeply destabilizing activities, supported by Russia in the east.” Collet described the separatists as engaged in “terroristic activities,” methods he said underscore the importance of bolstering Ukraine’s borders.​

Chollet was in Kyiv to discuss a plan to double U.S. security aid to Ukraine. The specifics of the proposed $18 million package are still not public. Previous U.S. security aid, largely comprised of MRE food rations, came under fire for toothlessness.

Chollet said the U.S. was working with allies in Poland, France and the U.K. to address specific needs of the Ukrainian military, including the border guard, alluding to the possibility of “more aggressive help.”

Kyiv Post

Sweet revenge being taken on Putin chocolate


Chocolate figures resembling Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed in the Lviv Chocolate Factory in Lviv on May 15.Chocolate figures resembling Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed in the Lviv Chocolate Factory in Lviv on May 15.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a lot of enemies among Ukrainians since his dodgy invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March. Now, people of Ukraine can have their vengeance on the Russian president, and do so in the most wicked ways – bite off his head, for instance.

Not a real head, though.

Last week the famous sweet store Lviv Chocolate Factory started selling handmade chocolate figures shaped as Putin. The figures are extremely popular.

The idea and design belongs to Oleh Matsekh, a notorious activist of EuroMaidan Revolution. The figures are only sold in the stores in Lviv so far, but the confectionary network plans to start selling it in its stores in other cities, including Kyiv, soon.

“The idea occurred to me a month ago, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea,” Matsekh told Kyiv Post.

The chocolate Putin comes in two designs. The “big Putin,” sold at Hr 65, wears a crown and holds a bomb behind his back. His smaller version, available at Hr 35, wears a straitjacket and Napoleon’s hat. Both designs can be purchased in brown or white chocolate.

The souvenir became very popular very fast: the Chocolate Factory’s employees barely manage to make them in time, the Factory’s spokesman Roman Kuchkuda told the Kyiv Post.

“He looks so creamy, I want to bite his head off right now,” 59-year-old Maryna Vyznyk from Zaporizhia, a visitor to the Lviv Chocolate Factory store, told the Kyiv Post in Lviv on May 23.

Chocolate Putin’s price tag calls the figure “PTN-PNH” – an abbreviation, lately very popular in Ukraine, that stands for the Ukrainian phraze “Putin, go f*ck yourself.”

Australian tourist Jason Restler, 21, who stopped by the Lviv Chocolate Factory on May 23 specifically to look “straight into the eyes” of chocolate Putin, found himself unable to eat the figure.

“I can’t eat him – he looks at me all the time,” Restler said.

The figure’s designer Matsekh, says the figures don’t mean to inspire people to be aggressive towards the chocolate dictator.

“When you buy it, you can treat it the way you perceive Putin. If you hate him, you can bite his head off. If you love him, you can lick or kiss this piece of chocolate. It’s up to everyone to decide,” he said.

According to Matsekh, a new design of chocolate figures is in development – devil-like Putin.

“I hope to create many more variants – big, small, and middle-sized. My aim is that everyone could pick their favorite size of Putin,” Matsekh said.

Kyiv Post

Saudi and UAE ready $20bn boost for Egypt’s El-Sisi


A supporter of Abdelfattah el-Sissi joins celebrations in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt.A supporter of Abdelfattah el-Sissi joins celebrations in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are thought to be preparing an aid package to support his government Photo: AMR NABIL/AP

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are thought to be readying a financial aid package of $20bn (£12bn) to boost Egypt’s economy and support the incoming government of ex-Field Marshal Abdulfattah el-Sisi.

The oil-rich Middle East powerhouse Arab nations, which combined account for more than a tenth of the world’s supply of crude, have already held preliminary talks with authorities in Cairo to discuss how the line of funding will be structured, according to a report in the Arabic media over the weekend.

Abu Dhabi has already pumped $4.9bn into supporting the economy in Egypt – the most populous Arab states in the Middle East – as it seeks to support Mr El-Sisi and prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from rebuilding a legitimate support base on the back of a weak economy. The government in Riyadh has also pumped almost $5bn into supporting the Egyptian economy already as it seeks to influence events in Cairo and prevent a reawakening of political unrest across the region.

The brotherhood has been banned as a “terrorist” organisation in Egypt since the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi.

Qatar’s support for the brotherhood movement especially in Egypt had driven a wedge between Doha, Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf states . However, all sides in the Gulf Co-operation Council agreed to resolve their differences on the issue last month.

Egypt’s economy – once seen as progressive in terms of liberalisation and foreign investment – has failed to recover since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime during the Arab Sprint uprisings which saw a number of governments in the region fall. El Sisi – who is backed by the army – is understood to have won 97 pc of the vote, according to state media last week.

Meanwhile, Egypt stock market plunged on Sunday amid reports that a new government would move quickly to impose a capital gains tax. The EGX30 benchmark index closed 4.22pc lower, or at 7,894.7 points, continuing to slide after trading was suspended after the broader EGX100 index fell by 5pc.

During the Arab Spring uprisings the Egyptian stock market was closed for a period of months.

The Telegraph

UK: Brighton’s Royal Pavilion refused funding by Heritage Lottery Fund


The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, EnglandThe palace was built for the Prince Regent, later King George IV

A £35m revamp of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, Dome and Corn Exchange has taken a hit after the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) refused to fund the plan.

The proposal is to restore the historic buildings, possibly create new ones and tie the history of the pavilion to the other buildings.

The project requested about £14m from the HLF after already securing £6m from the Arts Council.

The HLF said demands for its cash in 2014 were “higher than ever”.

The team behind the Pavilion bid said they would apply to the HLF again.

Indian and Chinese styles

Janita Bagshawe, director of the Royal Pavilion and Museums, said: “We need to not lose sight of our ambition to transform and revitalise a world class heritage site at the heart of Brighton and Hove.

“We will continue to work with HLF and our partners to develop the long term plan for the Royal Pavilion estate and to secure the funding to do so.

“It is the symbol of the city and deserves to be a place that everyone can experience and enjoy.”

The palace, a mixture of Indian and Chinese styles, was built for the Prince Regent, later King George IV, between 1787 and 1823.

It was designed by a team of architects led by Sir John Nash, who also designed parts of Buckingham Palace.

Katie Owen, from the HLF, said: “Demand for [funding in] 2014 was higher than ever and the success rate for this particular round of decision-making was 30%.

“We simply did not have enough money to support all the applications we looked at on the day.

“We have already met with the Royal Pavilion Museums Brighton and Hove team to give feedback on our decision.”

BBC News

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