Kiev says cannot withdraw heavy weapons as attacks persist

admin   •   February 24, 2015   •   2242

Members of the Ukrainian armed forces ride military vehicles near Artemivsk, eastern Ukraine, February 22, 2015.
CREDIT: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

(Reuters) – Kiev accused pro-Russian rebels of opening fire with rockets and artillery at villages in southeastern Ukraine on Monday, all but burying a week-old European-brokered ceasefire deal.

The Ukrainian military said it could not pull weapons from the front as required under the tenuous truce, as long as its troops were still under attack.

Ukraine’s currency, nearly in freefall this month, fell a further 10 percent on Monday on fears that the truce could collapse. The central bank said it would tighten currency rules to sustain the hryvnia. The value of Ukrainian debt also fell, with bonds now trading at 40 cents in the dollar.

The reported shooting came closer to killing off the truce, intended to end fighting that has killed more than 5,600 people, which rebels ignored last week to capture the strategic town of Debaltseve in a punishing defeat for Kiev.

Kiev and its Western allies say they fear the rebels, backed by reinforcements of Russian troops, are planning to advance deeper into territory the Kremlin calls “New Russia”. Moscow denies aiding the rebels.

Fighting has diminished since Kiev’s forces abandoned Debaltseve in defeat last Wednesday, and there were hopeful signs for the truce over the weekend, with an overnight exchange of around 200 prisoners late on Saturday and an agreement on Sunday to begin pulling back artillery from the front.

But Kiev said on Monday that two of its soldiers had been killed and 10 wounded in overnight fighting.

“Given that the positions of Ukrainian servicemen continue to be shelled, there cannot yet be any talk of pulling back weapons,” spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said.

Dmytro Chaly, spokesman for the Ukrainian military in the port of Mariupol, a city of 500,000 people which Kiev fears will be the next target, said rebels opened fire in the afternoon with Grad rockets, artillery and tanks on villages nearby.

Anatoly Stelmakh, another military spokesman, said rebel forces had attacked the village of Shyrokyne on the coast road towards Mariupol overnight.

“The fighters have not stopped their attempts to storm our positions in Shyrokyne, in the direction of Mariupol. At midnight armed groups again attempted unsuccessfully to attack our soldiers. The battle lasted half an hour.”

Rebel commander Eduard Basurin denied rebel fighters had launched any such attack, and said the situation was calm. “At the moment all is quiet, there is no shelling,” he told Reuters.

The head of the Kiev-controlled Donetsk regional police, Vyacheslav Abroskin, said one police officer was killed and two wounded in Mariupol in a shootout when they stopped a militant “reconnaissance group” carrying explosives in a car. One of the rebels was also killed.

UNJUSTIFIABLE AND ILLEGAL

Western countries still hope the truce can be salvaged if the rebels halt, now that they achieved their objective at Debaltseve last week. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine will meet on Tuesday in Paris to try to get the peace deal back on track, a French diplomatic source said.

But Germany, whose Chancellor Angela Merkel was the driving force behind the peace deal, said in unusually strong terms that it was now clear that the ceasefire was not being implemented.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said any further attempt to expand rebel territory would be met with fresh Western sanctions on Moscow: “Far from changing course, Russia’s totally unjustifiable and illegal actions in eastern Ukraine have reached a new level with the separatists’ blatant breach of the ceasefire,” he told parliament.

Nevertheless, the U.S. ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute said it was still too early to “give up hope on the ceasefire” and Russian President Vladimir Putin told state television the deal was the right way to resolve the crisis.

There were signs, however, that a deal reached late last year to ensure Ukraine receives gas from Russia was also in jeopardy. Last week, Kiev cut back supplies of gas to rebel-held areas and Moscow said it would supply some gas to the rebels directly. On Monday, Ukraine’s gas company said Russia had failed to deliver some supplies Kiev had paid for in advance.

In Debaltseve, now under rebel control, thousands of civilians who were trapped through the storming of the town are still living in cellars in the ruins. No one has tallied the civilian dead from last week’s assault.

Nina Shono, 80, one of eight people sheltering in a basement beneath the ruins of their five-storey apartment building, made soup and baked bread on a homemade wood-burning stove in the darkness while a rat scampered in a corner.

“When we were bombed, we were praying and I was crossing myself, everything was collapsing. One explosion. The second explosion, the third. But we are still sitting here,” she said.

In the biggest rebel stronghold Donetsk, occasional artillery fire could be heard through the night and on Monday morning, although it was not clear who was firing and it was far less intense than before the truce.

The separatist press service DAN reported two homes destroyed by shelling on the city’s outskirts overnight.

Nearly a million people have been driven from their homes by the war between pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine and government forces. Rebels say they launched their advance because previous battle lines had left their civilians vulnerable to government shelling.

Donetsk resident Sergei, 52 said he could do no more than hope that the truce would work out. “No one knows what will happen with the way the sides are behaving,” he said.

Kiev fears unrest could spread to other parts of the mainly Russian-speaking east, where its troops are in control and most residents are loyal but violent separatist demonstrations have occasionally flared in the past year.

Two people were killed on Sunday in Kharkiv, 200 km (125 miles) from the war zone, in a blast at a pro-Ukrainian rally. Kiev said it had arrested four suspects who had received weapons and instructions in Russia.

(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Alessandra Prentice and Peter Graff in Kiev; Writing by Peter Graff; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Trump urges U.S. to halt most social activity in virus fight, warns of recession

UNTV News   •   March 17, 2020

President Donald Trump urged Americans on Monday (March 16) to halt most social activities for 15 days and not congregate in groups larger than 10 people in a newly aggressive effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

Announcing new guidelines from his coronavirus task force, the president said people should avoid discretionary travel and not go to bars, restaurants, food courts or gyms.

As stocks tumbled, Trump warned that a recession was possible, a development that could affect his chances of re-election in November. The Republican president said he was focused on addressing the health crisis and that the economy would get better once that was in line.

The task force implored young people to follow the new guidelines even though they were at lesser risk of suffering if they contract the virus. Older people, especially those with underlying health problems, are at the greatest risk if they develop the respiratory disease.

Reporters staggered their seating, sitting in every other seat in the White House briefing room, to follow social distancing measures.

Trump said the worst of the virus could be over by July, August or later. He called it an invisible enemy.

The president has taken criticism for playing down the seriousness of the virus in the early days of its U.S. spread. On Monday, when asked, he gave himself a good grade for his response.

“I’d rate it a 10. I think we’ve done a great job,” he said.

Trump said a nationwide curfew was not under consideration at this point.

Normally a cheerleader for the U.S. economy, he acknowledged the possibility of a recession while brushing off another dramatic decline on stock markets as investors worried about the virus.

“We’re not thinking in terms of recession, we’re thinking in terms of the virus. Once we stop, I think there’s a tremendous pent up demand, both in terms of the stock market and in terms of the economy,” Trump said. The president has long considered soaring stock markets to be a sign of his administration’s success.

Trump said the administration had talked regularly about domestic travel restrictions but hoped not to have to put such measures in place.

He said he thought it would still be possible for G7 leaders to meet at the Camp David retreat in Maryland in June. Trump upset European countries, which make up a large part of the G7, by instituting travel restrictions from European countries without consulting with them first. (Reuters)

(Production: Katharine Jackson)

Streets deserted in Milan during coronavirus lockdown

UNTV News   •   March 11, 2020

A handful of people were seen on the streets of Milan on Wednesday morning (March 12) following stringent measures imposed to contain the coronavirus.

Shops and restaurants closed, hundreds of flights were cancelled and streets emptied across Italy on Tuesday (March 10), the first day of an unprecedented, nationwide lockdown imposed to slow Europe’s worst outbreak of coronavirus.

Just hours after the dramatic new restrictions came into force, health authorities announced the death toll had jumped by 168 to 631, the largest rise in absolute numbers since the contagion came to light on Feb. 21.

The total number of confirmed cases rose at a much slower rate than recently seen, hitting 10,149 against a previous 9,172, but officials warned that the region at the epicentre, Lombardy, had provided incomplete data.

The government has told all Italians to stay at home and avoid non-essential travel until April 3, radically widening steps already taken in much of the wealthy north, which is the epicentre of the spreading contagion. (Reuters)

(Production: Marissa Davison)

Russian parliament backs changes allowing Putin to run again for president

UNTV News   •   March 11, 2020

The Russian lower house of parliament on Wednesday (March 11) gave its definitive approval to constitutional changes that allow Vladimir Putin to run for president again in 2024, something the current constitution forbids.

The 450-seat State Duma, the lower house of parliament, voted in favour of the changes in a third and final reading by 383 votes.

Nobody voted against, but 43 lawmakers abstained. Twenty-four lawmakers were absent.

Putin told parliament in televised comments on Tuesday he believed a constitutional amendment that would allow him to run for president again could be adopted if Russia’s Constitutional Court did not object.

Putin is required by the constitution to step down in 2024 when his second sequential presidential term ends. (Reuters)

(Production: Mikhail Antonov, Anton Derbene)

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