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Posts tagged ‘Lithuania’

Russian Forces Push Beyond Crimea Before Referendum.


Ukraine said Russian forces tried to push deeper into its territory and the Kremlin strengthened its rhetoric, threatening to escalate the worst diplomatic standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

By Saturday afternoon, The New York Times reports, Russian troops moved beyond the Crimean border and overtook a gas plant just beyond the regional border of Crimea.

Meanwhile, Russian troops entered the Kherson region on the Azov Sea from the Crimea peninsula they already occupy, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, told reporters Saturday at the United Nations in New York. The Foreign Ministry in Kiev issued a statement protesting the seizure by Russian soldiers of the village of Strilkove.

The incursion raises tensions before the Black Sea Crimean region holds a referendum Sunday on joining Russia. While the European Union and the U.S. are threatening to tighten sanctions against Russia if it doesn’t pull back, President Vladimir Putin has said ethnic Russians in the region need protection from “extremists.”

“Russia now takes it as a fact that they’ve picked off Crimea and is sending more soldiers and provocateurs into Ukraine to test the waters and see how much further they can go,” Joerg Forbrig, a senior program officer at the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., said in a phone interview.

As many as 130 Russian soldiers are in Strilkove, digging trenches and doing “other engineering work,” said Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for Border Guard Service. They have three armored personnel carriers and are in control of a Ukrainian natural gas pumping station, he said. There have been no military confrontations between Ukraine and Russia so far, he said.

The UN Security Council met Saturday in New York where Russia vetoed a resolution proposed by the U.S. that stressed the need for political dialogue. Thirteen members of the Security Council backed the resolution and China abstained.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said the vote shows Russia is “isolated, alone, wrong.” Chinese Ambassador to UN Liu Jieyi said the resolution would have resulted “in confrontation and further complicate the situation.” He said respecting “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states” is a “fundamental” in China’s foreign policy.

U.S. officials who monitor social media say the number of posts on Twitter, Facebook and other public Internet sites about possible Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine and a growing number of unidentified men who appear to be Russians with military or police training is rising sharply Saturday.

The officials were quick to add that the trend doesn’t mean any Russian action is imminent and that the accuracy and origin of such posts are difficult to verify quickly. Nevertheless, one of the officials called the trend worrisome.

Clashes erupted Friday in Ukraine’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv, near Russia’s border, where a shootout left two dead and a policeman injured. Russian troops massed just inside Russia’s border nearby for exercises, stirring concerns of a Kremlin move to annex eastern Ukraine. Russia said it’s examining numerous requests for protection received from people living in Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov without a breakthrough, warned Russia would face consequences if it failed to change course.

Russia moved more forces into Crimea, bringing the total to about 22,000 soldiers as of Friday evening, Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said in a website statement. The troops “may be used for an offensive,” he said.

Lavrov expressed outrage over March 13 clashes in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk in which one person was killed and 17 injured, according to the regional government.

“Militants came to Donetsk from other regions and started fighting with demonstrators,” Lavrov said.

Putin is driven by deep geopolitical goals and isn’t likely to fear the consequences of sanctions by Western nations, Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington policy group, said in a telephone interview.

After watching the North Atlantic Treaty Organization expand and the U.S. build ties with former Soviet Union countries, Russians feel they “have every reason to push back and expand their ‘sphere of privileged interests,’” Rumer said.

“The confrontation has reached a new level,” acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a website statement late Friday. “Either the new young democracy wins, or a totalitarian curtain falls on Ukraine.”

Putin’s government contends ethnic Russians in Crimea are at risk after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, an assertion that Ukraine’s new leaders deny. The Kremlin supports Crimea’s recently appointed administration, which organized Sunday’s referendum.

Crimean Premier Sergei Aksenov told reporters in the region’s capital, Simferopol, that the peninsula may become part of Russia next week, though full integration may take a year. Turnout is expected to be more than 80 percent, he said.

“Preparations are already under way to incorporate Crimea into Russia,” Sergei Markov, a Kremlin adviser and vice rector of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics in Moscow, said in a telephone interview from Sevastopol on Saturday.

Russian lawmakers are scheduled to consider legislation March 21 that would allow Russia to incorporate parts of countries where the central authority isn’t functioning and local residents want to secede, he said.

The bill isn’t needed to make Crimea part of Russia because the region already declared independence from Kiev, according to Markov. It would allow for the annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine, though Russia would only want to do that if it’s sure “we are welcomed with flowers,” he said.

Russian stocks posted the biggest weekly drop since May 2012, with the Micex Index sliding 7.6 percent to 1,237.43 Friday, the lowest level since May 2012. Russia’s 10-year bond fell for a sixth day, driving up the yield by 38 basis points to 9.79 percent, the highest level since 2009. The ruble weakened 0.2 percent to 43.0570 against Bank Rossii’s target basket of dollars and euros Friday in Moscow. Gold climbed to the highest in sixth months.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of U.S. stocks fell 2 percent this week to 1,841.13, erasing its gains for the year. The UX index of Ukrainian stocks was down 7.1 percent for the week. Even so, Ukrainian Eurobonds and the hryvnia rebounded after Lavrov said Russia had no invasion plans.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to NATO members Poland and Lithuania on March 17, the day after the Crimea vote, for talks on Ukraine, according to a White House statement. The Pentagon said this week that it would send 12 F-16 aircraft to Poland as a sign of U.S. commitment to defend allies in the region, and the U.S. sent six fighter jets to Lithuania last week.

EU foreign ministers, who meet March 17, the day after the Crimea vote, are poised to impose asset freezes and visa bans on people and “entities” involved in Russia’s seizure of the peninsula, an EU official said. The next stage of sanctions would be weighed at a summit at the end of next week.

Forbrig said that visa bans and other political moves aimed at Russia won’t deter Putin.

“If Putin sees the EU sanctions as not strong enough, he may view them as a green light to go further,” Forbrig said.

“We have to get to the material base of Putin’s regime through economic and trade measures that both target his revenue directly and have a snowball effect of scaring off investors and fueling capital flight out of Russia,” he said.

Bloomberg contributed to this report. 

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Newsmax Wires

Cheney: Crimea Not a Lost Cause.


Image: Cheney: Crimea Not a Lost Cause

By Greg Richter

Former Vice President Dick Cheney doesn’t like it when he hears his friends say, “It’s just Crimea,” referring to the Russian takeover of that portion of Ukraine.

“It’s not just the Crimea,” Cheney said Monday on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity.”

“It’s a significant effort on [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] part to reverse the downfall, if you will, of the Soviet Union and try to regain a lot of that territory, which voted for independence and sovereignty as the old Soviet Union fell apart.”

Cheney sees a sense of resignation in most in the West that Crimea is a lost cause. Russian troops rode into the southern peninsula of Ukraine late last month and have been occupying ever since. Putin said he is concerned because many ethnic Russians live in Crimea.

A March 16 referendum has been set for voters to determine whether Crimea will remain part of Ukraine or join the Russian Federation. Ukraine says the vote goes against the country’s constitution.

Even former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that Crimea will not slip out of Russia’s hands.

Cheney agreed with many others that economic sanctions and military aid should be considered.

“Tomorrow, if Putin is successful in the Crimea, who’s to say he won’t decide to tell the folks up in Lithuania or Latvia or Estonia he wants part of their territory because it’s got Russians on it?”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

Most-Wanted Foreign Criminals Hiding In UK.


A most-wanted list of high-risk foreign criminals believed to be hiding in Britain – including three suspected murderers and an accused rapist – has been released.

The list of 17 people, who are wanted by authorities in other European countries but are thought to be in the UK, has been unveiled by Scotland Yard and Crimestoppers.

It is the third Operation Sunfire campaign and includes the search for 32-year-old Dritan Rexhepi, who is wanted over a double murder in Albania and has links to London, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire.

Edvinas Judinskas, 19, is accused of murder in his native Lithuania over an attack where a gang forced their way in to a flat and beat the occupant to death with a metal rod and wooden chair leg.

He has links to Woolwich in southeast London, Reading and Greater Manchester – specifically Bury and Bolton.

The list also includes Evaldas Rabikauskas, 29, who is wanted in Lithuania over the rape of a teenager in 2007 and has links to Hackney in north London and Potters Bar in Hertfordshire.

Roger Critchell, director of operations for Crimestoppers, said: “The purpose of Operation Sunfire is to track down and arrest murderers, violent robbers, drug traffickers and other criminals hiding in the UK.

“Crimestoppers is supporting this Metropolitan Police operation so that these individuals can be put before the extradition courts to face justice abroad and no longer be a threat to this country.

“Non-national fugitives hiding overseas in countries such as this are a threat to local communities as they most often remain involved in criminal activity and are a danger to those around them.

“We want these criminals off British soil and back to the countries where they have committed these heinous crimes so that justice may be served.”

Detective Sergeant Peter Rance, who is leading the operation, warned the public not to approach the fugitives.

He said: “Today I’m asking the public, do you recognise these faces? Maybe you know where these people live, work or socialise?

“They are wanted to face justice for a multitude of crimes in other countries and it is in the UK’s interests to help find them.”

Anyone with information on the most-wanted is urged to call Crimestoppers anonymously on0800 555 111.

Police said anyone who sees one of the 17 suspects should not approach them but call 999 instead.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

Sky NewsSky News

Left in Lithuania eyes vote win after austerity pain.


VILNIUS (Reuters) – Centre-left parties in Lithuania were expected to win the second and final round of a parliamentary election on Sunday as voters fed up with austerity went to the polls in a contest dominated by public anger over years of tough spending cuts.

Economists said the Baltic nation of about three million was still heavily indebted however and that the incoming coalition – likely to be formed by the Labour Party and the Social Democratic Party – would have little choice but to stick to austerity as it tried to ready the country for euro membership.

Labour and the Social Democrats won 34 of 141 seats in a first round election two weeks ago and are hopeful of winning enough of the 67 seats up for grabs in Sunday’s second round to cement their position at the core of a new coalition.

An ex-Soviet state, Lithuania crashed hard when the crisis hit four years ago. It slashed spending but now, after a brutal recession, it is returning to economic health, albeit too late for voters who have seen their spending power eroded and unemployment soar.

The government’s failure at the ballot box comes despite widespread praise abroad for a more resolute course on cutbacks than that taken by Greece and other euro zone countries struggling with debt.

But many voters say they have had enough.

“Everything needs to be changed, in the government now only one in 10 people really work, the rest just hang out there,” said pensioner Edmundas, 73, who declined to give his full name.

With a 13 percent joblessness rate, Lithuania is one of the European Union’s poorest countries and the population has fallen below 3 million for the first time since the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse as thousands have left to find work.

The coalition likely to take over has promised to ease the pain by raising the minimum wage, shifting the tax burden towards the better off and postponing adoption of the euro.

One putative coalition leader has told Reuters that the budget deficit might, at a later date, be allowed to go above the level that euro zone policymakers view as prudent.

But the new government will have to walk a tightrope between pleasing voters and keeping markets happy. If debt markets – which welcomed its predecessor’s austerity drive – do not trust plans to ease the belt-tightening, the cost of borrowing could go up so steeply that the country plunges into another crisis.

Lithuania takes over the European Union’s rotating presidency in the second half of next year and has to repay a 1 billion euro Eurobond in March.

TENSIONS

Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, who says cuts to the budget deficit saved Lithuania from bankruptcy, came third in the first round vote and has only a slim chance of remaining in governmenteven though some see a tough budget as painful but necessary.

“I think everything that was needed to be done is already done,” said 36-year-old Zana Kovsova, after casting her vote on Sunday. “Now, we need to keep solving the budget. We should continue on the path of austerity so that later we can start to live normally.”

Still, change may be in store and the election could be a taste of things to come for other European governments facing voters angry at budget cuts.

The Social Democrats, led by Algirdas Butkevicius, a former finance minister and prospective prime minister, want progressive income taxes to replace flat taxes.

He and Labour, led by Russian-born businessman Victor Uspaskich, will probably need a partner to form a majority, expected to be the party of an impeached ex-president.

In a sign of possible tensions ahead of a coalition deal, Uspaskich has said he may push for a budget deficit above the EU limit of 3 percent of output.

But Butkevicius has said he would be fiscally responsible and that Lithuania could adopt the euro in 2015.

However, Uspaskich says Lithuania should not rush to adopt the euro while the single currency is in crisis and public support is low. The Labour leader is on trial for tax evasion by his party between 2004 and 2006, a charge he denies.

After a collapse in economic output of 15 percent in 2009, the second-biggest decline in the EU after northern neighbor Latvia, gross domestic product (GDP) rose 6 percent last year and is expected to increase by about 3 percent this year.

The budget deficit fell to 5.5 percent of GDP in 2011 from 9.4 percent in 2009. The Kubilius government has drafted a 2013 budget with a 2.5 percent fiscal gap.

Lithuania’s politicians were aware pressure from the markets would not allow them to be too generous, said Lars Christensen, chief emerging markets analyst at Danish bank Danske Bank.

“I’m quite happy that this election, no matter the outcome, will not lead to crazy economic policies,” Christensen said.

Lithuania needs to borrow 7.6 billion litas ($2.85 billion) in 2013, about 7 percent of GDP, to refinance debt, including a 1 billion euro Eurobond, and to fund the deficit.

“They have their hands tied at the moment,” said DNB economist Rokas Bancevicius.

(Writing by Patrick Lannin; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Andrius Sytas | Reuters

Lithuanians ditch government in verdict on austerity.


  • A woman leaves a ballot booth after casting her vote during general elections in Vilnius October 14, 2012. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

    Enlarge PhotoReuters/Reuters – A woman leaves a ballot booth after casting her vote during general elections in Vilnius October 14, 2012. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuania‘s opposition prepared to take power on Monday after voters rejected the austerity-minded government, a foretaste of what may await other European leaders forced to make unpopular cuts by the financial crisis.

An ex-Soviet state of about three million people, Lithuania crashed hard when the crisis hit four years ago. It slashed spending in response and is now returning to economic health – but too late for voters fed up with belt-tightening.

An exit poll after a parliamentary election on Sunday showed Lithuanians had thrown out centre-right Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius in favor of a coalition of left-leaning opposition parties who promise to soften the austerity.

The government of the Baltic nation lost out despite winning praise from big European powers and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for its thrift and discipline.

“If the IMF was voting then he (the prime minister) would be re-elected,” said Kestutis Girnius, who teaches at the Institute for International Relations and Political Science in Vilnius.

“But the IMF does not live in Lithuania, and they could not live on a Lithuanian salary.”

As one of the European Union states most severely hit by the crisis, and one of the fastest to implement austerity, Lithuania is a bellwether for governments in Greece, Spain, Ireland and elsewhere, who are being forced to make similar swinging cuts.

The RAIT/BNS exit poll gave the biggest share of the vote, 19.8 percent, to the Labor Party. The centre-left Social Democrats, likely coalition partner for Labor, were second with 17.8 percent and the prime minister’s Homeland Union was in third place on 16.7 percent.

Partial official results, based on the votes that have been counted so far, ranked the parties in the same order.

The final shape of the next government will not be clear until talks take place on forming a coalition. It may come down to a second round, to take place in two weeks, which will settle races in local districts where no candidate had a clear lead.

BOOM AND BUST

The prime minister said he would fight on into the run-off round, but it appeared unlikely he would be able to stay in power, after voters held him accountable for the tough decisions he took to drag Lithuania out of crisis.

“What kind of crisis management are we talking about?” asked Alfonsus Spudys, 78, on his way out of a polling station on Sunday in the capital, Vilnius. “They scythed people down … and now they are saying they handled the crisis really well.”

Before the financial crash in 2008, Lithuania was booming. Scandinavian banks provided cheap credit which let the country buy more than it sold and over-heated the real estate market.

When the crisis struck, the banks stopped lending. Economic output dropped by 15 percent in 2009. Unemployment shot up. Thousands of young Lithuanians went abroad to seek work.

Kubilius, elected after the crisis began, cut pensions and public sector wages. To save money, only every third street lamp in Vilnius was lit, and fuel for police cars was rationed.

This discipline helped the economy rebound. Gross domestic product grew 5.8 percent last year, one of the fastest rates of any EU economy. The budget deficit has been tamed. Yet most Lithuanians feel worse off than they did four years ago.

The opposition parties expected to form the governing coalition have said they will ease the pain of austerity by increasing the minimum wage, making the rich pay higher income tax than the poor and launching job creation schemes.

Economists say the country’s still-delicate finances dictate that whoever is in government will have to stick, for the most part, to the existing austerity program.

Labor Party leader Viktor Uspaskich said the budget deficit might under certain circumstances be allowed to rise above 3 percent of gross domestic product – a threshold which the EU uses to gauge countries’ fiscal discipline.

“How otherwise can you generate (growth in) the economy if you only borrow to cover regular expenditure? You need to borrow for generating (growth),” Uspaskich, a Russian-born businessman, told Reuters in an interview late on Sunday.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Andrius Sytas and Christian Lowe | Reuters

Lithuania’s Proof: ‘Miracles Can Happen’.


Lithuania outreach
Thousands responded to the altar call at a Franklin Graham meeting in the Baltic State. (BGEA)

Just on the outskirts of Vilnius, Lithuania, a line of cars stretched for miles, waiting to get into the cemetery for Sunday’s national holiday, All Souls Day.

Inside Siemens Arena, there was a different celebration of souls taking place Sunday night.

But first, Franklin Graham posed a simple question to the 8,500 in attendance.

“Tonight, I want to talk to you about your soul,” Franklin Graham began his message on the final night of the Lithuania Festival of Hope. “Is your soul secure in the hand of Almighty God?”

The direct line of questioning hit many like an artic blast of wind, walking off a Vilnius city bus in the middle of January.

“The way he said it,” said Jurate about Franklin Graham’s opening remarks. “First off, that was really shocking.”

But the question prompted the 23-year-old woman to start seriously thinking about her eternal life and by the time the invitation was given, “there was a great thought of getting redeemed and having Jesus in your life,” and she came forward and gave her life to Christ.

“The Bible says ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?’ ” Franklin Graham continued. “God loves you. He loves you. And your soul is valuable.”

And by the time “Just As I Am” was being sung by a massive 400-member white-and-blue-robed Lithuanian choir, hundreds had their soul stirred up, and like Jurate, came forward to settle things once and all, asking Jesus into their hearts.

After leading a packed stage area in a prayer to receive Christ, Graham told those making decisions: “Your soul is now secure.”

For many, this was Eternal Souls Day.

And several thanked Franklin Graham’s direct, no-nonsense approach.

“He preaches like he believes it. And that makes a difference,” a 21-year-old bio-chemistry student said. “He preaches with conviction, passion and power.”

Those three words could also be used to describe many of the musical performances Sunday, from Jamaica pianist Huntley Brown to a Belarus worship band to the Latvian Three Tenors.

But most notably charging up the audience was the Newsboys, which based on the post-Festival comments around the arena, may have a new legion and region of followers after a passionate and charismatic set in their first trip to Lithuania.

Lead singer Michael Tait, who mixed in a spirited acappella version of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” was performing for the 24th time at a BGEA Festival or Crusade, dating back to his D.C. Talk days and his first 1994 Cleveland Crusade.

“We never get tired of seeing the altar call at the end of the message,” Tait said. “To watch the sheep come in, watch them come forward. It’s unbelievable.”

Renata Ramanauskaite would sum the weekend up the exact way. After working 15 years with Campus Crusade for Christ (Agape) in Lithuania, to see 28,000 people come out to hear the gospel message in one single weekend and then watch hundreds make commitments in three different services, she wonders if this is some sort of dream.

“Even for Christians, it’s hard to believe that God can work in this way,” Ramanauskaite said. “It’s hard to believe. You see the impact, but it’s hard to believe this is happening.”

Ramanauskaite is part of the microscopic percentage of evangelical Christians in Lithuania, a country of 3 million where only one-tenth of one percent are believers, an estimated 3,000 Christians. But after seeing nearly half that number come to Christ making first-time decisions, she can only imagine what might be ahead.

“I would hope for an explosion among Christianity,” she said. “I hope this is an inspiration to Christians that God can do miracles.”

Already, Ramanauskaite witnessed one work of God personally this weekend. On Sunday night, as she was counseling a 32-year-old Russian woman to accept Christ, she asked who invited her and she answered her sister.

Only later, did she realize that her sister, a 25-year-old named Arena, was a woman Ramanauskaite had led to the Lord two years ago and was now impacting her family.

“For me, it’s wonderful that Arena can have an influence and her family members can be changed,” Ramanauskaite said. “God can change hearts. Miracles can happen.”

Used with permission from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

By Trevor Freeze.

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