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Crimeans Overwhelmingly Vote for Secession.


SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — The head of the referendum committee in Ukraine’s Crimea region says more than 95 percent of voters have approved splitting off and joining Russia.

Mikhail Malishev said the initial result came after more than 50 percent of the ballots had been counted.

Speaking two hours after polls closed, Malishev said turnout was 83 percent — a high figure given that many who opposed the move had said they would boycott the vote.

Western powers and leaders in Kiev denounced it as a sham.

Underlining how Moscow’s military takeover of the peninsula two weeks ago has driven Russia and the West into a crisis with echoes of the Cold War, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama spoke by telephone and, according to the Kremlin, the Russian and U.S. presidents agreed on a need to cooperate to stabilise Ukraine.

“This referendum is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution,” a White House spokesman said. “The international community will not recognise the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.”

The Kremlin said Putin told Obama the referendum was legitimate and he expressed concern about the Ukrainian government’s failure to stamp out violence against Russian speakers in the country.

“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin drew attention to the inability and unwillingness of the present authorities in Kiev to curb rampant violence by ultra-nationalist and radical groups that destabilise the situation and terrorise civilians, including the Russian-speaking population,” the Kremlin said.

It said Putin suggested European monitors should be sent to all parts of Ukraine because of the violence.

Kiev said Moscow’s build-up of forces in the Black Sea peninsula was in “crude violation” of an international treaty, and announced plans to arm and train 20,000 members of a newly-created National Guard.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Moscow that Washington would not accept the outcome of the vote in the region, which has an ethnic Russian majority and was transferred to Ukraine by Soviet rulers only 60 years ago.

The White House also warned Moscow to expect sanctions while foreign ministers from the European Union, which has major trade ties with Russia, will decide on possible similar action in Brussels on Monday.

But Putin rejected Western accusations that the referendum was illegal, saying it respected the will of the Crimean people, while his foreign ministry said it had agreed with the United States to seek a solution to the crisis through constitutional reform.

 

In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk threatened dire consequences for the Crimean politicians who had called the vote, saying separatist “ringleaders” wanted to destroy Ukrainian independence “under the cover of Russian troops”.

“We will find all of them – if it takes one year, two years – and bring them to justice and try them in Ukrainian and international courts. The ground will burn under their feet,” he told a cabinet meeting.

Yatseniuk had just returned from a U.S. trip where he won expressions of moral support but no offers of weapons. Kiev’s pro-European rulers, who took power after last month’s fall of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich to popular unrest, have been as powerless as Western governments to prevent the referendum or buildup of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory.

At a polling booth at a school in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, dozens of people lined up outside to cast their ballots early.

“I have voted for Russia,” said Svetlana Vasilyeva, 27, a veterinary nurse. “This is what we have been waiting for. We are one family and we want to live with our brothers.”

Vasilyeva voiced fears common among some of Ukraine’s native Russian-speakers about the consequences of Yanukovich’s exit after protests in which over 100 people were killed. “We want to leave Ukraine because Ukrainians told us that we are people of a lower kind. How can you stay in such a country?” she said.

But ethnic Tatars – Sunni Muslims who make up 12 percent of Crimea’s population – said they would boycott the vote despite promises by the regional authorities to give them financial aid and proper land rights.

“This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not? Who asked me?” said Shevkaye Assanova, a Crimean Tatar in her 40s. “For the rest of my life I will be cursing those who brought these people here. I don’t recognise this at all. I curse all of them.”

 

Crimea’s 1.5 million voters had two options: union with Russia or giving their region, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin politicians, the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants – including Moscow.

A local Tatar television channel broadcast the count at one small polling station. It took just a few minutes for officials to stack up the papers, virtually in a single pile. One gave the result as: “166 for, 2 against, 1 spoiled”. By “for” she clearly meant the first option on the paper, for union with Russia.

Russia has the right to keep forces on the Black Sea peninsula, including at its naval base in the port of Sevastopol, under a treaty signed after Ukraine gained independence from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But Ukrainian acting defence minister Ihor Tenyukh accused Moscow of going far beyond an agreed limit on servicemen – which he said was 12,500 for 2014.

“Unfortunately, in a very short period of time, this 12,500 has grown to 22,000. This is a crude violation of the bilateral agreements and is proof that Russia has unlawfully brought its troops onto the territory of Crimea,” he said.

This figure had risen from 18,400 on Friday. “Let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it,” he told Interfax news agency.

Tenyukh later said that the defence ministries in Kiev and Moscow had declared a truce until March 21 during which Russian forces, who have been arriving by boat and helicopter, would leave Ukrainian military facilities untouched.

Many Crimeans hope union with Russia will bring better pay and make them citizens of a country capable of asserting itself on the world stage. But others saw the referendum as a land grab by the Kremlin from Ukraine, whose new rulers want to move the country towards the European Union and away from Russia’s sway.

Putin defended the vote in a phone call on Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying it complied with international law, including Article 1 of the U.N. Charter which states the principle of self-determination of peoples. “It was emphasized that Russia will respect the choice of the Crimean people,” a Kremlin statement said.

Putin has said he must protect the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine from “fascists” in Kiev who ousted Yanukovich. Western powers largely dismiss his characterisation of the new authorities as successors of Nazi-allied Ukrainian forces which fought the Red Army in World War Two.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Kerry on Sunday to encourage authorities in Kiev to stop what he called “massive lawlessness” against the Russian-speaking population.

In their second phone conversation in two days, Lavrov and Kerry agreed to seek a solution to the crisis by pushing for constitutional reforms in Ukraine, Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

However, Kerry told Lavrov that the United States would not accept the referendum result and said Russia must pull back its forces to their bases, a senior State Department official said.

The White House also warned Putin that he faces international isolation that will hurt Russia’s economy. “You can expect sanctions designations in the coming days,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told NBC’s Meet the Press.

The administration is preparing to identify Russians whom the United States will seek to punish with visa bans and asset freezes that President Obama authorised last week.

At the United Nations, 13 Security Council members voted for a draft resolution on Saturday saying the Crimea result should not be recognised internationally, but Moscow exercised its veto while China abstained.

Tensions over Crimea appear also to be spreading in cyberspace. Unidentified hackers brought down several public NATO websites with attacks on Saturday, the alliance said.

Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Twitter that the attacks, which began on Saturday evening, continued on Sunday, although most services had now been restored.

“It doesn’t impede our ability to command and control our forces. At no time was there any risk to our classified networks,” another NATO official said.

A group calling itself “cyber berkut” – named after riot police formally disbanded by the central powers in Kiev – said the attack had been carried out by patriotic Ukrainians angry over what they saw as NATO interference in their country.

Apart from Crimea, tension is also running high in parts of the Russian-speaking industrialised east of Ukraine near the border with Russia, with clashes between rival demonstrators that Moscow has seized on to support its case that ethnic Russians are being victimised.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: Newsmax.com

Hagel Orders Same-Sex Benefits for All National Guards.


Image: Hagel Orders Same-Sex Benefits for All National Guards

By Lisa Barron

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the National Guards in all states to issue ID cards that enable same-sex spouses of military members to claim benefits.

Blasting nine states that have refused to do so, Hagel said in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League in New York on Thursday, “This is wrong,” reports The Hill.

Urgent: ObamaCare Is About to Strike — Are You Prepared?

“Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to,” Hagel said in prepared remarks.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Pentagon issued a directive that same-sex partners of military members would be eligible for the same healthcare, housing, and other benefits available by opposite-sex spouses.

But some states have refused to offer the necessary Pentagon ID cards on National Guard facilities, arguing that doing so conflicted with their state bans on same-sex marriage.
Hagel did not name those states, but the Pentagon has cited nine: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia,reports Fox News.

The Pentagon said there are 114 Army and Air National Guard sites in those states that are not providing ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses.

Hagel said he instructed Gen. Frank Grass, who heads the National Guard, to meet with the Guard state leaders in the nine states to resolve the issue.

A senior defense official told The Hill that Hagel is prepared “to take further action” if the states do not comply.

Hagel announced the order in his keynote address for the ADL’s Centennial dinner, which was honoring his predecessor, Leon Panetta.

He also used his speech to announce that he has directed the Marine Corps to expedite the manufacture and delivery to Israel of V-22 Osprey aircraft, hybrids that take off and land like a helicopter and cruise like an airplane, according to Fox.

Urgent: ObamaCare Is About to Strike — Are You Prepared?

Hagel also offered assurances that pursuing diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program is a way of testing Tehran’s intentions.

“As we engage Iran with our partners, we are very clear-eyed about reality in the Middle East. But foreign policy is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “If we can find ways to resolve disputes peacefully, we are wise to explore them.”

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

National Guard Soldiers, Airmen to be Furloughed.


More than 1,100 National Guard soldiers and airmen in Hawaii — and thousands in other states — will be living with 20 percent less pay over the next three months as the Defense Department carries out automatic federal budget cuts.

Guard members will be furloughed for one day a week starting Monday, so helicopter pilots and mechanics, pay and finance clerks and others who keep the guard operating will have eight hours less each week to do their jobs.

It’s not clear precisely what effects the unprecedented cuts will have. They could, however, make it more difficult for the guard to fly helicopters to help put out wildfires or rush to the scene of natural disasters in trucks.

“Our general sense is that short-term, it’s going to be a terrible hardship for those soldiers, airmen and their families. But if it goes on for any length of time, that may have a negative impact on our readiness and our ability to respond,” said Hawaii National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony.

The military’s furloughs were only supposed to involve civilians, but large numbers of National Guard members who wear Army and Air Force uniforms full-time will experience them as well. The National Guard added military technicians to the furlough list in May, after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave official notice to begin furloughs for civilians.

It’s not immediately clear how many uniformed personnel will be affected nationwide.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the furloughs, which will affect nearly 1,000 guardsmen in his state, are his biggest concern for this summer’s hurricane season.

Some units will be exempt, like the 169th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron responsible for tracking aircraft in the skies above Hawaii. The 199th Fighter Squadron, which protects Hawaii airspace with F-22s, will be somewhat shielded from the effects of the cuts because it has a large number of active duty airmen.

But many others will have to squeeze 40 hours of work into 32 hours, and receive one-fifth less pay.

It could become difficult for mechanics to maintain helicopters and trucks at the same pace, meaning fewer aircraft and vehicles may be available when needed. Guardsmen who plan drills for the part-time soldiers and airmen who train on the weekend might have difficulty getting exercises ready.

“We don’t know what will fall by the wayside because we’ve never had to do this before,” Anthony said.

Commanders are trying to help guardsmen cope.

They invited financial and stress management counselors to talk to two groups of soldiers and airmen on Oahu, where the majority of Hawaii’s full-time guardsmen work and live. The guard is sending a DVD recording of one of the sessions to guardsmen and women on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii islands.

Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong, the adjutant general, advised more than a hundred gathered on Monday that the budget cuts could last into the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1, but it’s not known whether furloughs will continue.

He stressed he was available to help and shared his cellphone number with everyone in the room.

“You never want this to have happen to people under your watch,” Wong said.

A financial counselor urged attendees to consider trimming unnecessary expenses like finance charges on credit cards, giving up cable TV and eating out less. He recommended telling children about the pay cuts and explaining why mom and dad can’t afford to buy the same things as before.

Guardsmen could think about the good things that could come from furloughs, a family counselor suggested, like having more time to spend with family.

Spc. Christian Pasco, 27, who paints Humvees and other equipment, said he plans to talk to a financial counselor because he needs “somebody to tell me to stop spending my money.”

Sgt. 1st Class Soloman Makaneole, a helicopter electrician who just returned from a nine-month deployment to Kosovo, said his family already has been cutting spending by eating out less often and packing lunches. His wife, a civilian Army employee, and mother-in-law, who works for the Navy as a civilian, are also being furloughed.

“A lot of it is common sense. For some people it’s a shock because it’s probably something new to them. I’m been without before, so it’s not shocking. I can survive,” Makaneole said.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Wintry storm brings new woe to hard-hit Northeast.


 

  • Evacuation Warning In Effect For Several Areas Ahead Of Nor’easterCBS-Newyork  2:19CBS2’s Weijia Jiang reports from Rockaway Park. (11/7/2012)

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – A wintry storm dropped snow and rain on the Northeast on Wednesday, bringing dangerous winds and knocking out power in a region where hundreds of thousands were still in the dark after Superstorm Sandy.

The nor’easter storm brought fresh misery to thousands in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut whose homes were destroyed by Sandy when it smashed ashore on October 29, bringing historic flooding and high winds. The storm killed 120 people in the United States and Canada.

Some 22,000 homes and businesses from the Carolinas to New York lost power on Wednesday, joining the more than 640,000 customers who still lacked electricity from one of the biggest and costliest storms ever to hit the United States.

New York and New Jersey evacuated the most vulnerable coastal areas ahead of the nor’easter, which was forecast to bring a high tide about 2 feet above normal by early Thursday.

No major flooding was reported during the storm’s first hours, though New York warned residents whose homes had flooded during Sandy to consider moving to friends’ homes on higher ground or to city shelters.

Christine Jones, 73, said she had continued to live without heat or power in her beachside apartment building in coastal Far Rockaway in New York – even though it means climbing the stairs to her 10th floor apartment with a flashlight in hand.

“They tell us to evacuate,” she said, but she and her neighbors do not want to leave. “They’re scared they’re going to be robbed … The teen-age boys … they try to break in.”

In any case, Jones’ 1999 Buick was dead after water from the Atlantic Ocean washed over it during Sandy, leaving her with no means to evacuate the narrow peninsula she calls home.

‘WAITING FOR LOCUSTS AND PESTILENCE’

But authorities warned weary residents not to ignore this storm’s dangers.

“You have to prepare for the storm that’s coming in a few hours,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told residents. “I’m waiting for the locusts and pestilence next,” he joked, in a reference to Old Testament plagues.

The low-pressure weather system brought wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour and could drop 2 inches to 4 inches of snow on New York City, the National Weather Service said.

Ice pellets hit Long Island and the storm lifted wave heights to nearly 20 feet off Nantucket, Massachusetts, AccuWeather reported.

School districts in Connecticut sent students home early as a precaution and the New York Stock Exchange removed the giant U.S. flag from its facade to protect it from high winds.

A mix of rain and snow fell on parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, causing airport delays.

Airlines canceled more than 1,700 flights, with Newark airport facing the most cancellations, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

TEN DAYS WITHOUT HEAT

Cold and snow was particularly bad news to residents who lost heat.

“It’s coming up on 10 days with people being freezing in their homes,” said Peter DiPaola, town supervisor of Pelham, north of New York City.

“I lost all my winter clothing in the flood, so I am wearing three layers of things in order to stay somewhat warm and dry,” said Wayne Steinman, a resident of Staten Island, one of the parts of New York City hardest hit by Sandy. “Everything becomes overwhelming.”

Utilities warned that the storm would slow their efforts to restore power to homes and businesses.

“Up until today we have been making some good restoration progress. We’ve had some good restoration weather, but today is certainly an exception,” said John Miksad, senior vice president of electric operations at New York-area utility Consolidated Edison Inc. “We actually pulled back as a result of the weather today but we will be back out there first thing tomorrow morning.”

New York City authorities said they distributed 1,500 space heaters to residents of coastal Broad Channel and Rockaway, two low-lying neighborhoods that were hard hit by Sandy’s storm surge.

Many gasoline stations remained shut around the region, complicating residents’ efforts to flee the new storm.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed parks and beaches and temporarily halted outdoor construction ahead of the storm.

On the devastated New Jersey shore, a summer tourist haven where Sandy’s storm surge pushed entire homes across the street, the town of Brick issued a mandatory evacuation order for waterfront neighborhoods ahead of Wednesday’s storm. Middletown also ordered evacuations.

(Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino, Elly Park, Sebastian Rocandio and Michelle Nichols in New York and Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Writing by Scott Malone, Editing by Philip Barbara and Jim Loney)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Karen Freifeld and Daniel Trotta | Reuters

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