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The news in brief

Monday, April 07, 2014 - Updated: 9:58 AM

Pro-Russians call eastern Ukraine independent

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Pro-Russian separatists who seized a provincial administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk proclaimed the region independent today -- an echo of events prior to Russia's annexation of Crimea. Ukrainian authorities called the move an attempt by Russia to sow unrest.

The Interfax news agency said the activists demanded that a referendum be held no later than May 11 on the possible secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia.

Outside the administration building, a barricade of car tires and razor wire was built up to keep police from retaking it. Police said those inside the building were armed.

President Oleksandr Turchinov called the events gripping eastern regions -- where pro-Russian activists seized government buildings in at least three cities Sunday -- an operation undertaken by Russia to sow instability.

"Anti-terrorism measures will be adopted against those that took up weapons," Turchinov said, adding that parliament would convene Tuesday to consider tougher penalties for separatist actions and even ban parties that engage in separatism.

Earlier in the day, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also accused Russia of being behind the unrest that broke out in the country's eastern provinces Sunday and of seeking to sow instability as a pretext for sending troops across the border.

Afghan elections hailed as triumph of democracy

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghans and the international community hailed its presidential election as a triumph of democracy over violence Sunday, despite complaints about ballot shortages and sporadic fraud after millions of people braved a Taliban threat to vote for a new president. But some cautioned against declaring a premature defeat of the Islamic militants.

Securing the vote was a test for Afghan government forces as they prepare to take full responsibility for their own security as the U.S. and allied forces end their combat mission at the end of this year. The consensus was that they largely passed, though there was sporadic violence.

A roadside bomb hit a pickup truck transporting ballot boxes Sunday in the northern province of Kunduz, killing three people, officials said. But the major attacks that had been feared did not materialize.

"This in itself is a victory over violence and a victory over all those who wanted to deter democracy by threats and violence," said Thijs Berman, the head of the European Union's election assessment team in Kabul.

Electoral officials, meanwhile, urged patience, saying officials continued to log complaints and tally ballots. The ballots were coming from more than 20,000 polling stations nationwide, some in extremely remote and rural areas. They were being transported to tally centers in all 34 provinces before the results reach Kabul.

Rwanda commemorates 20 years since genocide

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- Rwanda is commemorating the 20th anniversary of its devastating genocide in which machete and gunfire attacks killed more than 1 million people.

President Paul Kagame and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon together lit a flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre today in memory of those killed.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, attended and said genocide is a "devastating reminder that nightmares seemingly beyond imagination can in fact take place."

Ceremonies will continue at Kigali's main sports stadium, where thousands will participate in an evening candlelight ceremony.

Rwanda's 1994 genocide was carried out by extremist Hutus against Tutsis and some moderate Hutus. Kagame has won praise ending that violence and making advances in economic development and health care, although he is criticized for authoritarian control.

Pistorius takes the stand, defense opens its case

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- The defense in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial opened its case today, calling a pathologist in an effort to cast doubt on the prosecution's assertion that girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp ate no more than two hours before the double-amputee runner killed her.

The testimony by Prof. Jan Botha was critical to the defense because Pistorius has claimed the couple was in his bedroom by 10 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2013, and any indication that they were awake much later could undermine the Olympian's account of the sequence of events. Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp after 3 a.m. the next morning, saying he mistook her for an intruder in his home. The prosecution has argued that he intentionally killed her after an argument.

Botha said the time frame of digestion was difficult to assess because of variations in many factors, including the volume of food consumed, its caloric content and the psychology of the person who was eating. The testimony countered statements by a pathologist called by the prosecution who said that, judging by the food contents in her stomach, Steenkamp probably last ate no more than two hours before her death.

     

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