TIME

All Filipino Peacekeepers Escape Golan Standoff

Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.
In this handout photo released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office, Military Chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., left seated, conducts an online video conference with 7th Philippine Contingent to Golan Heights commander Lt. Col. Ted Damusmog, as they meet at Camp Aguinaldo military headquarters in suburban Quezon city, Philippines Aug. 30, 2014. Armed Forces of the Philippines—AP

(MANILA, Philippines) — The Philippine military chief says more than 70 Filipino peacekeepers have escaped from two areas in the Golan Heights that came under attack by Syrian rebels.

Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said Sunday in the Philippine capital, Manila, that the Filipino peacekeepers separately moved to positions that were safely away from any further threat.

According to Catapang, the Filipinos were surrounded by the rebels and had to return fire in self-defense before managing to escape after a seven-hour siege.

Catapang says: “We may call it the greatest escape.”

The clashes came after Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra crossing on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijian peacekeepers.

TIME Iraq

U.S. Air Strikes and Aid for Iraqi Town Under Siege

(WASHINGTON) — Aircraft from the United States, Australia, France and Britain dropped food and water to the beleaguered Iraqi town of Amirli, which has been under siege by Islamic State militants for nearly two months, the Pentagon said Saturday night. U.S. airstrikes supported the humanitarian mission.

Thousands of Shiite Turkmen have been stranded in the farming community about 105 miles north of Baghdad. The aid came at the request of the Iraqi government, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

Military operations will be limited in scope and duration as needed to address the humanitarian crisis in Amirli and protect the civilians trapped in the town, Kirby said.

Instead of fleeing in the face of the Islamic State drive across northern Iraq, the Shiite Turkmens have stayed and fortified their town of 15,000 with trenches and armed positions.

While Amirli fought off the initial attack in June, it has been surrounded by the militants since mid-July. Some residents have said that the Iraqi military’s efforts to fly in food, water and other aid have not been enough amid oppressive heat, lack of electrical power — the town’s power station was destroyed weeks ago — and shelling from the militants.

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, which began earlier this month, have targeted Islamic State militants attacking Yazidi Iraqis on Mount Sinjar and the militant forces operating in the vicinity of Ibril and Mosul Dam. The beleaguered Yazidis received several humanitarian drops of tons of food and water as well as military support aimed at protecting them.

Earlier Saturday, U.S. Central Command said five more airstrikes had taken place against Islamic State militants near Mosul Dam. Those attacks, carried out by fighter aircraft and unmanned drones, brought to 115 the total number of airstrikes across Iraq since Aug. 8.

TIME russia

EU Sets Russia Ultimatum, Threatens Sanctions

BRUSSELS — The European Union is giving Russia a one-week ultimatum to scale back its intervention in Ukraine or face additional economic sanctions.

EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy said early Sunday that the bloc’s 28 leaders tasked its executive body to “urgently undertake preparatory work for consideration within a week.”

He says “everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly.”

Still, in apparent fear of an economic backlash, EU leaders shied away from immediately imposing tougher sanctions. Russia is the EU’s No. 3 trading partner and one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers.

The fighting between the military and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has claimed 2,600 lives, according to U.N. figures. NATO estimates at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine. Russia denies that.

 

TIME foreign affairs

Garry Kasparov: It’s a War, Stupid!

AP10ThingsToSee- Ukraine
A Pro-Russian rebel walks in a passage at the local market damaged by shelling in Petrovskiy district in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 26, 2014. Mstislav Chernov—AP

This vocabulary of cowardice emanating from Berlin and Washington is as disgraceful as the black-is-white propaganda produced by Putin’s regime, and even more dangerous

As Russian troops and armored columns advance in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian government begs for aid from the free world it hoped would receive it and protect it as one of its own. The leaders of the free world, meanwhile, are struggling to find the right terminology to free themselves from the moral responsibility to provide that protection. Putin’s bloody invasion of a sovereign European nation is an incursion, much like Crimea — remember Crimea? — was an “uncontested arrival” instead of Anschluss. A civilian airliner was blown out of the sky just six weeks ago –—remember MH17? — and with more than 100 victims still unidentified the outrage has already dissipated into polite discussions about whether it should be investigated as a crime, a war crime, or neither.

This vocabulary of cowardice emanating from Berlin and Washington today is as disgraceful as the black-is-white propaganda produced by Putin’s regime, and even more dangerous. Moscow’s smokescreens are hardly necessary in the face of so much willful blindness. Putin’s lies are obvious and expected. European leaders and the White House are even more eager than the Kremlin to pretend this conflict is local and so requires nothing more than vague promises from a very safe distance. As George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay on language right before starting work on his novel 1984 (surely not a coincidence): “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The Western rhetoric of appeasement creates a self-reinforcing loop of mental and moral corruption. Speaking the truth now would mean confessing to many months of lies, just as it took years for Western leaders to finally admit Putin didn’t belong in the G-7 club of industrialized democracies.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko just met with President Obama in Washington, but Obama’s subsequent statement showed no sign he’s willing to acknowledge reality. Generic wishes about “mobilizing the international community” were bad enough six months ago. Hearing them repeated as Ukrainian towns fall to Russian troops is a parody. (If legitimacy is what Obama is after, Russia is clearly in violation of nearly every point of the 1974 UN Resolution 3314, “definition of aggression.”) Perhaps Poroshenko should have matched Obama’s casual wardrobe by wearing a t-shirt that read “It’s a War, Stupid.” As Russian tanks and artillery push back the overmatched Ukrainian forces, Obama’s repeated insistence that there is no military solution in Ukraine sounds increasingly delusional. There is no time to teach a drowning man to swim.

The United States, Canada, and even Europe have responded to Putin’s aggression, it is true, but always a few moves behind, always after the deterrent potential of each action had passed. Strong sanctions and a clear demonstration of support for Ukrainian territorial integrity (as I recommended at the time) would have had real impact when Putin moved on Crimea in February and March. A sign that there would be real consequences would have split his elites as they pondered the loss of their coveted assets in New York and London.

Then in April and May, the supply of defensive military weaponry would have forestalled the invasion currently underway, or at least raised its price considerably — making the Russian public a factor in the Kremlin’s decision-making process much earlier. Those like me who called for such aid at the time were called warmongers, and policy makers again sought dialogue with Putin. And yet war has arrived regardless, as it always does in the face of weakness.

As one of the pioneers of the analogy I feel the irony in how it has quickly gone from scandal to cliché to compare Putin to Hitler, for better and for worse. Certainly Putin’s arrogance and language remind us more and more of Hitler’s, as does how well he has been rewarded for them. For this he can thank the overabundance of Chamberlains in the halls of power today — and there is no Churchill in sight.

As long as it is easy, as long as Putin moves from victory to victory without resistance, he gains more support. He took Crimea with barely a shot fired. He flooded Eastern Ukraine with agents and weaponry while Europe dithered. The oligarchs who might have pressured Putin at the start of his Ukrainian adventure are now war criminals with no way back. The pressure points now are harder to reach.

The Russian military commanders, the ones in the field, are not fools. They are aware that NATO is watching and could blow them to bits in a moment. They rely on Putin’s aura of invincibility, which grows every day the West refuses to provide Ukraine with military support. Those commanders must be made to understand that they are facing an overwhelming force, that their lives are in grave danger, that they can and will be captured and prosecuted. To make this a credible threat requires immediate military aid, if not yet the “boots on the ground” everyone but Putin is so keen to avoid. If NATO nations refuse to send lethal aid to Ukraine now it will be yet another green light to Putin.

Sanctions are still an important tool, and those directly responsible for commanding this war, such as Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu must be held accountable. Sanctions must also broaden. The chance to limit them only to influential individuals and companies is over. The Russian people can change Putin’s course but have little incentive to take the great risks to do so under current conditions. Only sanctions that bring the costs of Putin’s war home can have an impact now. This was always a last resort, and it wouldn’t be necessary had the West not reacted with such timidity at every step. (The other factor that is already dimming the Russian people’s fervor are the Russian military casualties the Kremlin propaganda machine is trying so hard to cover up.)

As always when it comes to stopping dictators, with every delay the price goes up. Western leaders have protested over the potential costs of action Ukraine at every turn only to be faced with the well-established historical fact that the real costs of inaction are always higher. Now the only options left are risky and difficult, and yet they must be tried. The best reason for acting to stop Putin today is brutally simple: It will only get harder tomorrow.

Kasparov is the chairman of the NY-based Human Rights Foundation.

TIME russia

EU to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Over Ukraine

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders on Saturday were poised to impose new sanctions against Russia as Ukraine’s president warned the conflict with Moscow threatens peace and stability for Europe as a whole.

Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko said a strong EU response is needed because his country is subject to “military aggression and terror.”

“Thousand(s) of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko told reporters, speaking in English. “There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine but for the whole peace and stability of Europe.”

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said before a summit of the 28-nation EU’s leaders in Brussels that “sanctions are not and end in themselves” but a means to dissuade Russia from further destabilizing Ukraine.

“Russia should not underestimate the European Union’s will and resolve to stand by its principles and values,” he told reporters, adding that the escalation seen over the past week cannot go unpunished.

“The opening of new fronts and the use of Russian regular forces (on Ukrainian soil) is not acceptable and represents a grave transgression,” Barroso added.

NATO estimates that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine even though Russia denies any military involvement in the fighting that has so far claimed 2,600 lives, according to U.N. figures.

Conceding ground in the face of a reinvigorated rebel offensive, Ukraine said Saturday that it was abandoning a city where its forces have been surrounded by rebels for days. It was also pulling back from another it had claimed to have taken control of two weeks earlier.

The statements by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national security council, indicate that Ukrainian forces are facing increasingly strong resistance from Russian-backed separatist rebels just weeks after racking up significant gains and forcing rebels out of much of the territory they had held.

Poroshenko, who was meeting with EU leaders later Saturday, said Ukraine would welcome an EU decision to help with military equipment and further intelligence-sharing.

Barroso provided no specifics about which sanctions the heads of state and government might adopt to inflict more economic pain to nudge Russia toward a political solution. “No one’s interest is served by new wars on our continent,” Barroso said.

The EU leaders were likely make a political decision Saturday, with the exact targets of sanctions to be divulged by the EU executive in the coming days.

The United States and the EU have so far imposed sanctions against dozens of Russian officials, several companies and the country’s financial industry. Moscow has retaliated by banning food imports.

New EU sanctions have to be agreed unanimously — a requirement that has in the past blocked or softened decisions since some nations fear the economic fallout. Russia is the EU’s third-largest trading partner and one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers.

Barroso said that the EU — a bloc encompassing half a billion people and stretching from Lisbon to the border with Ukraine — stands ready to grant Kiev further financial assistance if needed. The bloc will also organize a donors’ conference to help rebuild the country’s east at the end of the year, he added.

On the ground, fighting continued.

Ukrainian forces had been surrounded by rebels in the town of Ilovaysk, avout 20 kilometers (15 miles) east of the largest rebel-held city of Donetsk for days.

“We are surrendering this city,” Ukraine’s Lysenko told reporters. “Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup.”

Lysenko said that regular units of the military had been ordered to retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivka earlier in August.

Separately, Ukrainian forces said one of their Su-25 fighter jets was shot down Friday over eastern Ukraine by a missile from a Russian missile launcher. The pilot ejected and was uninjured, the military said in a brief statement.

TIME Syria

Syrian Rebels Attack UN Peacekeepers in Golan Heights

ISRAEL-SYRIA-PHILIPPINES-CONFLICT-UN
A UN peacekeeper runs past vehicles at the UN headquarters next to the Quneitra crossing, the only border crossing between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights, Aug. 30, 2014. Ahmad Gharabli—AFP/Getty Images

BEIRUT — Clashes erupted between al-Qaida-linked Syrian rebels and U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Saturday after the militants surrounded their encampment, activists and officials said, as the international organization risked being sucked further into the conflict.

Other U.N. peacekeepers were able to flee from a different encampment that that was also surrounded by rebels of the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, they said.

The clashes came after Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra crossing — located on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan Heights — on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijian peacekeepers.

The Nusra Front also surrounded the nearby Rwihana and Breiqa encampments, where other U.N. peacekeepers were holed up.

The gunbattle began early Saturday at the Rwihana base some 1.5 miles (2.3 kilometers) from Quneitra, where 40 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded by Nusra fighters who were ordering them to surrender, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Philippines’ Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin gave a similar account but did not name the armed group.

Abdurrahman, whose information comes from a network of activists throughout Syria, said he was not aware of any fatalities among the 40 Filipino peacekeepers in the Rwihana encampment as sporadic fighting continued throughout the day. A Philippine military spokesman, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, also said there were no casualties.

The U.N. mission, known as UNDOF, has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned Saturday’s attack on U.N. peacekeepers’ positions in the Golan Heights, in a statement released by his spokesman.

“The Secretary General demands the unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers and calls upon all parties to cooperate fully with UNDOF to enable it to operate freely and to ensure full safety and security of its personnel and assets,” the statement said.

The 35 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers at the Breiqa encampment were extracted on Saturday morning, with the assistance of Irish peacekeepers who rushed to the scene, said officials.

The Irish U.N. peacekeeper battalion, which is tasked with emergency responses, evacuated all the Filipino U.N. peacekeepers on Saturday morning, said a military official who spoke on condition that his name and country of origin not be revealed, citing army policy.

He said there was no shooting involved, and no injuries. He said that the Irish battalion also evacuated another base on Friday but provided no further details.

Gazmin confirmed that peacekeepers from his country were “extricated.” The Philippine military said there were 35 Filipino troops in the encampment.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed that a number of U.N. peacekeepers entered Israel. He spoke on condition of anonymity citing military guidelines.

It was not immediately clear which rebel group was holding the Fijian U.N. peacekeepers, although it was likely to be the Nusra Front, said Syrian activist Abdurrahman.

The Nusra Front has recently seized hostages to exchange for prisoners detained in Syria and Lebanon.

The situation of the peacekeepers, tasked with monitoring a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel, remains “very, very fluid,” the U.N. secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters Friday at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

The U.N. said in a statement that it had received assurances from credible sources that the Fijian peacekeepers “are safe and in good health.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the detention of the Fijians and called for their immediate release.

Various rebel groups have been engaged in intense fighting with the Syrian military in and near the Golan Heights.

Also Saturday, a Syrian activist released a video showing extremists from the Islamic State group opening fire and killing dozens of men stripped down to their underwear.

The men in the video were likely those who were captured after the extremists overran a Syrian airfield on Sunday; Syrian soldiers who were stuck behind front lines after the northeastern Tabqa air base fell to the Islamic State group.

The video, released by an activist who uses the name Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, corresponded with The Associated Press reporting of the event. It matched a series of other videos that were released since Wednesday. One video showed the men being held in a concrete-floor room; another showed the men forced to march through a barren landscape in their underwear, herded like sheep. Another showed their seemingly lifeless bodies in piles on the ground.

The British-based Observatory earlier said around 120 captive government troops from Tabqa were killed near the base.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.

The Islamic State group uses violence and images of violence, from mass-killings to beheadings, to instill fear in its opponents and win recruits as it seeks to expand a proto-state it has carved out in Syria and Iraq.

 

TIME Iraq

John Kerry Calls for Global Coalition to Fight ISIS Militants

John Kerry
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2014 file photo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gestures as he speaks to the media during a press conference at the conclusion of the AUSMIN talks at Admiralty House in Sydney, Aug. 12, 2014. Dan Himbrechts—AP

"No decent country can support the horrors perpetrated by ISIS"

The United States needs to rally a broad alliance of nations to oppose the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in an op-ed published Friday, even as the Pentagon mulls the potential for new airstrikes against Islamic extremists in Syria.

In a column published Friday by the New York Times, Kerry wrote that a united response by a determined coalition is necessary in order to prevent “the cancer of ISIS” from spreading.

“No decent country can support the horrors perpetrated by ISIS, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to help stamp out this disease,” Kerry wrote. “Coalition building is hard work, but it is the best way to tackle a common enemy.”

Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are meeting European allies at a NATO summit in Wales next week, and President Barack Obama will aim to rally support at the United Nations Security Council next month for a plan to deal with ISIS.

U.S. operations in Iraq against ISIS forces are already costing $7.5 million per day on average, the military has said, as the Pentagon ramps up airstrikes to defend local populations from the invading extremists. Air operations have shifted the calculus of the fight and aided Iraqi and Kurdish forces, Kerry wrote in the Times, but a much broader response is needed.

“Airstrikes alone won’t defeat this enemy,” Kerry wrote. “A much fuller response is demanded from the world. We need to support Iraqi forces and the moderate Syrian opposition, who are facing ISIS on the front lines. We need to disrupt and degrade ISIS’ capabilities and counter its extremist message in the media. And we need to strengthen our own defenses and cooperation in protecting our people.”

Kerry didn’t address the delicate question about putting American or other troops on the ground, but he did call for military aid, among other kinds of assistance.

“In this battle, there is a role for almost every country. Some will provide military assistance, direct and indirect. Some will provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance for the millions who have been displaced and victimized across the region,” Kerry wrote. “Others will help restore not just shattered economies but broken trust among neighbors.”

[NYT]

TIME Lesotho

Lesotho Military Says It Has Disarmed Police

Observers fear another coup

(JOHANNESBURG) — Lesotho’s military seized two police stations Saturday as gunfire rang out in the capital of the mountainous kingdom. The country’s prime minister said the actions amounted to a coup, though an army spokesman said the soldiers were only securing the country.

Political tensions have been high in the tiny kingdom that is completely surrounded by South Africa since June when there was a power struggle after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence. At the time, South Africa warned against simmering conflict.

“We are calling on the commander of the armed forces to return to the barracks and allow the democratically elected government to return to its business,” Clayson Monyela, spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operations, said Saturday.

He said actions by Lesotho’s military bore the hallmarks of a coup d’etat, but added, “The situation in Lesotho is still unfolding. No one has claimed to take over government … so we are monitoring that … our interest is to see it resolved through peaceful means.”

The military’s actions forced the prime minister to go into hiding, said Monyela. However, the prime minister had earlier told BBC that he is in South Africa visiting his daughter and would return to Lesotho Sunday. Calls to the prime minister’s spokesman and office were not answered.

Monyela said the 15-nation regional group, the Southern African Development Community, will intervene and they are trying to bring all players to the table for talks at this time.

When asked if South Africa would send military, Monyela said that wasn’t under consideration at this time.

“We prefer peaceful resolution to any crisis, particularly if it’s a political crisis … Such things become last resorts,” he said.

Lesotho’s defense forces spokesman Ntlele Ntoi played down the events.

“As we speak now, the situation in Lesotho, in the capital, is back to normal. It’s business as usual,” he told The Associated Press.

The military had gathered intelligence that the police were going to arm factions participating in a demonstration planned for Monday by one of the coalition parties, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, he said. The military disarmed police in the capital, Maseru, to avoid bloodshed, Ntoi said.

An exchange of gunfire between the military, youths and police injured one soldier and four policemen, he said.

“The arms have been removed and they are in military custody. The military has returned to the barracks,” Ntoi said, denying reports of any coup attempt. “We are not in a position now or in the future to stage a coup. All we do is to carry out our mandate to secure our country and property.”

He said that the military did not know if the march will still take place Monday.

Ntoi said he had heard reports that radio stations had been down for a few hours. He said he could not say if they were down for technical problems or because of the military.

But Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane told South Africa’s eNCA television that the military actions amounted to a coup. He said he did not give permission for the action and that something like this should not be happening in a democratic state. He is going to meet with South African officials, and expects South Africa to help his government restore law and order, he said.

Bernard Ntlhoaea, a guard at the U.S. Embassy in Maseru, confirmed that gunfire was heard in the capital early Saturday.

“The military has been moving around from 3 o’clock in the morning, occupying police stations in Maseru and moving around to other districts,” said Ntlhoaea. He said the military was armed and he saw at least one armored personnel carrier on the streets.

The landlocked country’s first coalition government was formed in 2012 after competitive elections that ousted the 14-year incumbent Pakalitha Mosisili, who peacefully stepped down from power. The coalition has since been fragile.

Lesotho has seen unrest in its past and has seen a number of military coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966.

The constitutional government was restored in 1993, after seven years of military rule. Violent protests and a military mutiny in 1998 came after a contentious election prompted intervention by South African military forces. Political stability returned after constitutional reforms, and parliamentary elections were peacefully held in 2002.

South Africa’s Democratic Alliance Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said “today’s events come after heightened political tensions in June this year, which led to the country’s parliament being suspended, as a result of a breakdown of the coalition government.”

Lesotho’s military seized two police stations Saturday as gunfire rang out in the capital of the mountainous kingdom. The country’s prime minister said the actions amounted to a coup, though an army spokesman said the soldiers were only securing the country.

Political tensions have been high in the tiny kingdom that is completely surrounded by South Africa since June when there was a power struggle after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence. At the time, South Africa warned against simmering conflict.

“We are calling on the commander of the armed forces to return to the barracks and allow the democratically elected government to return to its business,” Clayson Monyela, spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operations, said Saturday.

He said actions by Lesotho’s military bore the hallmarks of a coup d’etat, but added, “The situation inLesotho is still unfolding. No one has claimed to take over government … so we are monitoring that … our interest is to see it resolved through peaceful means.”

The military’s actions forced the prime minister to go into hiding, said Monyela. However, the prime minister had earlier told BBC that he is in South Africa visiting his daughter and would return to LesothoSunday. Calls to the prime minister’s spokesman and office were not answered.

Monyela said the 15-nation regional group, the Southern African Development Community, will intervene and they are trying to bring all players to the table for talks at this time.

When asked if South Africa would send military, Monyela said that wasn’t under consideration at this time.

“We prefer peaceful resolution to any crisis, particularly if it’s a political crisis … Such things become last resorts,” he said.

Lesotho’s defense forces spokesman Ntlele Ntoi played down the events.

“As we speak now, the situation in Lesotho, in the capital, is back to normal. It’s business as usual,” he told The Associated Press.

The military had gathered intelligence that the police were going to arm factions participating in a demonstration planned for Monday by one of the coalition parties, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, he said. The military disarmed police in the capital, Maseru, to avoid bloodshed, Ntoi said.

An exchange of gunfire between the military, youths and police injured one soldier and four policemen, he said.

“The arms have been removed and they are in military custody. The military has returned to the barracks,” Ntoi said, denying reports of any coup attempt. “We are not in a position now or in the future to stage a coup. All we do is to carry out our mandate to secure our country and property.”

He said that the military did not know if the march will still take place Monday.

Ntoi said he had heard reports that radio stations had been down for a few hours. He said he could not say if they were down for technical problems or because of the military.

But Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane told South Africa’s eNCA television that the military actions amounted to a coup. He said he did not give permission for the action and that something like this should not be happening in a democratic state. He is going to meet with South African officials, and expects South Africa to help his government restore law and order, he said.

Bernard Ntlhoaea, a guard at the U.S. Embassy in Maseru, confirmed that gunfire was heard in the capital early Saturday.

“The military has been moving around from 3 o’clock in the morning, occupying police stations in Maseru and moving around to other districts,” said Ntlhoaea. He said the military was armed and he saw at least one armored personnel carrier on the streets.

The landlocked country’s first coalition government was formed in 2012 after competitive elections that ousted the 14-year incumbent Pakalitha Mosisili, who peacefully stepped down from power. The coalition has since been fragile.

Lesotho has seen unrest in its past and has seen a number of military coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966.

The constitutional government was restored in 1993, after seven years of military rule. Violent protests and a military mutiny in 1998 came after a contentious election prompted intervention by South African military forces. Political stability returned after constitutional reforms, and parliamentary elections were peacefully held in 2002.

South Africa’s Democratic Alliance Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said “today’s events come after heightened political tensions in June this year, which led to the country’s parliament being suspended, as a result of a breakdown of the coalition government.”

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Warns Against Ukraine Travel

People walk past a building damaged by shelling in Snizhne (Snezhnoye), Donetsk region
People walk past a building damaged by shelling in Snizhne, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Aug. 29, 2014. Maxim Shemetov—Reuters

Escalating conflict in the region prompted the new travel advisory for Americans

The U.S. State Department warned Americans Friday to avoid traveling to eastern Ukraine, in response to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine’s armed forces and Russia-backed separatists.

“The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly,” the statement said. “U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors and shelter in place for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.”

The announcement identified the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have been plagued with violent outbreaks for months, as the key areas to avoid. U.S. citizens have been threatened and detained in the region, according to the release. It also advised Americans to “defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula.”

The U.S. announcement comes as the conflict in Ukraine continues to escalate with each passing day. Up to 1,ooo Russian troops appeared to enter Ukraine on Friday, and the Ukrainian government responded by instituting a mandatory conscription.

TIME natural disaster

Volcano Erupts in Papua New Guinea, Diverting Flights

PNG-VOLCANO
A photo taken on August 29, 2014, shows Mount Tavurvur erupting in eastern Papua New Guinea, spewing rocks and ash into the air, forcing the evacuation of local communities and international flights to be re-routed. Joyce Lessimanuaja—AFP/Getty Images

A volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea on Friday sent smoke and ash spewing high over the South Pacific island nation, leading some aircraft to alter their flight paths.

Mount Tavurvur on East New Britain Island erupted hours before dawn, a bulletin from the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory said. There have been no reports of injuries…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

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