TIME europe

Russia Dismisses U.N. Resolution on Crimea as ‘Counterproductive’

Moscow says it won't change course of United Nations vote

Russia on Friday dismissed as “counterproductive” the United Nations resolution calling Moscow’s annexation of the breakaway Crimea region from Ukraine illegal.

“The counterproductive initiative with the General Assembly’s resolution only complicates efforts to stabilize the internal political crisis in Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website.

The U.N. vote a day earlier had declared Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal and invalid, but Russia said that won’t make it change course. The annexation has been widely criticized by western countries, and has prompted growing concerns that Russia may try to seize a larger part of Ukraine. American officials are watching Russian troops massed along the Ukraine border with an increasingly wary eye.

TIME europe

Russian Forces Double Along Ukraine Border

Russian forces storm a Ukrainian military base in the village of Belbek, Crimea.
Russian forces storm a Ukrainian military base in the village of Belbek, Crimea, March 22, 2014. Mauricio Lima—The New York Times/Redux

American officials are worried that 50,000 Russian troops being massed near the Ukraine border and within Crimea, the pro-Russian peninsula recently annexed by President Vladimir Putin, aren't there for just a training exercise

Despite Russian reassurances that Moscow’s troop buildup along Ukraine’s eastern frontier is for a military exercise, its growing scale is making U.S. officials nervous about its ultimate aim.

President Barack Obama on Friday urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to pull its troops back to “de-escalate the situation.” He told CBS that the troop buildup may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that [Russia has] additional plans.”

Pentagon officials say they believe there could be close to 50,000 Russian troops bordering the former Soviet republic and inside Crimea, recently seized and annexed by Moscow. That estimate is double earlier assessments, and means Russian President Vladimir Putin could order a lighting strike into Ukrainian territory with the forces already in place. The higher troop count was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“We continue to see the Russian military reinforce units on their side of the border with Ukraine to the south and to the east of Ukraine,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday. “They continue to reinforce and it continues to be unclear exactly what the intent there is.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf played down the notion that there are as many as 100,000 Russian troops now bordering Ukraine, as Olexander Motsyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., said Thursday on Capitol Hill. “I hadn’t actually seen the hundred-thousand number,” Harf said. “There are huge numbers of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. … We are concerned about Russia taking further escalatory steps with whatever number of tens of thousands of troops they have there, and have called on them not to do so.”

Washington got those assurances that the Russian troop buildup was only an exercise from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu a week ago. But no one in the U.S. government knows if Putin agrees—or if the Russian leader has changed his mind as the West has debated what level of economic and political sanctions might be imposed if Moscow takes an additional chunk of Ukraine beyond Crimea. “They made it clear that their intent was to do exercises and not to cross the border,” Kirby said. “Our expectation is they’re going to live up to that word.”

There is no plan to involve the U.S. military in what is happening in Ukraine, even if Russia takes more territory. Ukraine borders Russia, and Ukraine does not belong to NATO, where an attack on one member is deemed to be an attack on all.

“Should the Russians continue to move aggressively in that region and in the Ukraine, what does that mean—and NATO would have to respond, for example—what would that mean for the United States Army?” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, asked the Army’s top officer Thursday.

“My responsibility is to make sure that the U.S. Army is prepared to respond as part of a joint force, as part of NATO,” General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, responded. “So what I’m focused on is improving our readiness in combat, combat service support and combat aviation capabilities to make sure we’re ready to respond whether it’s from a humanitarian assistance aspect or any other aspect.”

How many of the 67,000 U.S. troops in Europe might be involved? “I simply don’t know,” Odierno said. “And I would just remind people that, actually, some of the soldiers that are assigned to Europe actually right now are in Afghanistan.”

Lawmakers suggested that the world is abandoning Ukraine. “It appears to me Ukraine was left defenseless over the last two decades,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.

“Ukraine has stood with us both in Iraq and Afghanistan,” added Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. “We’re highly appreciative and recognize their sacrifice.”

The U.S. has made plain it is not rushing military aid of any kind to Ukraine, despite Kiev’s requests. Ukraine has sought lethal military aid—small arms and ammunition—but that is off the table. “The rations, the Meals Ready to Eat, they are on the way,” Kirby said. “We expect them to arrive in Ukraine probably by the weekend is the best estimate. They’re going over land.”

Obama stressed Thursday that economic and political sanctions would be the primary weapons the international community would be brandishing to curb Russian aggression against Ukraine. “I’ve been very clear in saying that we are going to do everything we can to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” he said in Rome. “But I think that it’s also important for us not to promise and then not be able to deliver.”

TIME animals

10 Stray Sochi Pups Arrive in U.S.

Washington Animal Rescue League Intake Director Maureen Sosa visits with a stray dog from Sochi, Russia, inside its 'doggie den' at the league's shelter March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Washington Animal Rescue League Intake Director Maureen Sosa visits with a stray dog from Sochi, Russia, inside its 'doggie den' at the league's shelter March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Animal rescuers say 10 stray dogs rescued from the Winter Olympics host city, amid reports that Russian authorities were killing them before the Games, have arrived in Washington D.C., where the Washington Animal Rescue League is coordinating their adoption

Americans brought home 28 medals from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but animal rescuers from U.S. couldn’t help bringing home a bundle of four-legged friends, too.

Ten dogs rescued from the streets landed safely in the U.S. on Thursday, Humane Society International said. The dogs landed at Dulles Airport and were brought to Washington D.C., where Washington Animal Rescue League is coordinating their adoption. The dogs are expected to be ready for adoption within weeks. Animal rights activists sprung into action earlier this year after widespread reports that Russian authorities were killing stray dogs before the Winter Olympics got underway.

“We are excited to make the connection for homeless Sochi dogs with loving homes in the United States, with our focus on helping street dogs in Russia and around the world,” Kelly O’Meara of the Humane Society said in a statement. “Our goal is to protect street dogs from cruel and unnecessary killing programs—like the one employed by Sochi officials to ‘clean up’ in advance of the Olympics—by working with governments to create humane and effective dog population management programs.”

“They’re the sweetest, most interactive, very friendly dogs, very adoptable that just happen to be unfortunate enough to be living on the street,” O’Meara told CNN of the dogs up for adoption.

Humane Society International, in partnership with animal rescue organizations in Sochi, led the effort to take in wandering mutts during the Games. American skier and Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy also adopted four dogs during the games, bringing more attention to the doomed fate of many pups on the streets of Sochi. More dogs are expected to arrive from Russia in the coming weeks.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Parents Are Photoshopping Their Babies’ Photos to Help Them Get Into Kindergarten

Students, who live in Shenzhen, leave their school at a public housing estate in Hong Kong, before crossing the border back to mainland China
Parents in Hong Kong are often eager to get their kids into certain schools. Bobby Yip—Reuters

The pressure on Hong Kong children to be achievers now starts before their first birthday

In the fight to get their kids accepted into the best play groups, kindergartens and schools in Hong Kong, some parents are having their offspring photographed at professional studios, and having the images photoshopped to make the kids look “perfect,” the South China Morning Post reports.

The kids, often toddlers so young that they cannot walk, are being photographed in settings to convey different personality traits that will appeal to the principals deciding on admissions — qualities such as “maturity,” or having an “outgoing nature.”

Some of the children are not even a year old.

Parents are also having their children photographed next to certificates and awards. One professional photographer, Yim Chi-lung, said he was asked to take photos of a five-year-old standing in front of 25 trophies and medals.

Admission documents, even for preschool, can consist of 30 to 40 pages of photographs and documents.

According to Dr. Doris Cheng Pui-wah, director of Centre for Childhood Research and Innovation at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, the photoshopping trend reflects a growing inequality in Hong Kong.

“It demonstrates that the standards vary very much between schools, and that there is a growing inequality among the schools. If there wasn’t such a big difference in quality, the parent’s wouldn’t have to worry about getting their kid into the right school”.

[South China Morning Post]



TIME pistorius trial

Pistorius Trial Delayed as Judge’s Aide Hospitalized

Pistorius arrives ahead of  his trial at North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius was expected to testify for the first time Friday © Siphiwe Sibeko – Reuters

Oscar Pistorius, the 27-year-old Paralympian charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013, was expected to take the stand on Friday but will wait until the trial reconvenes on April 7

The judge in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has delayed proceedings until April 7, as one of his two accessors is ill in hospital, AP reports.

The athlete, known as “blade runner” because of his trademark prosthetic limbs, was expected to take the stand Friday as his defense lawyers begin their case. The last four weeks have been taken up by the prosecution.

Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last February and faces a 25-year sentence if convicted of her murder. The 27-year-old South African maintains that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder in his home and shot her through the bathroom door by accident.



TIME Crime

Gangs of ‘Powerfully Built’ Women Are Mugging Tourists on the Streets of Hong Kong

Expatriate men have been targeted by female thieves in bars in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong Bobby Yip—Reuters

One luckless expatriate was picked up and thrown into a trash can by brawny muggers after trying to put up a fight

Groups of black female thieves are prowling Lockhart Road, Hong Kong’s lively red-light strip, looking for expatriate men to rob, the South China Morning Post reports.

The area’s streets are particularly busy this week, thronged with fans from all over the world attending the city’s famous Rugby Sevens tournament. A party atmosphere prevails and binge drinking is the norm during “Sevens week.”

The women, hailing from an unspecified African country, are described as “powerfully built” and standing about 1.8 m tall. They pretend to be customers at bars, where they strike up conversations with their victims. They then flirt or offer sex, get the men drunk and subsequently mug them either on the street or in their hotel rooms.

One unfortunate man was thrown into a trash can by the women when he started struggling after realizing he was getting mugged. Another man, an Australian, had about $1,300 stolen when he took three African women to his hotel room after getting drunk with them in a bar.

The police say many cases are going unreported because the victims are ashamed or because they are only in the city for a few days. Rugby Sevens visitors have been warned to be on their guard.

[South China Morning Post]

TIME Saudi Arabia

Obama Goes to Riyadh to Reassure the Saudis on Security

U.S. President  Obama leaves the Marine One helicopter as he arrives at the Rijksmuseum on the Museumplein in Amsterdam
U.S. President Barack is on a week-long trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Saudi Arabia. © Paul Vreeker – Reuters

But the U.S. President should not expect an easy ride

When U.S. President Barack Obama visits Riyadh Friday, one of the main goals is to convey to the Saudis that the American commitment to their security remains iron-clad, the New York Times reports.

The strategic relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been a stabilizing force in the Middle East for decades, but recently the allies have faced disagreements over policies toward Iran, Syria and Egypt.

“Their view of Mr. Obama is that his entire understanding is wrong. The trust in him is not very high, so he will not have an easy ride, and a lot of hard questions will be put on the table,” Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center, told the Times.

Negotiations with Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, and the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran, have especially worried and angered the Saudis.

[The New York Times]




Pope Francis Is Very Popular Among U.S. Catholics

Pope Francis reaches out to greet the faithful as he arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican March 26, 2014. Tony Gentile—Reuters

Surprise, surprise

One year into his papacy, Pope Francis has won the hearts of 68% of American Catholics, according to a new poll.

Only a paltry one percent have a negative opinion of the 266th Vicar of Christ, reports CBS, and his popularity is spread pretty evenly between female and male adherents.

This esteem trounces his most recent predecessors — Pope Benedict XVI garnered just 40% approval and Pope John Paul II only merited 59%. And the outlook could get even rosier for the first South American pontiff; Pope John Paul’s favorability actually soared to 92% upon his death — a mixed blessing for someone who knew more than most about blessings.


TIME Sri Lanka

The U.N. Will Launch an International Investigation of Alleged War Crimes in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Human Rights
Sri Lankan government supporters demonstrate prior to the vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council AP

The probe comes after years of mounting pressure and several U.S.-led resolutions

The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Thursday to open an international investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebel group during the long and bloody civil war that ended in 2009, the New York Times reports.

The approval comes after years of mounting pressure and several U.S.-led resolutions criticizing the Sri Lankan government for the lack of progress in the investigations of such crimes, which include the shelling of civilians, summary executions, blocking food and aid to civilians and recruiting child soldiers.

The government in Colombo has vehemently refused all calls for an external investigation.

The probe will have an open-ended mandate and will focus on the bloody end-game of the decades-long war from 2002 to 2009.

[New York Times]


Search For Missing Plane Moves North Amid New Clues

Malaysia Airline
Flight lieutenant Jayson Nichols looks at a map as he flies aboard a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the southern Indian Ocean on March 27, 2014 Michael Martina—AFP/Getty Images

The hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is shifting some 680 miles north as new data analysis shows the plane may not have traveled so far south. New radar analysis indicates that the jet was traveling faster than previously thought

Updated: 5:32 a.m. EST on Friday

The search area for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 shifted some 680 miles to the north on Friday after Australia said it had a “credible lead” on where the plane went down based on a new analysis of radar data. But even as a New Zealand military plane quickly spotted objects in the new search area that officials said could be connected to the missing flight, Australian authorities said it likely take until Saturday for ships to arrive in the area and determine if the objects are debris from the Boeing 777.

“This is the normal business of search and rescue operations—that new information comes to light, refined analyses take you to a different place,” John Young, general manager of the emergency response division the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, told reporters. “I don’t count the original work as a waste of time.”

The latest information is based on ongoing analysis of radar data from the area between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, before the plane carrying 239 people vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. A massive international hunt for the plane has followed in recent weeks, making for the longest disappearance in modern aviation history. Malaysian officials said earlier this week that they had determined the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean and that no one survived, but family members of the passengers continue to press for answers and closure.

The new radar analysis, provided by the international investigation team in Malaysia, indicates the 200-ton, twin-engine jetliner was traveling faster than previously thought, burning up more fuel and cutting the possible distance traveled on its southward bearing into the Indian Ocean.

David Brewster, a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, told Reuters it was surprising that the new data analysis only emerged now. “The Malaysians have never really had to handle a search and rescue operation of this nature before so it is maybe complicated by lack of experience,” he said.

The new search area measures some 123,000 sq. miles (319,000 sq km) and is situated 1,150 miles (1,850 km) west of Perth, Australia. All six search vessels are currently relocating to this area and were set to be joined by 10 aircraft throughout the course of Friday. Although the new zone is only one-fifth of the size of the previous area, it is still huge—roughly the size of New Mexico.

Conditions for searching have improved, too. “It is a different ballpark,” Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer of New South Wales University, told the New York Times. “Where they are searching now is more like a subtropical ocean. It is not nearly as bad as the southern Indian Ocean, which should make the search easier.”

Hours of staring out over the vast expanse of featureless ocean is taking its toll on airborne investigators. “It is incredibly fatiguing work,” Flight Lt. Stephen Graham told the Associated Press. “If it’s bright and glaring obviously sunglasses help, but there’s only so much you can do.”

Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, China and the U.S. are all collaborating in the hunt for MH 370, which vanished soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, sparking a massive search for the jet across Southeast Asia.

Investigators believe the plane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members went down in the southern part of the Indian Ocean and are continuing to analyze satellite imagery to pinpoint potential debris. Some 300 objects that may have come from the aircraft have been spotted by satellites, but so far none have been positively identified. Poor weather conditions in the search area have hampered air and sea efforts to closely inspect any of the objects.

“We will continue and we shall not look back,” Malaysian Defense Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein told a press briefing on Friday afternoon.

Anger at the Malaysian authorities’ handling of the disaster has been widespread, especially from relatives of the 153 Chinese nationals on board. Some of China’s largest travel agencies have banned sales of Malaysia Airlines’ tickets in response.

Conversely, a backlash against this criticism is now stirring across social media in Malaysia. Netizens are furious at perceived hypocrisy from Beijing officials demanding greater transparency in light of myriad official cover-ups of accidents and atrocities in the Middle Kingdom, including the Kunming Railway Station massacre earlier this month.

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