An Argentine judge has dismissed cover-up charges against the country’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the 1994 AMIA case.
Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas said there were no elements to justify continuation of an investigation on an alleged political effort by President Kirchner to cover up the role claimed to have been played by Iran in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.
The documents against Kirchner failed to meet “the minimal conditions needed to launch a formal court investigation,” the judge added.
Argentina’s Federal Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita is expected to appeal the ruling.
Pollicita replaced Alberto Nisman who was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment in the capital, Buenos Aires, on January 18.
The initial police report said Nisman had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Nisman’s death came hours before he was to testify in a congressional hearing about the AMIA attack.
The prosecutor had accused a number of high-ranking Argentine officials including President Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and lawmaker Andrés “Cuervo” Larroqu of trying to ‘protect Iranians’ in the case.
The Argentinean president has frequently dismissed the claim against Iran, saying the late prosecutor’s allegations were baseless and absurd.
The “real move against the government was the prosecutor’s death…. They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead. It is that sad and terrible,” the Buenos Aires Herald quoted Kirchner as saying on January 22.
In July 1994, a car bomb exploded at the building of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, also known as AMIA, in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people died and some 300 were injured.
The Israeli regime accuses Tehran of masterminding the terrorist attack. The Islamic Republic of Iran has strongly denied any involvement in the incident.
France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls has slammed a move by three French lawmakers to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I want to condemn this initiative with the greatest strength,” Valls said on Thursday.
“For parliamentarians to go without warning to meet a butcher…. I think it was a moral failing,” he said.
A French Parliamentary delegation headed by French Senator Jean-Pierre Vial, Chairman of the Syrian-French friendship Committee, met with Assad on Wednesday.
“We met Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well,” Jacques Myard, an MP from the opposition Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party, also said.
The French lawmaker described the trip as “a personal mission to see what is going on, to hear [and] listen.”
According to the Syrian state television, the two sides had discussed “the state of Syrian-French relations, as well as the developments in the Arab world and Europe, especially with regard to terrorism.”
During the meeting, Assad said fighting terrorism demands real political will and belief in the fact that the outcome will be in the interest of all people while the dangers will threaten all countries.
“If this issue could be tackled based on this principle, surely we will soon witness tangible positive results,” added the president.
France cut diplomatic ties with Syria in 2012 and supports the militants in Syria, who seek the removal of Assad from power.
The US and its allies, including France, have been throwing their weight behind Takfiri ISIL militants, currently wreaking havoc on Syria and Iraq, in past years.
Reports say US military instructors trained the militants at a secret base in Jordan in 2012. According to reports, some 1,000 French nationals from a wide range of backgrounds are estimated to have left the European country to join the Takfiri militants in Iraq and Syria. Some 400 of them are thought to be currently operating on the ground, while almost 50 were killed.
Argentine legislators have voted to disband the South American country’s intelligence agency and replace it with a new federal body that will be accountable to the Congress.
The lower house of Congress voted 131 to 71 in favor of the bill, which had already been approved by the Senate.
The measure came after President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner drafted a proposal last month to dissolve the Secretariat of Intelligence (SI) and set up a new service to be called the Federal Intelligence Agency, after the government said a renegade spy was linked to the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
Fernandez has said Antonio Stiuso, who for years was the powerful director of operations at the SI, pushed Nisman into filing a formal criminal complaint against her, and was involved in the prosecutor’s death.
On Tuesday, Oscar Parilli, who was appointed as the SI director in December last year, said Stiuso and others had illegally imported electronic goods and other equipment between 2013 and 2014.
Parrilli said the ring made use of a special law that allows the SI to import secret equipment, and illegally imported electronic goods as well as other equipment, without paying taxes or informing customs officials.
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers have voiced their discontent with the decision to dissolve Argentina’s intelligence body, arguing that the General Attorney’s Office would now be in charge of overseeing all wiretaps.
“The most important issue is the lack of oversight,” opposition lawmaker Manuel Garrido said.
He added, “What worries us is that there has not been, nor will there be proper control.”
Garrido said he offered an alternative bill that incorporated stricter controls, but it was obstructed by the ruling coalition.
A coup plot against President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution was thwarted this week as a retired Venezuelan Air Force general and 10 military and civilian opposition figures were arrested.
The bombing of the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly, Telesur TV network, the Defense Ministry and other Caracas sites was to take place February 12, the one-year anniversary of violent anti-government attacks known as “guarimbas,” which caused 43 deaths. A Tucano EMB 312 bomber would have been flown by renegade Air Force First Lieutenant José Antich Zapata to destroy the targeted sites.
U.S. spokesperson Jen Psaki and the Venezuelan far-right are dismissing the plot claim, but video evidence, a map of the bombing targets, and other key evidence have been unveiled on national television, with more details promised. Washington’s role in previous plots has been proven before.
According to President Maduro, detained coup leaders have confessed their role. He spoke on national television Sunday morning, to reveal more facts and accuse the United States government of conspiring with coup plotters.
Antich Zapata received U.S. visas for himself and other conspirators from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, for escape from Venezuela in case the plot failed.
Maduro also said that the script of an eight-minute video by the coup group – to air once the government was overthrown – was written with the help of a U.S. embassy advisor.
Rightwing opposition involved
In obvious preparation for the failed coup, three of the most belligerent opposition figures – Maria Corina Machado, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma – issued a “Call for a National Transition Agreement,” on February 11, the day before the overthrow was to take place. Lopez is currently awaiting trial for his role in the violent attacks last February.
The “transition agreement” is a plan for overthrow of the Bolivarian Revolution socialist project, including a demand for felony trials of current government leaders after the “transition,” the privatization of nationalized industries, and the takeover of PDVSA, the state-owned oil industry that has been the source of great social developments in Venezuela since 1999.
As if aware of a pending coup, German embassy representative Jorg Polster issued a letter of warning on February 5 to German citizens residing in Venezuela, to take unusual precautions such as in the event of “political unrest like that which began in the spring of 2014.” The letter suggests the German nationals obtain a two-week supply of food, water and emergency provisions of battery, radio and important documents. The letter also indicates a loss of electricity and Internet access could be a possibility.
National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello and Jorge Rodriguez, mayor of the Libertador municipality of Caracas – both leaders of Maduro’s political high command – also appeared on television, denouncing Julio Borges, leader of the right-wing group, Primero Justicia (“Justice First” in English), as drafting the list of the 20-plus targets to be bombed.
An unfolding plot since January
A series of actions was planned by the counterrevolutionaries to lead up to February 12.
First step was economic destabilization through major corporate hoarding of goods to create empty stores and mass discontent. That has been taking place for weeks, with the right-wing then accusing the socialist government of economic failure.
The government countered with “Operation Dignity,” confiscating the hoarded goods for redistribution at fair prices to the population, and arresting the corporate conspirators.
The second step was internationally-generated false accusations of a “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela by the U.S. and international allies of Washington.
It is thus no coincidence that on January 24, three right-wing former presidents of Latin American countries, Andres Pastrana of Colombia, Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Sebastian Pinera of Chile came to Venezuela and tried to visit jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Afterwards, they demanded his freedom and held a press conference accusing Venezuela of human rights violations.
On February 3, President Maduro warned Washington to stop its interventionist meddling, and accused U.S. officials of trying to bribe current and former government leaders to betray the government.
Via Telesur, he denounced U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden’s recent meetings with various Latin American leaders, in which he told them Maduro’s government would soon fall, and that the Petrocaribe program would be ended. Biden advised them to “keep Venezuela isolated.” Petrocaribe is the Venezuelan program that provides oil to Caribbean nations at a low price.
Telesur as target
Why was Telesur one of the targets to be bombed?
In 2002, when a fascist coup by a sector of the military and corporate opposition overthrew President Hugo Chavez from April 11 to 13, Venezuela’s revolution was new and a people’s media had not yet developed.
In the critical hours of the massive and spontaneous popular mobilization to demand Chavez’s release and return as president, the monopoly corporate media completely blocked out the news. It was clear that the Bolivarian process needed a revolutionary media to transmit vital information to the population.
Since then, dozens of community and television stations have been established; corporate violators of the new Communications Law have had their licenses revoked.
The Telesur network – promoting the integration of Latin America – was proposed 10 years ago by Chavez. It has become a vital conveyor of national and international information with a solid anti-imperialist prospective.
It provided uncensored live coverage and exposed the terror bombing by NATO/U.S. bombing of Libya.
Like the brutal bombing of Serbia’s national TV station, killing scores of journalists who courageously covered the criminal NATO/U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the planned bombing of Telesur was part of the plan to destroy the Revolution and install a fascist coup.
The smashing of this latest plot against Venezuela is a major blow to U.S. imperialism’s attempts to reverse the gains of the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela, the Cuban Revolution and all progress in Latin America.
Revolutionary mass organizations and the military high command are declaring their unity and defense of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.
Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Minister of Defense and Strategic Operational Commander of the FANB, stood with a large group of high-ranking military officers to denounce the military plot. “The Bolivarian Armed Forces reiterates its support and loyalty to President Nicolás Maduro Moros and reaffirms its commitment to the will of the people, with the Plan of the Homeland, in the building of Socialism.”
More than ever, it is vital that international solidarity be mobilized to demand an end to U.S. machinations in Venezuela and all Latin America. Progressive groups and leaders in Latin America are expressing their support for Maduro’s government. From March 5-7, organizations in several cities in the United States plan actions in solidarity with the Venezuelan Bolivarian government and its people in struggle.
The danger is not over. The lessons of Latin America in the 1960s, 1970s and the U.S. war against revolutionary movements everywhere shows that the struggle must continue to defend Venezuela’s gains and oppose U.S. imperialism’s counter-revolutionary schemes.
The OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine is not fulfilling its mandate to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire, Moscow charges. The monitors complain that they can’t verify withdrawal of weapons without additional data.
In its latest report, the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said its monitors are unable to verify the withdrawal until both Kiev and the rebels provide comprehensive “inventories, withdrawal routes and concentration points” for their respective arsenals.
The rebels say they have sent an inventory to the OSCE and that the observers are rejecting invitations to witness the actual movements of the weapons.
“Every day they have new conditions to put forward. For instance, [on Thursday] they demanded a concrete route for the artillery. Well, that heavy hardware doesn’t travel on the roads, but OSCE monitors wouldn’t care to go into the fields,” complained Eduard Basurin, a rebel spokesman.
The official added that the anti-government forces are not rejecting the OSCE’s role in tackling the withdrawal and that they want an increased presence of the monitors on the ground.
“We believe the OSCE’s role is crucial. Once again we confirm that we are interested in OSCE presence at all weapons-withdrawal events. The OSCE must be present to monitor the withdrawal of the weapons by both sides,” Basurin said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow regretted that the monitoring mission “showed a lack of proper effort to execute the functions entrusted to it” and avoids monitoring the withdrawal of weapons.
The OSCE confirmed that the number of reported violations of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine has decreased. It added that a joint group of military monitors, which includes representatives from Ukraine, the rebel forces and Russia, provided a map of the conflict zone with “a definite line of contact agreed upon by all,” which can be viewed as a step forward in ending the violence.
Most complaints filed lately came from villages near Donetsk airport and the town of Shyrokoye, some 25km east of Mariupol, said the report.
The continued violence close to Mariupol, a large port under government control, is arguably the greatest danger to the fragile truce in Ukraine. Kiev accuses its opponents of preparing a full-scale invasion of the city, an accusation the rebels deny.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned on Wednesday that an attack on Mariupol would derail the entire peace process and demanded that Moscow prevent it.
“We’ve told the Russians clearly that if there was a separatist attack in the direction of Mariupol things would be drastically altered, including in terms of sanctions,” Fabius said in an interview with France Info radio station.
He also commented on UK’s plan to send military instructors to train Ukrainian troops, a step that’s escalating tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
“The Britons, who are not part of the discussions, have taken a hardline stance on the situation,” Fabius said in reference to British PM David Cameron’s Tuesday announcement. “We have also taken a firm position, but are pushing for the de-escalation of the conflict.”
France, along with Germany, was a major driving European power involved in brokering the Minsk peace deal in mid-February. Meanwhile in Britain and the US a large number of officials advocate for providing military aid to Kiev, which they say would serve as deterrent to Russia.
Moscow says the proposed inflow of weapons and the unwillingness of Kiev’s foreign sponsors to put pressure on them and make them hold fire only aggravates the situation.
Britain’s decision to send troops to Ukraine was hailed on Wednesday by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski, who said it was a step in the right direction and that Poland is keeping its own options open to help Kiev.
Germany said it is not planning to send troops or sell weapons to Kiev.
It was one year ago last weekend that a violent coup overthrew the legally elected government of Ukraine. That coup was not only supported by US and EU governments — much of it was actually planned by them. Looking back at the events that led to the overthrow it is clear that without foreign intervention Ukraine would not be in its current, seemingly hopeless situation.
By the end of 2013, Ukraine’s economy was in ruins. The government was desperate for an economic bailout and then-president Yanukovych first looked west to the US and EU before deciding to accept an offer of help from Russia. Residents of south and east Ukraine, who largely speak Russian and trade extensively with Russia were pleased with the decision. West Ukrainians who identify with Poland and Europe began to protest. Ukraine is a deeply divided country and the president came from the eastern region.
At this point the conflict was just another chapter in Ukraine’s difficult post-Soviet history. There was bound to be some discontent over the decision, but if there had been no foreign intervention in support of the protests you would likely not be reading this column today. The problem may well have solved itself in due time rather than escalated into a full-out civil war. But the interventionists in the US and EU won out again, and their interventionist project has been a disaster.
The protests at the end of 2013 grew more dramatic and violent and soon a steady stream of US and EU politicians were openly participating, as protesters called for the overthrow of the Ukrainian government. Senator John McCain made several visits to Kiev and even addressed the crowd to encourage them.
Imagine if a foreign leader like Putin or Assad came to Washington to encourage protesters to overthrow the Obama Administration!
As we soon found out from a leaked telephone call, the US ambassador in Kiev and Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, were making detailed plans for a new government in Kiev after the legal government was overthrown with their assistance.
The protests continued to grow but finally on February 20th of last year a European delegation brokered a compromise that included early elections and several other concessions from Yanukovych. It appeared disaster had been averted, but suddenly that night some of the most violent groups, which had been close to the US, carried out the coup and Yanukovych fled the country.
When the east refused to recognize the new government as legitimate and held a referendum to secede from the west, Kiev sent in tanks to force them to submit. Rather than accept the will of those seeking independence from what they viewed as an illegitimate government put in place by foreigners, the Obama administration decided to blame it all on the Russians and began imposing sanctions!
That war launched by Kiev has lasted until the present, with a ceasefire this month brokered by the Germans and French finally offering some hope for an end to the killing. More than 5,000 have been killed and many of those were civilians bombed in their cities by Kiev.
What if John McCain had stayed home and worried about his constituents in Arizona instead of non-constituents 6,000 miles away? What if the other US and EU politicians had done the same? What if Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt had focused on actual diplomacy instead of regime change?
If they had done so, there is a good chance many if not all of those who have been killed in the violence would still be alive today. Interventionism kills.
The head of Russian state defense conglomerate Rostec says Moscow has offered Iran its latest Antey-2500 missile defense systems after a deal to supply less powerful S-300 missiles was scrapped under Western pressure.
Tehran is now considering the offer, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Sergei Chemezov as saying on Monday.
“As far as Iran is concerned, we offered Antey-2500 instead of S-300. They are thinking. No decision has been made yet,” Chemezov said.
There was no immediate response to Chemezov’s comments from Iran.
Under a contract signed in 2007, Russia was obliged to provide Iran with at least five S-300 defense systems.
However, Moscow refused to deliver the system to Iran under the pretext that it is covered by the fourth round of the United Nations Security Council sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.
Following Moscow’s failure to deliver the systems, Iran filed a complaint against the Russian arms firm Rosoboronexport with the International Court of Arbitration in Geneva.
The Antey-2500 was developed from the 1980s-generation S-300V system (SA-12A Gladiator and SA-12B Giant). It can engage missiles travelling at 4,500 meters per second, with a range of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles), according to the company that makes it, Almaz-Antey.
The S-300 missiles have a 125-mile (200-kilometers) range.
Iran has refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a centrifuge used to refine uranium under a nuclear agreement with six world powers, a UN report showed, allaying concerns it might be violating the accord.
An interim accord in 2013 between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia stipulated Tehran could continue its “current enrichment R&D (research and development) practices,” implying they should not be stepped up.
But a UN nuclear agency report in November said Iran had been feeding one of several new models under development, the so-called IR-5 centrifuge, with uranium gas, prompting a debate among analysts on whether this may have been a violation.
A confidential document by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), distributed among its member states on Thursday and obtained by Reuters, showed the IR-5 had been disconnected.
“The disconnection reflects Iran addressing concerns about its enrichment (of uranium),” said the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which closely tracks Iran’s nuclear program.
“The disconnection provides additional confidence that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action,” it said, referring to the 2013 agreement.
International talks have been resumed in Geneva on Friday with the aim of narrowing remaining gaps in negotiations to end Iran’s 12-year standoff with the six powers.
Washington suspects Iran’s nuclear program is designed to develop nuclear weapons; Iran denies this, saying it is for peaceful purposes.
The deal sought by the powers would have Iran accept limits to its uranium enrichment capacity and open up to unfettered IAEA inspections.
In return, Iran would see a lifting of international trade and financial sanctions that hobbled its oil-based economy.
The IAEA document about the UN inquiry, which has run parallel to the big power talks, was issued to IAEA member states only weeks before a deadline in late March for a framework agreement between Iran and the powers.
They have set themselves a deadline for a final deal at the end of June. Two deadlines for a permanent agreement have already been missed since the November 2013 interim deal.
Negotiators are now working toward reaching a political framework by March 31, with the final technical details to be laid out in a comprehensive accord by June 30.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed that his country would resist global sanctions imposed over its nuclear program, saying that Iran might respond to international pressure by cutting back gas exports.
“If sanctions are to be the way, the Iranian nation can also do it. A big collection of the world’s oil and gas is in Iran, so Iran if necessary can hold back on the gas that Europe and the world is so dependent on,” Khamenei said.
Disagreements in the talks between Iran and P5+1 center on the extent of nuclear activities Iran would be allowed to continue and the timetable for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear efforts.
Yemen’s feuding parties agreed on a “people’s transitional council” to help govern the country and guide it out of a political crisis, UN mediator Jamal Benomar announced on Friday.
The move followed the takeover of power by the Houthi militia, which led to the resignation of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi last month and the paralysis of many of Yemen’s state institutions.
“This progress is not a (final) agreement, but an important breakthrough that paves the way towards a comprehensive agreement,” Benomar said in a statement.
As part of the new formula, Yemen’s old 301-member house of representatives, made up overwhelmingly of MPs from the former ruling party of deposed strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, thought to be sympathetic to the Houthis, would stay in place.
Instead of the traditional upper house, a new transitional council — whose numbers were not specified — would consist of traditionally unrepresented sectors among Yemen’s formerly independent South, women and young people.
Together the two bodies would make legislation guiding Yemen’s transition.
Arrangements for the vacated presidency and ministries along with security required further dialogue, Benomar added.
There was no immediate comment by the Houthis or the main Islamist and socialist opposition parties.
Security in Yemen has been steadily deteriorating since the Houthis invaded the capital Sanaa in September and began imposing their writ on the government.
On January 22, Hadi and his Prime Minister Khaled Bahah tendered their resignation due to the takeover of capital Sanaa.
Following their resignation, Hadi and Bahah have been held under the house arrest and Mohammed Ali al-Houthi — head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Council — has been considered as the de facto person in power.
On February 6, the Houthis issued a “constitutional declaration” dissolving Yemen’s parliament and launching a 551-member “transitional council.”
Yemen has fallen into turmoil since a 2012 uprising forced out autocratic president Saleh, who had been in power for 33 years, after a year of unrest. Following Saleh’s overthrow, the Houthis, al-Qaeda, separatists from the former independent South Yemen, and tribesmen have been fighting each other to gain power and territory in the fragile state.
The latest crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country threatens to allow al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to expand across the peninsula.The turmoil has also cast doubt over the future of a key partnership for Washington in the fight against AQAP.
The US has conducted at least four drone strikes in the country since US President Barack Obama vowed on January 25 not to let up in Washington’s campaign against militant Islamist organizations in Yemen despite the country’s political turmoil.
Human rights organizations have raised deep concerns about US drone strikes in Yemen. Critics have denounced the impact the attacks have had on Yemeni civilians, who have been killed or seen their homes destroyed.
The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to approve a Russia-drafted resolution to support the Minsk agreements, reached by the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine last week.
The resolution was submitted to the UNSC by Russia on February 13, a day after the Minsk deal was agreed on. It is aimed at endorsing and executing the Minsk agreements. The document also expresses concern over the continuing violence in eastern Ukraine, and stresses the importance of resolving the conflict peacefully.
“After the unprecedented diplomatic efforts last week, Ukraine has a chance to turn a dramatic page in its history,” said Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, who expressed “gratitude” towards the other parties for endorsing the document.
Moscow would aid “in full” the realization of the agreement, he added.
The resolution calls for a “total ceasefire” and a “political solution” that respects the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
The plan, hammered out during 16-hour negotiations on February 12, stipulates the comprehensive ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontline, an all-for-all prisoner exchange, and passage for humanitarian aid convoys.
In the medium turn, the Minsk peace plan calls for the withdrawal of any “foreign troops” and “mercenaries” from the conflict zone, general amnesty for the rebels and the OSCE using its drone fleet and monitors on the ground to ensure the implementation of agreements. It also provides for handing back of the border controls of the Ukrainian government, and lifting of the economic blockade that Kiev imposed on the eastern regions.
Eventually, the treaty proposes new elections in eastern Ukraine and a decentralization that would grant more power to the rebel regions.
Read more: The Minsk ceasefire deal, point by point
The UN Security Council is due to vote soon on a resolution that would approve the recently concluded Minsk agreements, Russian media reported on Monday.
Russia is engaged in negotiations with the 15-member UN council on the resolution initiated by Moscow.
The draft resolution “welcomes the results of the talks in Minsk and includes a call for the parties to be committed to implementing them”, according to a UNSC diplomat quoted by Russian Tass agency.
The vote has been delayed due to amendments introduced in regard to the document.
Britain’s UN envoy Mark Lyall Grant said the diplomats were unable to vote on the resolution on Sunday night due to pending amendments to the document.
Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the UN Security Council Hussein Haniff said members of the global organization were waiting for the Russian side to voice its approval for the amendments before the voting could start.
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of fueling a pro-Russian uprising in the country.
Leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine on Sunday held a teleconference, demanding a strict observance of the latest cease-fire agreement struck in Minsk, capital of Belarus.
The four leaders also discussed the importance of getting the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to play a bigger role in monitoring the latest truce agreement struck in Minsk Thursday.
Ukrainian forces and independence-seeking insurgents in Ukraine observed a cease-fire as from Sunday local time as per the agreement which also envisages the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line and constitutional reform to give eastern Ukraine more power.
Officials of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics confirmed that militia forces of the two republics have stopped fire.
Poroshenko on Saturday also issued an order of ceasefire in the conflict zones in the country’s southeastern Donbass region as of Sunday.
The 16-hour marathon summit talks of – Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – were held in Minsk last Thursday.
The Minsk negotiations lasted for around 16 hours and agreed on a ceasefire from midnight, February 15.
The eastern Ukrainian militias have stopped all military action in accordance with the Minsk peace deal. They will suppress any provocations that may be organized by Kiev forces, said Aleksandr Zakharchenko, head of Donetsk People’s Republic.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered troops to cease fire at Sunday midnight local time (22:00 GMT) in line with the Thursday Minsk agreement. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page that “all National Guard and Interior Ministry units will halt fire at midnight.”
Meanwhile, Defense Ministry spokesman of Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, has ordered that all eastern Ukrainian militia units halt fighting “on the entire line of contact,” RIA Novosti reports. A similar statement has come out of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, saying that local militia are to stop all combat actions at midnight.
Earlier, leaders of the restive Ukrainian republics said their regions have ratified the peace deal.
The militias will stop all military action outside the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Zakharchenko said. However, he said that the self-defense forces will reply to any provocative actions by the Kiev troops, including assaults and precision fire.
The DPR leader also said that rebels won’t release a large group of Ukrainian troops, who have been entrapped near the village of Debaltsevo since early February.
“Their every attempt to break out will be suppressed,” Zakharchenko is cited by RIA-Novosti news agency.
The rebels’ leader reminded that “there wasn’t a word mentioning Debaltsevo in the agreements” signed in Minsk on February 12, which means that “Ukraine simply betrayed the 5,000 people trapped in the Debaltsevo ‘cauldron’.”
Earlier, Basurin said that the Ukrainian troops near Debaltsevo won’t be shelled, but won’t be released as well, with surrender being the only option.
Zakharchenko has put his signature under a decree, which foresees the beginning of the ceasefire at 01:00 AM local time on Sunday – midnight for Kiev and 2200 GMT.
The DPR head also said that the Donetsk People’s Republic won’t grant control over its border with Russia to Ukrainian border guards: “Today an order will be issued to create the border guard service. Not a single Ukrainian soldier will enter our territory.”
Poroshenko warns of martial law
Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has once again warned that if the Minsk agreements fail, “martial law will be implemented not only in Donetsk and Lugansk, but in the whole country”.
Moscow has expressed hopes Kiev and the rebels, as well as all the sides, which supported the Minsk peace deal, including France and Germany, “will do everything for the signed agreements to be scrupulously implemented,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“Ukraine’s official representatives… as well as those of several Western countries, the US in particular, have essentially expressed solidarity with the opinion of radical nationalists in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and have began distorting the contents of the Minsk agreements,” the ministry said.
On Saturday, Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the phone, with the three heads of state stressing that all sides must fulfill the obligations they’ve taken according to Minsk agreements, first of all, those concerning the ceasefire.
The Ukrainian president also had a telephone conversation with US president Barack Obama, during which the two leaders “agreed on the further coordination of efforts in the event of an escalation” in Ukraine’s southeast.
Poroshenko and Obama “discussed the situation in Donbass and expressed concerns about the situation in Debaltsevo,” according to the Ukrainian president’s website.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry, also discussed the situation in southeastern Ukraine on the phone, and stressed “the importance of strict implementation of the ceasefire regime by the conflicting sides.”
Lavrov also emphasized that the Minsk peace deal “also includes obligations by Kiev to remove the financial and economic blockade of the [Ukrainian] southeast; to provide an amnesty; to stage a constitutional reform by the end of the year and adopt legislation on the special status of Donbass,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on its Facebook page.
The contact group, which includes representatives from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, held video consultations on Saturday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said.
According to the OSCE, all parties agreed to take necessary measures to establish the agreed truce and de-escalation of the conflict, including in the areas of Debaltsevo and Mariupol.
The contact group will continue holding consultations on a regular basis to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements, a statement from the watchdog added.
The Minsk agreement provides for a security zone separating the Kiev forces and the rebels, a ceasefire beginning on Sunday and a heavy weapons pullout to be completed in 14 days. The deal was signed by the contact group, which includes the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, a representative of the OSCE, Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kuchma, and the Russian ambassador to Ukraine,
A separate declaration supporting the deal was agreed upon by the so-called “Normandy Four” leaders – French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who also gathered in Belarusian capital.
In accordance with the deal, on Saturday the eastern Ukrainian republics also proposed amendments to the constitution. One of the key demands is to grant certain regions the right to define and form the structure of local governments themselves, Denis Pushilin, DPR representative at the Minsk talks, said.
The rebels also want the official status for the Russian language and other minority languages, spoken in Ukraine’s central regions, he said. Another proposed amendment foresees the decentralization of fiscal and tax systems, “up to the possibility of creating in free economic zones and other special economic regimes on certain territories,” Pushilin is cited by TASS news agency.
While the Minsk deal is hoped to secure an end to the bloody and devastating internal conflict that has taken the lives of over 5,300 people in the UN’s estimates since last April, shelling in Donetsk was reported throughout the whole of Saturday.