South-East Asian states have joined forces to search the South China Sea for the Malaysia Airlines jet missing with 239 people on board.
Flight MH370 vanished at 02:40 local time Saturday after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
The aerial search has been halted for the night but sea operations continue.
No wreckage has been reported by the airline, but Vietnamese planes reported seeing oil slicks in the sea.
The Vietnamese government said two slicks, about 9 miles long, were consistent with those that could be left by an airliner and had been detected off southern Vietnam.
However, there is no confirmation the slicks relate to the missing plane.
Distraught relatives and loved ones of those aboard are being given assistance at the airports.
“We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane,” Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the focus was on helping the families of those missing. He said that 80% of the families had been contacted.
The plane reportedly went off the radar south of Vietnam.
Its last known location was off the Ca Mau peninsula although the exact position was not clear.
The Boeing B777-200 aircraft was carrying 227 passengers, including two children, and 12 crew members.
Malaysia’s military said a second wave of helicopters and ships had been dispatched after an initial search revealed nothing. The US has agreed to help with its aircraft too, Malaysian PM Najb Razak said.
Territorial disputes over the South China Sea were set aside temporarily as China dispatched two maritime rescue ships and the Philippines deployed three air force planes and three navy patrol ships.
Singapore is also involved, while Vietnam sent aircraft and ships and asked fishermen in the area to report any suspected sign of the missing plane.
“In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues,” said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military’s Western Command.
The passengers were of 14 different nationalities. Among them were 152 Chinese nationals, 38 Malaysians, 12 people from Indonesia and six from Australia.
The pilot was Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981.
Russia has warned the US not to take “hasty and reckless steps” in response to the crisis in Ukraine’s Crimea region.
In a phone call with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said imposing sanctions on Moscow would harm the US.
Pro-Russian troops have been in control of Crimea for the last week.
Earlier, a stand-off involving pro-Russian soldiers at a Ukrainian military base outside Sevastopol reportedly ended without incident.
Crimea’s parliament announced on Thursday it would hold a referendum on March 16 on whether to join Russia or remain part of Ukraine.
Russia’s parliament has promised to support Crimea if it chooses to become part of Russia.
The vote has been denounced as “illegitimate” by the interim government in Kiev, which took power after President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia last month in the wake of mass protests against his government and deadly clashes with security forces.
In their telephone conversation on Friday, Sergei Lavrov warned John Kerry against taking “hasty and unthought-through steps capable of causing harm to Russian-US relations”, Russia’s foreign ministry reports.
Sergei Lavrov said imposing sanctions on Russia in response to its involvement in Ukraine “will inevitably have a boomerang effect against the US itself”.
The US State Department said John Kerry had “underscored the importance of finding a constructive way to resolve the situation diplomatically, which would address the interests of the people of Ukraine, Russia and the international community”.
“Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov agreed to continue to consult in the days ahead on the way forward,” said the US statement.
The Pentagon estimates that 20,000 Russian troops may now be in Crimea, while the Ukrainian border guards’ commander puts the figure at 30,000.
A Malaysia Airlines plane vanished on a flight to Beijing, with 239 people on board.
The search is under way in waters between Malaysia and Vietnam.
Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that flight MH370 had disappeared at 02:40 local time on Saturday after leaving Kuala Lumpur.
It had been expected to land in Beijing at 06:30.
Malaysia’s transport minister said there was no information on wreckage and he urged against speculation.
“We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane. We are doing everything we can to ensure every possible angle has been addressed,” Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
“Our hope is that the people understand we are being as transparent as we can, we are giving information as quickly as we can, but we want to make sure information has been verified.”
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the focus was on helping the families of those missing. He said that 80% of the families had been contacted.
The plane went off the radar south of Vietnam, according to a statement on the Vietnamese government website.
Its last known location was off the country’s Ca Mau peninsula although the exact position was not clear, it said.
The Boeing B777-200 aircraft was carrying 227 passengers, including two children, and 12 crew members.
A plane, two helicopters and four vessels have been dispatched by Malaysia to search the seas off its east coast in the South China Sea, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
Vietnam also launched a search while the Philippines said it was sending three navy patrol boats and a surveillance plane, AFP adds, and China sent two ships.
The passengers were of 14 different nationalities, Jauhari Yahya said.
The pilot was Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981, Jauhari Yahya said.
Friends and relatives expecting to meet passengers from the flight in Beijing were instructed to go to a nearby hotel where officials were meant to be on hand to provide support.
The Associated Press reported a woman weeping on a shuttle bus who was heard to say on a mobile phone: “They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good.”
The plane had been flying at an altitude of 35,000ft and the pilots had not reported any problems with the aircraft, Fuad Sharuji, Malaysian Airlines’ vice-president of operations control, told CNN.
Malaysia’s national carrier is one of Asia’s largest, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.
The route between Kuala Lumpur to Beijing has become more and more popular as Malaysia and China increase trade.
The Boeing 777 had not had a fatal crash in its 20-year history until an Asiana plane came down at San Francisco airport in July of last year. Three teenage girls from China died in that incident.
Boeing said in a statement posted on Twitter: “We’re closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370. Our thoughts are with everyone on board.”
Flight MH370 passengers
- 153 Chinese including one child
- 38 Malaysians
- 12 Indonesians
- 6 Australians
- 4 Americans including one child
- 3 French
- Two each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada
- One each from Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Netherlands and Austria
Source: Malaysia Airlines
General Ilker Basbug, the former Turkish army chief who was sentenced to life for his role in a plot to overthrow the government, has been freed from prison in Istanbul.
A local court ordered the release of Gen. Ilker Basbug, a day after Turkey’s constitutional court overturned his sentence citing a legal technicality.
Ilker Basbug, who was in charge of the Turkish military from 2008 to 2010, was sentenced to life in August 2013.
Dozens of people were charged over the alleged plot. Ilker Basbug was found guilty of leading a shadowy network of hard-line nationalists known as Ergenekon.
The group was said to have plotted to topple the current government of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
Turkey’s constitutional court ruled on Thursday that Ilker Basbug’s imprisonment had violated his rights.
The court trying him had failed to publish a detailed verdict on the case, it said.
Speaking outside the prison in Istanbul, where he had been held for over two years, Gen. Ilker Basbug said: “Those who acted with hatred and revenge kept us here for 26 months. They stole 26 months from my life.”
His lawyer, Ilkay Sezer, welcomed the release but said there were “many more people in jails who are suffering severe health problems and who have been victims of these courts”.
Hundreds of people were jailed in 2012 and 2013 in two high-profile cases, called Sledgehammer and Ergenekon.
In January, the high command of the armed forces and opposition both demanded a retrial for the officers.
PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan later said he favored a retrial, in what many saw as a political turnaround.
In February, the Turkish parliament abolished the specially appointed courts that tried the officers, increasing the possibility of retrials for those convicted.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that his government could ban Facebook and YouTube, arguing that opponents are using social media to attack him.
However, President Abdullah Gul later called such a ban “out of the question”.
Allegations of corruption against Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been repeated on the social media sites.
The leaks included a phone conversation in which, allegedly, he and his son discussed how to hide huge sums of money. Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it a montage.
The prime minister’s Islamist-rooted AK Party faces key local elections on March 30.
“We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Turkish broadcaster ATV.
“We will take the necessary steps in the strongest way.”
Asked if that could include barring the social media sites, he said: “Included.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the two sites were being used for “all kinds of immorality, all kinds of espionage”.
A major corruption investigation has targeted government allies of the prime minister – and he has responded by moving hundreds of police officers and prosecutors to other duties.
New reports have claimed that Nicolas Sarkozy has had his phone tapped for the past year on the orders of judges investigating alleged campaign donations from Libya.
French newspaper Le Monde says the phone taps have revealed evidence of tampering with the justice system.
It says a senior prosecutor in the country’s highest court was feeding Nicolas Sarkozy confidential information.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s lawyer denies the claims and says the phone taps were illegal.
The investigators who ordered the taps were looking into allegations, unproven, that Nicolas Sarkozy had taken illegal payments for his election campaign from late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
According to Le Monde, what the investigators discovered from the phone taps was that Nicolas Sarkozy was getting inside information from the courts about the course of various inquiries into his past.
This information was allegedly being fed from a senior prosecutor at the appeals court whom, Le Monde says, Nicolas Sarkozy tried to reward with an official post in Monaco.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said on Friday that his client “is probably still being tapped” and denounced what he said was a politically motivated plot against him.
He told AFP news agency: “There was no attempt to pervert the course of justice and in due course this monstrous violation will be shown to have been a political affair.”
Nicolas Sarkozy is planning a political comeback, and the drip of allegations like this has the potential to do him harm.
It was in 2011 that Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, accused Nicolas Sarkozy of taking millions of his father’s money for illegal campaign funding, a claim Sarkozy has strongly denied.
At the time France was spearheading NATO’s military campaign in Libya.
NicolasSarkozy, who lost the 2012 presidential election to Francois Hollande, is also under formal investigation over claims he received illegal donations for the 2007 race from France’s richest woman, 90-year-old L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. He has denied all the allegations.
President Barack Obama has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine, in a lengthy telephone call.
In their hour-long conversation, Vladimir Putin said Moscow-Washington relations should not suffer.
Russian troops have taken de facto control of Crimea following the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.
The crisis has led to a boycott by many foreign dignitaries of the Sochi Winter Paralympics, which open on Friday.
Barack Obama stressed to Vladimir Putin that Russia’s actions in Crimea were a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, the White House said in a statement.
The US president said there was a solution available that suited all parties, involving talks between Kiev and Moscow, international monitors in Ukraine and Russian forces returning to their bases.
For his part, Vladimir Putin said US-Russian “relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems”, the Kremlin said.
It was Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin’s second telephone call concerning Ukraine in less than a week.
It comes after the EU and US joined Ukraine’s government in condemning as “illegal” a move by the Crimea region to set up a referendum to endorse joining Russia.
The Crimean parliament on Thursday said it had decided “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation” and asked President Putin “to start the procedure”.
Crimea – whose population is mostly ethnic Russian – earlier set a date of March 16 for a referendum on the issue.
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Venezuela has given 48 hours to leave the country to Panama’s ambassador and three other diplomats amid growing tensions over opposition protests.
The move comes a day after President Nicolas Maduro broke diplomatic relations and froze economic ties with Panama.
At least 20 people have died in anti-government protests in Venezuela in the last month.
Nicolas Maduro has accused Panama of conspiring to bring down his government.
The latest fallout comes after Panama requested a meeting at the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss Venezuela’s crisis.
Four diplomats working at Panama’s embassy, including ambassador Pedro Pereira, were declared “persona non grata” on Thursday, according to Panama’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mayra Arosemena.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said his country also had suspended debt negotiations over $1 billion owed to Panamanian exporters, according to reports.
Meanwhile a member of Venezuela’s National Guard and a motorcyclist became the latest victims of the unrest in the country on Thursday.
The pair were shot dead during clashes that broke out when a group of men of motorcycles tried to clear opposition barricades in a street in Caracas.
The opposition accuses the government of using armed civilian groups on motorcycles to break up demonstrations.
Thousands of government supporters and troops took part in a huge parade through the centre of the capital, commemorating the first anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death on March 5.
Panama said it was “astonished” by Venezuela’s decision to break diplomatic relations and called Nicolas Maduro’s words “unacceptable”.
The US and EU have joined Ukraine’s new government in condemning as “illegal” the Crimean referendum to endorse joining Russia.
The EU, meeting in Brussels, threatened “serious consequences” if Russia did not act to de-escalate the crisis.
Crimea’s parliament earlier set a date of March 16 for a vote on the referendum.
Russian troops took de facto control of Crimea, whose population is mostly ethnic Russian, in the wake of the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president.
The Crimean parliament on Thursday said it had decided “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation”.
It said it had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin “to start the procedure”.
Before the Brussels summit, some EU members – led by Germany – had indicated they preferred mediation with Russia to try to solve the crisis, rather than any stronger measures.
But correspondents say the Crimean parliament move has clearly toughened the line taken by the EU.
In press conferences after the talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy both said the Crimean referendum was contrary to the Ukrainian constitution and therefore illegal.
The EU said it was suspending talks with Moscow on easing travel restrictions on Russians entering the EU.
It said that if Russia did not move to de-escalate the situation quickly, it would “decide on additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit”.
The EU statement said that “any further steps by the Russian Federation to destabilize the situation in Ukraine would lead to severe and far-reaching consequences… which will include a broad range of economic areas”.
President Barack Obama said the Crimea referendum would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law”.
The US president said there was a way to resolve the crisis with Russia through diplomacy but that “if the violation continues, the resolve of the US and its allies will remain firm”.
Barack Obama praised the “international unity on display at this moment”.
The US had earlier issued visa restrictions on a number of unnamed Ukrainian and Russian officials and individuals “to deny visas to those responsible for, or complicit in, threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has said that it will take the US two years and possibly billions of dollars to overcome the harm done by Edward Snowden’s intelligence leaks.
Gen. Martin Dempsey said the “vast majority” of documents taken by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were military-related.
Since last year, news organizations have published dozens of stories based on the leaked intelligence documents.
Edward Snowden faces spying charges in the US but has been given asylum in Russia.
Gen. Martin Dempsey told the House armed services committee on Thursday that a mitigation task force had been established to investigate the extent of Edward Snowden’s theft and to determine how to overcome it.
“The vast majority of [the pilfered documents] were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures,” Martin Dempsey said.
Gen. Martin Dempsey said the “magnitude of this challenge” suggested the task force would need to run for about two years.
Crimea’s parliament has voted to become part of the Russian Federation.
The southern Ukrainian region’s parliament said the decision would be put to the Crimean people for their verdict in a referendum on March 16.
A government minister in Kiev said they believe it would be unconstitutional for Crimea to join Russia.
Crimea, a region whose population is mostly ethnic Russian (58.5%), has been at the centre of tensions following the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president.
Pro-Russian and Russian forces have been in de facto control of the peninsula, which already enjoys a degree of autonomy from Kiev, for several days.
The announcement from Crimea’s parliament comes as EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss how to respond to Russia’s troop deployment on Ukrainian soil.
The Crimean parliament resolved “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation”.
In a statement on its website, parliament said it has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin “to start the procedure” of formally allowing Crimea to join the Russian Federation.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin was aware of developments in the Crimean parliament, but no response has yet been made public.
If Russia agrees to Crimea’s request, the Crimean people will be asked two questions in the March 16 referendum, the statement says.
1. Are you in favor of reuniting Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation?
2. Are you in favor of retaining the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?
Ukraine’s interim Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta, speaking in Kiev soon after the announcement was made, said: “We’re not working out what to do if Crimea joins the Russian Federation because we believe it’s unconstitutional.”
The EU has named 18 Ukrainians who will have their assets frozen including ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, his son and former PM Mykola Azarov.
Early on Thursday, the European Union revealed the names of those targeted by its sanctions. The list appears to include Viktor Yanukovych’s closest aides, including a former interior minister, justice minister, the prosecutor general, the head of the security services and the ousted president’s son.
The EU sanctions also target the former PM Mykola Azarov and his son.
Venezuela has broken diplomatic relations and frozen economic ties with Panama, President Nicolas Maduro announced during Hugo Chavez’s first commemoration.
Nicolas Maduro’ decision comes after Panama requested a meeting at the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss Venezuela’s crisis.
The president was speaking to other Latin American heads of state at events to mark the first anniversary of the death of the Venezualan leader Hugo Chavez.
At least 18 people have died in anti-government protests in the last month.
“I’ve decided to break political and diplomatic ties with the current government of Panama and freeze all trade and economic relations from this moment on,” Nicolas Maduro told the presidents of Cuba, Raul Castro, Uruguay, Jose Mujica, and Bolivia, Evo Morales, among other leaders gathered around the tomb of Hugo Chavez.
Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli expressed surprise at Venezuela’s decision.
“Panama only hopes that this brother nation finds peace and strengthens its democracy,” Ricardo Martinelli wrote on Twitter.
Panama’s official statement said the country was “astonished” and called Nicolas Maduro’s words “unacceptable”.
“The measure announced by President Maduro should not become a smoke screen intended to hide reality,” it read.
Earlier, thousands of government supporters and troops took part in a huge parade through central Caracas, commemorating the first anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death.
In other parts of Caracas, anti-government protesters kept up their barricades, despite an appeal made by opposition leaders to “respect” the anniversary.
Last week, the government of Panama requested an urgent meeting of OAS member-states to discuss the unrest in Venezuela.
On Wednesday, the OAS said a meeting would take place the next day behind closed doors to decide whether or not to convene the region’s foreign ministers over the issue.
Nicolas Maduro accused the Panamanian government of conspiring to bring down his government.
“There are moves by the United States government in accord with a lackey government of a right-wing president which has been creating the conditions for the OAS and other bodies to step towards an intervention in our country,” Nicolas Maduro said.
Nicolas Maduro also criticized OAS President Jose Miguel Insulza, who had suggested earlier that a group of observers could be sent to Venezuela – if its government and the opposition found it useful.
The first anniversary of Hugo Chavez’s death is being marked in Venezuela.
Hugo Chavez died of cancer after 14 years as president.
His successor, Nicolas Maduro, is leading a parade and a ceremony later at the military headquarters in Caracas where Hugo Chavez is buried.
The anniversary comes at a time of tension, with people staging daily anti-government demonstrations.
Venezuelans are deeply divided about Hugo Chavez’s legacy.
His supporters point to the significant reductions in inequality, poverty and malnutrition which Venezuela experienced under his leadership to explain their unwavering backing for “Chavismo”, his distinct brand of socialism.
Hugo Chavez’s critics accused him of being “dictatorial” and of championing the poor at the expense of Venezuela’s middle class.
They say he and current President Nicolas Maduro, who has promised to continue the policies of his predecessor, have ruined the economy of the oil-rich country by alienating foreign investors.
Tens of thousands of people have taken part in marches over the past month demanding that more be done to curb insecurity and improve the economy.
Venezuela has one of the world’s highest murder rates and official figures published in December put inflation at 56.2%.
There have also been pro-government marches, during which thousands of people have expressed their support for Nicolas Maduro, whom they describe as Hugo Chavez’s “son” and “heir”.
Wednesday’s ceremonies will be attended by left-wing leaders from the region, including Cuba’s Raul Castro, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
Opposition leaders have asked their supporters to “respect” the anniversary and to avoid further clashes with security forces, although a march has been scheduled to take place in the central city of Valencia.
A recording of a phone conversation between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on Ukraine has been leaked online.
In the recording, Urmas Paet told Baroness Catherine Ashton that there was an “increasing understanding” in Ukraine that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government was not responsible for the deaths of police and protesters during clashes last month in Kiev.
Urmas Paet said some Ukrainians believed elements from within the new regime in Kiev had employed snipers.
He said Ukrainian doctor Olga Bogomolets had told him that victims from both sides were shot by snipers using the same weapons.
However, Dr. Olga Bogomolets told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper that she had never had access to victims from the government side and was unable to comment on how they had been killed.
Urmas Paet confirmed that the conversation with Baroness Ashton had taken place on February 26.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Urmas Paet called for an inquiry into the deaths in Kiev, but warned against using his comments to discredit the new government.
“I call for journalists to treat this recording very carefully. I was talking about the theories there were about what happened in Ukraine,” he said.
Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine shortly after the bloodshed and is now in Russia.
Moscow has since flooded the Crimea region with military personnel, claiming that Viktor Yanukovych had asked for their help.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier insisted Moscow had no power to remove what it calls “self-defense forces” currently guarding key sites in Crimea, explaining that they were not Russian troops.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) says it has sent 35 unarmed military monitors to Ukraine in response to a request from Kiev.
The foreign ministers from Russia, the US and key EU states are holding talks in Paris to try to resolve Ukraine crisis.
The US wants independent observers in the flashpoint region of Crimea and direct talks between Kiev and Moscow.
Russia was expected to call for greater representation for Ukraine’s Russian-speaking areas in the Kiev government.
The EU earlier offered 11 billionn euros ($15 billion) of aid to Ukraine and froze the assets of 18 Ukrainians.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the package of loans and grants over the next couple of years was “designed to assist a committed, inclusive and reforms-oriented government” in Kiev.
Ukraine’s finance ministry has predicted it needs $35 billion to rescue the economy.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met US Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from France, Germany and the UK on the sidelines of a long-planned conference on Lebanon in Paris.
NATO and Russia have been holding parallel talks in Brussels.
The Paris gathering is being seen above all as a chance to test the waters for a dialogue about Ukraine.
In the US, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel announced plans to expand US military co-operation with Poland and Baltic states.
Chuck Hagel said the US would step up joint aviation training with Poland, and increase its participation in NATO’s mission to police the air space of Baltic countries.
The announcement was a direct response to concerns raised last week by Poland, he said.
Three Gulf countries have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar amid accusations that it has meddled in internal affairs.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, which are all part of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) along with Qatar, made the joint statement on Wednesday.
The statement claims that Qatar failed to commit to an agreement it signed three months ago in Riyadh.
Tensions between Qatar and the rest of the GCC have increased in recent years.
The joint statement said that during a meeting on Monday in Riyadh, the three countries had made “major efforts to convince Qatar” to implement a 2013 GCC agreement on joint security.
The recall of the ambassadors was therefore necessary to ensure “security and stability”.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have been calling for increased military and diplomatic union within the six-member GCC, which also includes Qatar, Omar and Kuwait.
However, Qatar and Oman have so far resisted increased integration in these fields.
The incident is one of the most serious disagreements within the GCC in recent times.
Oil and gas-rich Qatar has been an increasingly vocal diplomatic player. It strongly supported Egypt’s now-ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and is a key backer of rebels in Syria.
Qatar is home to the influential al-Jazeera news network, which broadcasts across the world and has been critical of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
The state is seen as a major financial and diplomatic supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
On Monday, a Qatari citizen received a seven-year jail sentence in the UAE for supporting a group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s new government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, has charged nine al-Jazeera journalists of aiding a terrorist organization, as it now brands the Muslim Brotherhood, and has put them on trial.
India’s Election Commission has announced the country’s general election will take place in nine phases in April and May.
Polling to elect a new Lok Sabha, or lower house, will be held from April 7 to May 12. Votes will be counted on May 16.
With some 814 million eligible voters, India’s election will be the largest the world has seen.
The ruling Congress party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party will be battling a host of smaller parties.
Leaders of 11 regional parties have formed a Third Front against the Congress and the BJP.
A new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi (Common Man’s) Party (AAP), which made a spectacular debut in recent polls in the capital Delhi, will also contest the elections.
If no single party wins a clear majority, smaller parties could play a crucial role.
India’s lower house has 543 elected seats and any party or a coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.
Some states will hold polls in several phases. The new parliament has to be constituted by May 31.
Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath said school examination schedules, weather and crop harvesting seasons had been taken into account in deciding the polling dates.
Some 814 million voters – 100 million more than the last elections in 2009 – are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations, up from 830,000 polling stations in 2009.
Electronic voting machines will be used and will contain a None of the Above (NOTA) button, an option for voters who do not want to cast their ballot for any of the candidates.
Elections in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will take place in six phases. Kashmir and West Bengal will vote in five phases each.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous states and one of its largest. Elections in the capital, Delhi, will be held on 10 April.
The polls are being seen as a straight contest between the governing coalition led by the Congress party and the opposition BJP which is being led by the charismatic and controversial Hindu nationalist leader, Narendra Modi.
Narendra Modi, who is ahead in all the pre-poll surveys, is the leader of Gujarat state which witnessed one of India’s worst anti-Muslim riots in 2002.
Incumbent PM Manmohan Singh is stepping down and Congress is being led by Rahul Gandhi, the latest member of India’s influential Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
India’s polling dates:
- April 7 – 2 states, 6 constituencies
- April 9 – 5 states, 7 constituencies
- April 10 – 14 states, 92 constituencies
- April 12 – 3 states, 5 constituencies
- April 17 – 13 states, 142 constituencies
- April 24 – 12 states, 117 constituencies
- April 30 – 9 states, 89 constituencies
- May 7 – 7 states, 64 constituencies
- May 12 – 3 states, 41 constituencies
- May 16 – Counting of votes
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Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has indicated he will run for Egypt’s presidency.
Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was quoted by the state news agency Mena as revealing that “official procedures” regarding his candidacy were expected in the coming days.
It is the clearest indication yet that Abdul Fattah al-Sisi will stand in the election which is scheduled to take place by mid-April.
The field marshal led the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July.
He has been widely expected to resign and declare a presidential bid since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) gave its public support at the end of January.
Correspondents say Abdul Fattah al-Sisi would be likely to win, given his popularity and the lack of any serious rivals.
The field marshal commented on his prospective candidacy in a speech at a graduation ceremony at the Egyptian Military Academy in Cairo.
Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said he could “not turn his back on calls by the majority of Egyptians for him to run for president”, Mena reported.
Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega appeared in public after a 10-day absence which had led to rumors about his health.
Daniel Ortega appeared on Monday greeting newly appointed Nicaraguan Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes at the airport in the capital, Managua.
Referring to the rumors, the president told the cardinal he had “carried out the miracle of resurrecting me because a lot people thought I was dead”.
Daniel Ortega, a former Sandinista rebel, is serving his third term in office.
There had been feverish speculation about his state of health after he began missing official ceremonies after February 21.
On February 26, Daniel Ortega had been expected to attend an event commemorating the 1978 indigenous uprising in Monimbo, in which his brother was killed.
The following day, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa cancelled a planned trip to Nicaragua, citing scheduling problems on the side of the Nicaraguan government.
Some rumors circulated on social media saying Daniel Ortega had health problems and was receiving treatment in Cuba, while others said he had died days previously on the Communist-run island.
President Vladimir Putin says there is no need yet to send Russian troops into Ukraine, but he has not ruled out doing so.
Russia reserves the right to use “all means” to protect citizens in Ukraine, he told a news conference.
Russian and Ukrainian troops in Crimea are involved in a tense stand-off.
Vladimir Putin called the toppling of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych in the capital Kiev an “anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power”.
The Russian president said “militants” had plunged the country into “chaos”. He also said Ukrainian “nationalists” and “anti-Semites” were roaming the streets of Kiev and other cities.
If Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine asked for Russia’s help then Moscow would respond, he said.
In Crimea pro-Russian armed men and civilians are surrounding Ukrainian military bases – not Russian soldiers, he said.
Viktor Yanukovych had agreed to all that the opposition wanted, Vladimir Putin said.
Vladimir Putin insisted that Viktor Yanukovych was still the legitimate president.
There were only three legal means to remove a president, he said: death, personal resignation or impeachment.
Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, and Vladimir Putin told the news conference: “I don’t think he has a political future.”
Russia had helped Viktor Yanukovych for “humanitarian” reasons, Vladimir Putin said, “otherwise he’d just have been killed”.
Chinese police captured three suspects involved in Saturday’s deadly mass knife attack at Kunming railway station, state media report.
Several men and women burst into the south-western city’s railway station stabbing people at random, leaving 29 dead and wounding more than 130.
Officials have blamed separatists from the Xinjiang region for the attack.
Four attackers were shot dead by police at the scene, officials say. An injured female suspect was reportedly detained.
Citing a statement from the Ministry of Public Security, Xinhua news agency said six men and two women, led by a person identified as Abdurehim Kurban, were responsible for the attack.
There were no details about how the suspects were identified and captured.
Officials say that evidence, such as insignia recovered from the station about “East Turkestan”, points to the involvement of separatists from Xinjiang – a region in the far west of China bordering Central Asia.
China’s security chief, Meng Jianzhu, has vowed “all-out efforts” to “severely punish terrorists”.
Eyewitnesses described horrific scenes on Saturday, saying that in just 12 minutes attackers used curved swords and meat cleavers to stab people at random as they rampaged through the station.
A memorial for the victims has been set up at Kunming station’s concourse
Kunming is the capital of China’s Yunnan province. On Monday, security was tight, with a heavy police presence at Kunming station and surrounding areas.
Xinjiang is home to the Muslim Uighur minority group. Recent months have seen several violent incidents there which the government has blamed on extremists. Verifying these reports is difficult because foreign journalists’ access to the region is tightly controlled.
China is often accused of exaggerating the threat of Islamist terrorism to justify its harsh security crackdown in Xinjiang and the restrictions it places on the religion and culture of the Uighurs.
Australian missionary John Short, who was detained in North Korea last month after it was reported that he distributed religious material, has been deported.
John Short, 75, who has arrived in Beijing from Pyongyang, was detained after apparently leaving Christian pamphlets at a tourist site.
State-run KCNA news agency said John Short had admitted breaking North Korean law and apologized.
It said he was being released partly in consideration of his age.
Religious activity is severely restricted in North Korea and missionaries have been arrested on many previous occasions.
“I’m really, really tired,” John Short told reporters in China’s capital, Beijing, after arriving on a commercial flight.
He was immediately escorted to a vehicle from the Australian embassy, reports say.
Earlier, KCNA reported: “Short acknowledged that his actions were… unforgivable crimes in violation of our laws, offered an apology and begged for forgiveness.”
It also said that John Short had distributed religious material on a busy underground train in Pyongyang during a previous tour in August 2012.
Australia does not have a diplomatic mission in Pyongyang and is represented there by the Swedish embassy.
In a statement on Monday, the Australian government said John Short’s release was “welcome news”.
“Australian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance to Mr. Short to ensure he can return to his home in Hong Kong as soon as possible,” it said.
“We take this opportunity to thank the Swedish government for their tireless efforts on this difficult consular case in recent weeks.”
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Russia’s military build-up in Ukraine has been condemned by its G8 partners amid fresh diplomatic efforts to avert a dangerous escalation of the crisis.
The world’s seven major industrialized powers also suspended preparations for the G8 summit in Sochi in June.
Meanwhile, the EU foreign ministers are due to meet in emergency session in Brussels.
The moves come as Russian military forces continue to strengthen their grip on the Crimean peninsula.
Ukraine’s interim government has accused Russia of having declared war, and has ordered the mobilization of its armed forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has so far defied calls from the West to pull back his troops.
He insists Russia has a right to protect its interests and those of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.
The UN said on Sunday that Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson was travelling to Ukraine to be “personally apprised of the facts on the ground”.
A statement said he would brief UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “on the next steps the United Nations could take to support the de-escalation of the situation”.
On Monday morning, the MICEX index of stocks in Moscow suffered an initial fall of about 5% and the rouble fell 2.5% to an all-time low against the US dollar.
Russia’s central bank also raised its main interest rate to 7% from 5.5%.
The G7 of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US urged Russia to hold talks with Ukraine to address any human rights or security concerns it had.
In a statement released from the White House, the grouping said it condemned “the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
It added: “We have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 Summit in Sochi in June.”
G7 finance ministers said they were ready “to provide strong financial backing to Ukraine”.
“The International Monetary Fund [IMF] remains the institution best prepared to help Ukraine address its immediate economic challenges through policy advice and financing,” a statement said.
Ukraine needs $35 billion over the next two years, according to the finance ministry.
Ukraine launched a treason case on Sunday against Admiral Denis Berezovsky, the head of the navy who surrendered his headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, on only his second day on the job.
Admiral Denis Berezovsky was earlier shown on Russian television swearing allegiance to the pro-Russian regional leaders of Crimea.
Russian forces have seized Crimea peninsula and told Ukrainian forces there to give up their weapons.
“During the blockade by Russian forces of the central headquarters of the navy, he declined to offer resistance and laid down his weapons,” said Viktoria Syumar, deputy secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council.
“The prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal case against Denis Berezovsky under statute 111: state treason,” she said.
Another admiral, Serhiy Hayduk, was placed in charge of the navy. (Reuters)