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Friday, August 1, 2014

Obama says after 9-11, US 'tortured some folks' Obama says after 9-11, US 'tortured some folks'

Obama says after 9-11, US 'tortured some folks'
 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States tortured al Qaida detainees captured after the 9/11 attacks, President Obama said Friday, in some of his most expansive comments to date about a controversial set of CIA practices that he banned after taking office.


"We tortured some folks," Obama said at a televised news conference at the White House. "We did some things that were contrary to our values."

Addressing the impending release of a Senate report that criticizes CIA treatment of detainees, Obama said he believed the mistreatment stemmed from the pressure national security officials felt to forestall another attack. He said Americans should not be too "sanctimonious," about passing judgment through the lens of a seemingly safer present day.

That view, which he expressed as a candidate for national office in 2008 and early in his presidency, explains why Obama did not push to pursue criminal charges against the Bush era officials who carried out the CIA program. To this day, many of those officials insist that what they did was not torture, which is a felony under U.S. law.

The president's comments are a blow to those former officials, as well as an estimated 200 people currently working at the CIA who played some role in the interrogation program.

In 2009, Obama said he preferred to "look forward, not backwards," on the issue, and he decided that no CIA officer who was following legal guidance-however flawed that guidance turned out to be -should be prosecuted. A long-running criminal investigation into whether the CIA exceeded the guidance-which is an allegation of the Senate report-was closed in 2012 without charges.

Still, Obama's remarks on Friday were more emphatic than his previous comments on the subject, including a May 2009 speech in which he trumpeted his ban of "so-called enhanced interrogation techniques," and "brutal methods," but did not flatly say the U.S. had engaged in torture.

At an April 2009 new conference, he said, "I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake."

In addition to water boarding, the CIA used stress positions, sleep deprivation, nudity, humiliation, cold and other tactics that, taken together, were extremely brutal, the Senate report is expected to say. Obama on Friday did not mention a specific method, but he said the CIA used techniques that "any fair minded person would believe were torture."

"We crossed a line," he said. "That needs to be understood and accepted...We did some things that were wrong, and thats what that report reflects."

Obama on Friday did not address two other central arguments of the soon-to-be-released Senate report - that the brutal interrogations didn't produce life-saving intelligence, and that the CIA lied to other elements of the U.S. government about exactly what it was doing.

The president also expressed confidence in his CIA director, John Brennan, in the wake of an internal CIA report documenting that the spy agency improperly accessed Senate computers. There have been calls for his resignation on Capitol Hill.

Obama said the internal report made clear that "some very poor judgment was shown," but he seemed to say it wasn't Brennan's fault, and he praised his director for ordering the inquiry in the first place.
 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Philadelphia Welcomes Woman Sentenced To Death in Sudan For Being Christian

Philadelphia Welcomes Woman Sentenced To Death in Sudan For Being Christian

(Meriam Yahia Ibrahim is assisted by Italian deputy foreign minister Lapo Pistelli as she arrives with her children  at the Ciampino airport in Rome on July 24th.   Photo by AFP stringer/ Getty Images)
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim is assisted by Italian deputy foreign minister Lapo Pistelli as she arrives with her children at the Ciampino airport in Rome on July 24th.
 
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Sudanese woman sentenced to death for practicing Christianity landed this afternoon at Philadelphia International Airport on her way to her new home in the United States.

Meriam Ibrahim was arrested in February and sentenced to death on May 15th for practicing  Christianity and refusing to renounce her faith. The penalty for that in Sudan is death by hanging.

She was also charged with adultery for marrying a Christian, which carries a punishment of one hundred lashes.

For full story got to:  http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/

City Officials Say Without Passage Of Cigarette Tax, Philadelphia Schools May Not Open On Time

City Officials Say Without Passage Of Cigarette Tax, Philadelphia Schools May Not Open On Time

Superintendent Dr. William Hite says a cash advance from the state doesn't solve the district's $81 million deficit. (credit: Mike DeNardo/KYW)

Superintendent Dr. William Hite says a cash advance from the state
doesn’t solve the district’s $81 million deficit.
 
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A timely start to the Philadelphia school year is even more uncertain at word the state house won’t consider the cigarette tax on Monday.

Superintendent Dr. William Hite has said 1,300 layoff notices would go out August 15 without money from the cigarette tax.

“I’m annoyed, disappointed and frustrated, because we’re at a point two weeks before we have to make some operational decisions to educate children,” Hite said.

For full story go to: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/

W. Africa Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths

W. Africa Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths 
 

AP Photo
Social Commentator Alfred Sirleaf, gives comment on current events in Liberia including the deadly Ebola virus by speaking and writhing them down on a blackboard in Monrovia, Liberia, Thursday, July 31, 2014. The worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 deaths in West Africa as the World Health Organization on Thursday announced dozens of new fatalities.
  
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) -- The death toll from the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 in West Africa as security forces went house-to-house in Sierra Leone's capital Thursday looking for patients and others exposed to the disease.

Fears grew as the United States warned against travel to the three infected countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia - and Sierra Leone's soccer team was blocked from boarding a plane in Nairobi, Kenya, that was to take them to the Seychelles for a game on Saturday. Airport authorities in Kenya said Seychelles immigration told them to prevent the team from traveling.

Almost half of the 57 new deaths reported by the World Health Organization occurred in Liberia, where two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly of Texas and Nancy Writebol, a North Carolina-based missionary, are also sick with Ebola.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. is looking into options to bring them back to the U.S. Officials at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital said they expected one of the Americans to be transferred there "within the next several days." The hospital declined to identify which aid worker, citing privacy laws.

Writebol is in stable but serious condition and is receiving an experimental treatment that doctors hope will better address her condition, according to a statement released by SIM, a Christian missions organization. Her husband, David, is close by but can only visit his wife through a window or dressed in a haz-mat suit, the statement said.

"There was only enough (of the experimental serum) for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, another aid organization that has been working in Liberia during the Ebola crisis.

Brantly, who works for the aid group, did receive a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of the doctor's care, Graham said in a statement.

"The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor who saved his life," he said.
Giving a survivor's blood to a patient might be aimed at seeing whether any antibodies the survivor made to 
the virus could help someone else fight off the infection. This approach has been tried in previous Ebola outbreaks with mixed results.

No further details were provided on the experimental treatment. There is currently no licensed drug or 
vaccine for Ebola, and patients can only be given supportive care to keep them hydrated. There are a handful of experimental drug and vaccine candidates for Ebola and while some have had promising results in animals including monkeys, none has been rigorously tested in humans.

The disease has continued to spread through bodily fluids as sick people remain out in the community and cared for by relatives without protective gear. People have become ill from touching sick family members and in some cases from soiled linens.

In Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia to the northwest, authorities are vowing to quarantine all those at home who have refused to go to isolation centers. Many families have kept relatives at home to pray for their survival instead of bringing them to clinics that have had a 60 percent fatality rate. Those in the throngs of death can bleed from their eyes, mouth and ears.

Rosa Crestani, Ebola emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, said it is "crucial" at this point to gain the trust of communities that have been afraid to let health workers in and to deploy more medical staff.

"The declaration of a state of emergency in Sierra Leone shows a recognition of the gravity of the situation, but we do not yet know what this will mean on the ground. What we can say is that it will be difficult to implement due to the fact that the cases are dispersed over such a large area, and that we currently do not have a clear picture of where all the hotspots are," she said.

Liberia's president on Wednesday also instituted new measures aimed at halting the spread of Ebola, including shutting down schools and ordering most public servants to stay home from work.

"It could be helpful for the government to have powers to isolate and quarantine people and it's certainly better than what's been done so far," said Dr. Heinz Feldmann, chief of virology at U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Whether it works, we will have to wait and see."

Dr. Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness and response for the aid group Plan International, said closing schools could help as they bring large numbers of children together, which can amplify infection rates.

"Door-to-door searches are not going to be easy," he said. "What will help is encouraging people to come forward when they see symptoms and seek medical help."

The U.S. Peace Corps also was evacuating hundreds of its volunteers in the affected countries. Two Peace Corps workers are under isolation outside the U.S. after having contact with a person who later died from the Ebola virus, a State Department official said.

In Moberly, Missouri, Liz Sosniecki said she got a call from her 25-year-old son, Dane, a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia. He had not been exposed to Ebola and expressed disappointment about leaving just six weeks after he arrived.

"He said, `I'm coming home.' Sorry," she said, beginning to cry. "I'm a little emotional. It's a relief."

The last time the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued such a travel warning during a disease outbreak was in 2003 because of SARS in Asia.

Ebola now has been blamed for 729 deaths in four West African countries this year: 339 in Guinea, 233 in Sierra Leone, 156 in Liberia and one in Nigeria.

The World Health Organization is launching a $100 million response plan calling for the deployment of several hundred additional health workers to help the strained resources in deeply impoverished West Africa, where hospital and clinics are ill-equipped to cope with routine health threats let alone the outbreak of a virulent disease like Ebola.

Among the deaths announced this week was that of the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, who was buried Thursday. The government said Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan's death was "an irreparable loss of this son of the soil." The 39-year-old was a leading doctor on hemorrhagic fevers in a nation with very few medical resources.

The Ebola cases first emerged in Guinea back in March, and later spread across the borders to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Outbreaks of the virus in previous years had occurred in other parts of Africa.

The current outbreak is now the largest recorded in world history, and has infected three African capitals with international airports. Officials are trying to step up screening of passengers, though an American man was able to fly from Liberia to Nigeria, where authorities say he died days later from Ebola.

Experts say the risk of travelers contracting it is considered low because it requires direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions such as urine, blood, sweat or saliva. Ebola can't be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air.

Patients are contagious only once the disease has progressed to the point they show symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. The most vulnerable are health care workers and relatives who come in much closer contact with the sick.

In Liberia, authorities say 28 out of the 45 health workers who have contracted the disease so far have died.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Last crew member of Enola Gay dies in Georgia

Last crew member of Enola Gay dies in Georgia 

AP Photo
FILE - In this May 21, 2009 file photo, Theodore "Dutch'' VanKirk visits a veteran's group at the Golden Corral in Macon, Ga. The navigator for the Enola Gay spoke about his experience guiding the aircraft that dropped the first atomic bomb. Tom VanKirk says his 93-year-old father died at the retirement home where he lived in Georgia on Monday, July 28, 2014. He was the last surviving member of the Enola Gay crew.

 
ATLANTA (AP) -- The last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, hastening the end of World War II and forcing the world into the atomic age, has died in Georgia.

Theodore VanKirk, also known as "Dutch," died Monday of natural causes at the retirement home where he lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia, his son Tom VanKirk said. He was 93.

VanKirk flew nearly 60 bombing missions, but it was a single mission in the Pacific that secured him a place in history. He was 24 years old when he served as navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb deployed in wartime over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

He was teamed with pilot Paul Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee in Tibbets' fledgling 509th Composite Bomb Group for Special Mission No. 13.

The mission went perfectly, VanKirk told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. He guided the bomber through the night sky, just 15 seconds behind schedule, he said. As the 9,000-pound bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" fell toward the sleeping city, he and his crewmates hoped to escape with their lives.

They didn't know whether the bomb would actually work and, if it did, whether its shockwaves would rip their plane to shreds. They counted - one thousand one, one thousand two - reaching the 43 seconds they'd been told it would take for detonation and heard nothing.

"I think everybody in the plane concluded it was a dud. It seemed a lot longer than 43 seconds," VanKirk recalled.

Then came a bright flash. Then a shockwave. Then another shockwave.

The blast and its aftereffects killed 140,000 in Hiroshima.

Three days after Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The blast and its aftermath claimed 80,000 lives. Six days after the Nagasaki bombing, Japan surrendered.

Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been debated endlessly. VanKirk told the AP he thought it was necessary because it shortened the war and eliminated the need for an Allied land invasion that could have cost more lives on both sides.

"I honestly believe the use of the atomic bomb saved lives in the long run. There were a lot of lives saved. Most of the lives saved were Japanese," VanKirk said.

But it also made him wary of war.

"The whole World War II experience shows that wars don't settle anything. And atomic weapons don't settle anything," he said. "I personally think there shouldn't be any atomic bombs in the world - I'd like to see them all abolished.

"But if anyone has one," he added, "I want to have one more than my enemy."

VanKirk stayed on with the military for a year after the war ended. Then he went to school, earned degrees in chemical engineering and signed on with DuPont, where he stayed until he retired in 1985. He later moved from California to the Atlanta area to be near his daughter.

Like many World War II veterans, VanKirk didn't talk much about his service until much later in his life when he spoke to school groups, his son said.

"I didn't even find out that he was on that mission until I was 10 years old and read some old news clippings in my grandmother's attic," Tom VanKirk told the AP in a phone interview Tuesday.

Instead, he and his three siblings treasured a wonderful father, who was a great mentor and remained active and "sharp as a tack" until the end of his life.

"I know he was recognized as a war hero, but we just knew him as a great father," Tom VanKirk said.

VanKirk's military career was chronicled in a 2012 book, "My True Course," by Suzanne Dietz. VanKirk was energetic, very bright and had a terrific sense of humor, Dietz recalled Tuesday.

Interviewing VanKirk for the book, she said, "was like sitting with your father at the kitchen table listening to him tell stories."

A funeral service was scheduled for VanKirk on Aug. 5 in his hometown of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. 

He will be buried in Northumberland next to his wife, who died in 1975. The burial will be private.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

27th Annual Tour De Shore Kicks Off In Philadelphia

27th Annual Tour De Shore Kicks Off In Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Overcast skies didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of over 2,000 bikers helping to raise money for charities that help the children of fallen firefighters and police officers.

The 27th annual Tour de Shore, sponsored by Philadelphia’s Irish Pub, kicked off on Sunday morning.

“There are different organizations that do all different things, but it is all about the children,” explains John Gallagher, of the Irish Pub Children’s Foundation.

The more than 2,000 cyclists riding in the event are police, firefighters and civilians.

One of the largest team’s participating is called “Wheels of Justice,” and it’s led by Montgomery County DA Risa Ferman.

“Those dollars are critical. They are critically needed for our fallen heroes and to support children’s charities in southeastern Pennsylvania and south Jersey,” she says.

For full story go to:  http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/

Ebola kills top Liberian doctor, American infected

Ebola kills top Liberian doctor, American infected
 
AP Photo
In this 2014 photo provided by the Samaritan's Purse aid organization, Dr. Kent Brantly, left, treats an Ebola patient at the Samaritan's Purse Ebola Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia. On Saturday, July 26, 2014, the North Carolina-based aid organization said Brantly tested positive for the disease and was being treated at a hospital in Monrovia.
 
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- One of Liberia's most high-profile doctors has died of Ebola, officials said Sunday, and an American physician was being treated for the deadly virus, highlighting the risks facing health workers trying to combat an outbreak that has killed more than 670 people in West Africa - the largest ever recorded.


Dr. Samuel Brisbane was treating Ebola patients at the country's largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, when he fell ill. He died Saturday, said Tolbert Nyenswah, an assistant health minister. A Ugandan doctor died earlier this month.

The American, 33-year-old Dr. Kent Brantly, was in Liberia helping to respond to the outbreak that has killed 129 people nationwide when he fell ill, according to the North Carolina-based medical charity, Samaritan's Purse.

He was receiving intensive medical care in a Monrovia hospital and was in stable condition, according to a spokeswoman for the aid group, Melissa Strickland.

"We are hopeful, but he is certainly not out of the woods yet," she said.

Early treatment improves a patient's chances of survival, and Strickland said Brantly recognized his own symptoms and began receiving care immediately.

There is no known cure for the highly contagious virus, which is one of the world's deadliest. At least 1,201 people have been infected in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization, and 672 have died. Besides the Liberian fatalities, 319 people have died in Guinea and 224 in Sierra Leone.

Ominously, Nigerian authorities said Friday that a Liberian man died of Ebola after flying from Monrovia to Lagos via Lome, Togo. The case underscored the difficulty of preventing Ebola victims from traveling given weak screening systems and the fact that the initial symptoms of the disease - including fever and sore throat - resemble many other illnesses.

Health workers are among those at greatest risk of contracting the disease, which spreads through contact with bodily fluids.

Photos of Brantly working in Liberia show him swathed head-to-toe in white protective coveralls, gloves and a head-and-face mask that he wore for hours a day while treating Ebola patients.

Earlier this year, the American was quoted in a posting about the dangers facing health workers trying to contain the disease. "In past Ebola outbreaks, many of the casualties have been health care workers who contracted the disease through their work caring for infected individuals," he said.

There is no known cure for Ebola, which begins with symptoms including fever and sore throat and escalates to vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding.

The WHO says the disease is not contagious until a person begins to show symptoms. Brantly's wife and children had been living with him in Liberia but flew home to the U.S. about a week ago, before the doctor started showing any signs of illness, Strickland said.

"They have absolutely shown no symptoms," she said.

A woman who identified herself as Brantly's mother said the family was declining immediate comment when reached by phone in Indiana.

Besides Brantly and the two doctors in Liberia, Sierra Leone's top Ebola doctor and a doctor in Liberia's central Bong County have also fallen ill.

The situation "is getting more and more scary," said Nyenswah, the country's assistant health minister.

Meanwhile, the fact that a sick Liberian could board a flight to Nigeria raised new fears that other passengers could take the disease beyond Africa.

Nigeria's international airports were screening passengers arriving from foreign countries, and health officials were also working with ports and land borders to raise awareness of the disease. Togo's government also said it was on high alert.

Security analysts were skeptical about the usefulness of these measures.

"In Nigeria's case, the security set-up is currently bad, so I doubt it will help or have the minimum effectiveness they are hoping for," said Yan St. Pierre, CEO of the Berlin-based security consulting firm MOSECON.

An outbreak in Lagos, a megacity where many lived in cramped conditions, could be a major public health disaster.

The West Africa outbreak is believed to have begun as far back as January in southeast Guinea, though the first cases weren't confirmed until March.

Since then, officials have tried to contain the disease by isolating victims and educating populations on how to avoid transmission, though porous borders and widespread distrust of health workers have made the outbreak difficult to bring under control.

News of Brisbane's death first began circulating on Saturday, a national holiday marking Liberia's independence in 1847.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf used her Independence Day address to discuss a new taskforce to combat Ebola. Information Minister Lewis Brown said the taskforce would go "from community to community, from village to village, from town to town" to try to increase awareness.

In Sierra Leone, which has recorded the highest number of new cases in recent days, the first case originating in Freetown, the capital, came when a hairdresser, Saudata Koroma, fell ill. She was forcibly removed from a government hospital by her family, sparking a frantic search that ended Friday. Kargbo, the chief medical officer, said Sunday that Koroma died while being transported to a treatment center in the east of the country.
 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Taiwan plane survivor crawls out, phones dad

Taiwan plane survivor crawls out, phones dad

AP Photo
Emergency workers watch an engine lifted from the TransAsia Airways Flight GE222 crash site on the outlying Taiwan island of Penghu, Friday, July 25, 2014. Investigators on Friday were examining wreckage and flight data recorders for clues into a plane crash on the Taiwanese island that killed 48 people.

XIXI, Taiwan (AP) -- The 10 survivors of Taiwan's worst air disaster in more than a decade include a 34-year-old woman who called her father after scrambling from the wreckage and seeking help at a nearby home.


Hung Yu-ting escaped through a hole in the fuselage that opened up after the plane plowed into homes Wednesday while attempting to land on the outlying resort island of Penghu, killing 48 people. She used the phone at the nearby house to call her father.

"She called me on the phone to say the plane had crashed and exploded but that she had already crawled out and I should come right away to get her," said Hung's father, Hung Chang-ming, who lives just a few hundred meters (yards) from the crash site.

Hung rushed to the scene, but his daughter had already been taken away by rescuers.

"When I was halfway there the fire was still really big, but it was smaller when I arrived on the scene," Hung told reporters. "There were two other injured outside and the first ambulance had already taken away three, including my daughter."

Hung Chang-ming joined rescuers and other residents in putting out the fire and rescuing other survivors before going to the hospital to check on his daughter.

Hung Yu-ting was recovering Friday from burns to her arms, legs and back suffered during her escape. The condition of the other survivors wasn't immediately known.

Other relatives weren't so lucky, some recalling the last phone conversations with their loved ones.

Shu Chi-tse said he had spoken to his son, Shu Chong-tai, just before the flight left the southern city of Kaohsiung on Taiwan's main island for the short ride west across the Taiwan Strait.

"He is a good boy. He cares for me and his mom. He loves his grandma a lot," Shu said.

Among the dead were all four members of the flight crew, a family of six and a family of four. They included several children, among them 9-year-old Ho Po-yu, who was returning home to Penghu with his mother after attending a summer camp for young choral singers.

Stormy weather and low visibility are thought to have been factors in the crash of the twin-propeller ATR-72 operated by TransAsia Airways.

The investigation is expected to focus on a four-minute gap between the pilot's request for a second approach and the plane's crashing into village homes at 7:10 p.m., during which visibility dropped by half.

One of the questions is why the pilots decided to proceed with the flight despite rough weather on the heels of a typhoon that had forced the cancellation of about 200 flights earlier in the day. However, aviation authorities said conditions were safe for flying and two other planes had landed at Penghu prior to the crash.

The mother of one of the victims screamed at TransAsia Chairman Vincent Lin when he arrived to pay respects at the funeral hall Friday.

Lin kneeled down, bowed to the woman and apologized.

"Give me back my son, he is only 27 years old," the woman cried. "He is still young, but now he is lying there at the morgue. I want my son back."

"This is an unpredictable tragedy. The priority for us is to assist victims' relatives," Lin later told reporters as Buddhist monks conducted rituals for the dead.

Local media reported Friday that the plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder had been sent to the main island of Taiwan for analysis. One of the devices was damaged in the crash and ensuing fire, and it wasn't immediately clear when results of the investigation would be made public.

The TransAsia crash was Taiwan's first deadly civil aviation accident since 2002, when a China Airlines plane went down shortly after takeoff, killing 225.
 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Planes with Ukraine bodies arrive in Netherlands

Planes with Ukraine bodies arrive in Netherlands
 

AP Photo
Graffiti under a railway bridge commemorates the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says he is sending 40 unarmed military police to eastern Ukraine as part of a ramped-up effort to find the last victims of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 still at the crash site. Rutte told The Associated Press he is sending the police not as security for the site in rebel-held territory but as “extra hands and eyes to look for remaining remains and personal belongings” of victims.

KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Two more military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the crash site which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels.


Human remains continue to be found a full week after the plane went down - underlining concerns about the halting and chaotic recovery effort at the sprawling site spread across farmland in eastern Ukraine. Armed separatists control the area and have hindered access by investigators.

All 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 - most of them Dutch citizens - were killed when the plane was shot down on July 17. U.S. officials say the Boeing 777 was probably shot down by a missile from territory held by pro-Russian rebels, likely by accident.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who says he fears some remains will never be recovered unless security is tightened, has proposed a multinational force mounted by countries such as Australia, the Netherlands and Malaysia that lost citizens in the disaster. Abbott said Thursday he had dispatched 50 police officers to London to be ready to join any organization which may result.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was traveling with her Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans to Kiev to seek an agreement with the Ukraine government to allow international police to secure the wreckage, Abbott said.

Details including which countries would contribute and whether officers would be armed and protected by international troops were yet to be agreed, Abbott said.

International experts found more remains still at the crash site both Wednesday and Thursday, Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters in Donetsk on Thursday. OSCE observers, sent to monitor the conflict, escorted a delegation from Australia to examine the wreckage Thursday for the first time. More Australian specialists are expected to join them Friday, Bociurkiw said.

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution proposed by Australia demanding that rebels cooperate with an independent investigation and allow all remaining bodies to be recovered.

The first remains arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday and were met by Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and hundreds of relatives. The two planes Thursday brought a total of 74 more coffins back to the Netherlands, said government spokesman Lodewijk Hekking.

Patricia Zorko, head of the National Police Unit that includes the Dutch national forensic team, said some 200 experts, including 80 from overseas, were working in Hilversum at a military barracks on the outskirts of the central city of Hilversum to identify the dead. Around the world some 1,000 people are involved in the process, which also includes gathering information from next of kin.

Staff will "examine the bodies, describe the bodies, take dental information, DNA and put all the information together in the computer and compare this information with the information they gathered from the families in the last days," police spokesman Ed Kraszewski said in a telephone interview. "Then we have to see if there is a match."

There are three scientific methods of identifying bodies - dental records, finger prints and DNA.

After the experts believe they have positively identified a body, they defend their findings to an international panel. If both agree, the positive identification will be sent to a Dutch prosecution office, which has the power to release the body to the next of kin.

Zorko warned that the process of identification could be drawn out.
"Unfortunately this type of investigation often takes time," she said. "Count on weeks and maybe even months."

The Dutch Safety Board said investigators in England successfully downloaded data from Flight 17's Flight Data Recorder. It said "no evidence or indications of manipulation of the recorder was found." It did not release any details of the data.

Meanwhile, police and traffic authorities appealed to the public not to stop on the highway as a convoy of hearses passes by Thursday on its way from Eindhoven Air Base to Hilversum.

On Wednesday, the convoy of hearses passed through roads lined with thousands of members of the public, who applauded, threw flowers or stood in silence as the cars drove by.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said Thursday that the number of Dutch victims had risen by one to 194, taking into account a woman with joint German and Dutch nationalities who earlier had been listed as German.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the crash, but offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.

The officials said the plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. officials cited intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.

Russia on Thursday brushed off the accusations. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in a video statement that if the U.S. officials indeed had the proof the plane shot down by a missile launched from the rebel-held territory, "how come they have not been made public?"

Pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government troops have been fighting for more than three months, leaving at least 400 dead and displacing tens of thousands.

The Obama administration on Thursday accused Russia of firing artillery from its territory into Ukraine to hit Ukrainian military sites and asserted that Moscow is boosting its supply of weaponry to pro-Russian separatists.

"We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to separatist forces in Ukraine and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russian to attack Ukrainian military positions," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. She said the evidence derived from "some intelligence information" but declined to elaborate, saying it would compromise sources and methods of intelligence collection.

In Brussels, ambassadors from the 28 European Union nations agreed Thursday to add more names to the list of Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians subject to EU-wide asset freezes and travel bans for allegedly acting against Ukraine's territorial integrity. Seventy-two people are already covered by the measures.

European Union officials said the new names would be made public only Friday and the fresh sanctions could for the first time result in Russian companies being blacklisted from doing business in the EU.

On Friday, the ambassadors will meet again to discuss the possible imposition of further sweeping measures, targeting Russia's high-tech, energy, defense and banking sectors, if Russia fails to cease its alleged support for the rebellion.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the White House expects that at least some of the individuals targeted by the EU will overlap with those sanctioned already by the U.S.
 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Israeli mood turns dark with mounting casualties

Israeli mood turns dark with mounting casualties 

AP Photo
Israeli soldiers carry the coffin of Staff Sgt. Moshe Melako, 20, during his funeral at the Mount Herzel military cemetery in Jerusalem, Monday, July 21, 2014. Melako was one of 13 soldiers killed in several separate incidents in Shijaiyah on Sunday, as Israel-Hamas fighting exacted a steep price, killing scores of Palestinians and more than a dozen Israeli soldiers. In Israel, a country where military service is mandatory for most citizens, military losses are considered every bit as tragic as civilian ones.

JERUSALEM (AP) -- For almost two weeks, Israel practically bristled with confidence and pride: The Iron Dome air defense system was dependably zapping incoming Hamas rockets from the skies, the military was successfully repelling infiltration attempts on the ground and from the sea, and the conflict with Hamas was causing almost no casualties in Israel.

That has changed in what seems like a flash, after at least 25 soldiers were killed and scores injured - a predictable yet still stunning outcome of the fateful decision, announced late Thursday, to send troops and tanks by land into Hamas-ruled Gaza.

In a country where military service is mandatory for most citizens, and military losses are considered every bit as tragic as civilian ones, the reaction to the setbacks was electric. Newspapers and broadcasts have been dominated by images and tales of the fallen - mostly young faces barely out of high school - and interviews with parents concerned for offspring so clearly now imperiled.

Angst over the highest military toll since the 2006 Lebanon war now mixes with a cocktail of emotions: on one hand, a strong current of determination to press on with efforts to end the rocket fire from Gaza; on the other, the sinking feeling that a quagmire is at hand.

"It's ugly and it's no walk in the park," said Alon Geller, a 42-year-old legal intern from central Israel. "But we have to finish the operation. If we stop now before reaching our goals, the soldiers will have died in vain."

But the Haaretz newspaper warned against mission creep and the "wholesale killing" of Palestinian civilians. 

"The soft Gaza sand ... could turn into quicksand," it said in its editorial Monday. "There can be no victory here. ... Israel must limit its time in the Strip."

There was always near-consensus among Israelis for the airstrikes aimed at ending the rocket fire, which they considered unreasonable and outrageous. The Palestinian fatalities caused by the airstrikes - over 500 in two weeks, many of them civilians - are generally blamed here on Hamas, for locating launchers in civilian areas and for proving to be cynical and nihilistic, to Israeli eyes, at every turn.

But a ground invasion of Gaza is another story, and the government had clearly hesitated to take the risk. House-to-house fighting, tanks exposed in fields, the danger of a soldier being kidnapped, to be traded for thousands after years in captivity: It is an untidy and dispiriting affair.

The government felt it necessary to take such a risky step because despite all the damage being inflicted on Gaza by the airstrikes, the Hamas rocket fire simply did not stop. Israeli officials also felt world opinion would understand after Hamas rejected a cease-fire proposal that Israel had accepted.

Complicating the situation from Israel's perspective, Hamas does not seem to be coming under significant pressure from the people of Gaza despite the devastation they are enduring. While Gaza is no democracy and Hamas rules by force, this seems to reflect genuine support for Hamas' aim of breaking the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on the strip.

Emboldened, Hamas ratcheted up attempts to carry out deadly attacks against Israeli border communities through tunnels dug underneath the fence separating Israel from Gaza. For Israelis, that raised a terrifying specter of families in placid farming areas on the edge of the Negev desert waking up to find swarms of Islamic militants in their midst.

"This brought it home that they are out to kill us and we have to stop them," said Yehuda Ben-Meir, a political analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies. "No one can say he (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) was trigger-happy. It convinced the Israeli public that the decision taken by Netanyahu came from a sense of `we have no other choice.'"

Despite the absence of panic Monday, it is clear that if soldiers continue to be killed at this rate, the flexibility enjoyed by Netanyahu to date will likely be replaced by a growing sense of urgency to stop the casualties. Many Israeli leftists will demand an end to the operation. Hard-liners will demand more radical action, up to and including a takeover of Gaza. That will add to the already mounting pressure from an outside world horrified by the carnage on the Palestinian side.

The prime minister is probably mindful that the popularity tipping point for his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, came when the public concluded too many soldiers were being killed and that the military was not fully prepared during the 2006 war.

Some - in the government and on the street - are already calling for a total invasion aimed at ousting Hamas, even if this leaves Israel again occupying a hostile and impoverished population of 1.8 million, as it did for nearly four uncomfortable decades until its pullout from Gaza in 2005. For the moment the ground operation is mostly limited to areas relatively near the Israeli border, where Israel is shutting down tunnels and hunting for rocket launchers; a takeover of Gaza City would probably be much more costly still.

"I hate war. I'm pained by every death," said Haviv Shabtai, a 61-year-old Jerusalem bus driver who has served in several wars, has a son currently called up, and had opposed a ground invasion because of the risk. Shabtai said he took the losses personally and was even physically overwhelmed at the news."After recovering from that shock," he said, "I say go all the way."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

US outlines case against Russia on downed plane

US outlines case against Russia on downed plane 

AP Photo
A pro-Russian fighter guards the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Rebels in eastern Ukraine took control Sunday of the bodies recovered from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and the U.S. and European leaders demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin make sure rebels give international investigators full access to the crash site.
  
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site. Imagery showing the firing. Calls claiming credit for the strike. Recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.

"A buildup of extraordinary circumstantial evidence ... it's powerful here," said Secretary of State John Kerry, a former prosecutor, and it holds Russian-supported rebels in eastern Ukraine responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, with the Kremlin complicit in the deaths of nearly 300 passengers and crew members.

"This is the moment of truth for Russia," said Kerry, leveling some of Washington's harshest criticism of Moscow since the crisis in Ukraine began.

"Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists, and Russia has not yet done the things necessary in order to try to bring them under control," he said.

In a round of television interviews, Kerry cited a mix of U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence and social media reports that he said "obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists" for firing the missile that brought the plane down, killing nearly 300 passengers and crew.

"It's pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia into the hands of separatists," he said.
Video of an SA-11 launcher, with one of its missiles missing and leaving the likely launch site, has been authenticated, he said.

An Associated Press journalist saw a missile launcher in rebel-held territory close to the crash site just hours before the plane was brought down Thursday.

"There's a buildup of extraordinary circumstantial evidence," Kerry said. "We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing, and it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar. We also know from voice identification that the separatists were bragging about shooting it down afterward."

In one set of calls, said by Ukrainian security services to have been recorded shortly after the plane was hit, a prominent rebel commander, Igor Bezler, tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane.

Shortly before Kerry's television appearances, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, released a statement saying experts had authenticated the calls.

"Audio data provided to the press by the Ukrainian security service was evaluated by intelligence community analysts who confirmed these were authentic conversations between known separatist leaders, based on comparing the Ukraine-released internet audio to recordings of known separatists," the statement said.

A new set of recordings apparently made Friday also appears to implicate rebels in an attempted cover-up at the crash site.

In one exchange, a man identified as the leader of the rebel Vostok Battalion Alexander Khodakovsky states that two recording devices are being held by the head of intelligence of the insurgency's military commander. The commander is then heard to order the militiaman to ensure no outsiders, including an international observation team near the crash site at the reported time of the call, get hold of any material.

The man identified as Khodakovsky says he is pursuing inquiries about the black boxes under instructions from "our high-placed friends ... in Moscow."

In another conversation with a rebel representative at the crash site who reports finding an orange box marked as a satellite navigation box, Khodakovsky is purported to order that the object be hidden.

U.S. aviation safety experts say they are especially concerned the site will be "spoiled" if it cannot be quickly secured by investigators. Based on photographs, they say it is a very large debris field consistent with an in-flight explosion and the main evidence to be collected would be pieces of the missile.

Because the integrity of the plane and actions of the pilots are not an issue, the experts do not believe the flight recorders will yield much useful information.

U.S. and Ukrainian authorities have been at the forefront of accusations that the separatists, aided by Russia, are responsible, although other countries, including Australia and Britain have offered similar, if less definitive, assessments.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in an unusual front-page piece in the Sunday Times that there is growing evidence that separatist backed by Russia shot down the aircraft.

"If President (Vladimir) Putin does not change his approach to Ukraine, then Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia," Cameron wrote.

Putin and other Russian officials have blamed the government in Ukraine for creating the situation and atmosphere in which the plane was downed, but have yet to directly address the allegations that the separatists were responsible or were operating with technical assistance from Moscow.

In his interviews, Kerry accused Russia of "playing" a dual-track policy in Ukraine of saying one thing and doing another. That, he said, "is really threatening both the larger interests as well as that region and threatening Ukraine itself."

He lamented that the level of trust between Washington and Moscow is now at a low ebb, saying it "would be ridiculous at this point in time to be trusting" of what the Kremlin says.

Kerry also said the administration was hopeful that the incident would galvanize support in Europe for increasing sanctions on Russia over its overall actions in Ukraine.

"We hope this is a wake-up call for some countries in Europe that have been reluctant to move," Kerry said, noting that President Barack Obama had signed off on a new round of sanctions on Russia the day before the plane went down.

Kerry made his comments in appearance on five talk shows: CNN's "State of the Union," "Fox News Sunday," CBS's "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press," and ABC's "This Week."


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Owner of raided Mexico child shelter was admired

Owner of raided Mexico child shelter was admired 

AP Photo
A boy peers out through the door of a cell-like room inside The Great Family group home in Zamora, Mexico, Thursday, July 17, 2014. After a police raid on the refuse-strewn group home Tuesday, residents of the shelter told authorities that some employees beat residents, fed them rotting food or locked them in a tiny "punishment" room. Shelter residents were still being kept at the home while officials look for places to transfer them.

ZAMORA, Mexico (AP) -- For more than six decades, poor parents struggling to support their children or raise troubled youths sent them to a group home in western Mexico run by a woman who gained a reputation as a secular saint.

Rosa del Carmen Verduzco raised thousands of children in The Great Family home. She cultivated patrons among Mexico's political and intellectual elites, and was visited by presidents and renowned writers.

Then, last year, parents began complaining to authorities that they couldn't visit their children at the home. 

Residents told investigators of Dickensian horrors - rapes, beatings and children held against their will for years in trash-strewn rooms with filthy toilets.

On Tuesday, heavily armed federal police and soldiers raided the home and arrested nine caretakers, including the 79-year-old woman known as Mama Rosa.

The revelations spawned disgust and horror, but also a rush to Mama Rosa's defense by supporters who include some of Mexico's most respected intellectuals and some of the very children who say they were mistreated at her facility.

"It was a great job that she did in Zamora and now, clearly, she is being persecuted," Elena Poniatowska, one of Mexico's most prominent writers, told Milenio Television. "What should be done, really, is that the government should take better care of people."

The outpouring of support appears based on the belief that Verduzco was not complicit in any abuse, even if her age and declining health stopped her from correctly overseeing the home. It also reflects deep skepticism of President Enrique Pena Nieto's government, which publicized the raid as an example of its efforts to protect children.

Tomas Zeron, federal chief of criminal investigations, told the Televisa network Friday that he doubts Verduzco will be charged with a crime, saying she lost control of a once-worthy charity because of her age, and would probably go free.

The Great Family appears to have operated more as a commune than a professionally run children's home. In interviews with The Associated Press, current and former residents described a chaotic world where troubled teenagers were overseen by adult residents, many of whom started living there as children themselves, with virtually no professional supervision.

The police raid on Tuesday found six babies, 154 girls, 278 boys, 50 women and 109 men, federal officials said. Prosecutors said 10 people were so severely malnourished they couldn't determine their ages.

Children and adult residents couldn't leave the home without a chaperone. Sex inside the facility was common, both consensual and, according to the government, rape and sexual abuse.

Luis Perez Juarez, 32, a waiter at a local bar, said he fled the home in 2003 after almost a decade there.

"She punished me, she hit me, she pulled my ears and she left me without food for a week," prompting other children to sneak him food, Juarez said of Verduzco. But, "she gave me a bed, a place to stay, food and an education, and I am grateful to her for that."

Many members of Mexico's elite remain loyal to her.

"Filth, abuse. Did that merit a military operation?" historian and essayist Enrique Krauze wrote on his Twitter account.

Former President Vicente Fox, whose administration helped gather donations for the home, wrote in his Twitter account that "a great injustice is being committed .... Mama Rosa, we know you and your great work."

The country's child-protection agency referred many of the children to the home after their parents said they were financially or emotionally unable to care for them. Funding was a mix of private donations and public money. Inspections apparently were lax or non-existent.

Former residents told the AP that Verduzco adopted many of the children, giving them her name.

Paid professionals living outside the home ran the elementary, junior high school and music programs, but most work was done by residents who came as children and stayed on as adults, helping care for youngsters in exchange for room, board and a tiny stipend. Of the eight people arrested with Verduzco, one was a professional teacher and the rest were former residents who stayed on, said Montserrat Marin Verduzco, Mama Rosa's niece. None have been formally charged.

Inside the home Thursday, government workers prepared lunch as the nearly 600 residents lounged and played on blankets and mattresses piled in rooms and on the patio. The children's fate is uncertain, although many will probably be returned to their parents.

Residents said consensual sex was common at the home, as were fights among residents, bullying and physical abuse. Karen Rodriguez Medina, 18, has a 6-month-old baby girl with a young man who also lives there.

"Yes, I am thankful to Mama Rosita for what she has done, but in other aspects no, because she allowed violence among us," Rodriguez Medina said. "She didn't give us diapers or things the baby needed, but she did give us a roof to live under."

Relatives said they were allowed only limited visits and when they sought to withdraw their family members Verduzco requested money for their release.

Maria Valdivia Vasquez, 65, said she was allowed only two visits a year with her 17-year-old grandson, whose mother abandoned him at the home a decade ago. She said when she requested the boy's release, Verduzco demanded 70,000 pesos ($5,400).

Raquel Briones Gallegos, 44, said she tried to get her 20-year-old son out in April. "They ran me out of the 
 house and said insulting things," she said.

On Saturday, authorities said the first children had been transferred to official institutions. Michoacan state Gov. Salvador Jara said 48 children left the home on Friday for Guadalajara in neighboring Jalisco state, where they came from. Another 19 children could leave for the same destination on Saturday or Sunday. Other residents have been transferred to Guanajuato or Mexico state.

Dr. Alberto Sahagun, director of the hospital where Verduzco is under police guard while being treated for diabetes and blood pressure problems, said she was a strict but selfless crusader, adopting children nobody else wanted.

"She had to be tough, to handle several hundred children," said Sahagun.

He suggested that as Verduzco grew older, she may have lost control of the institution. And the iron character that forged her project kept her from delegating responsibility. "Her sin was not asking for help as she grew old

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ukraine: Pro-Russia rebels downed Malaysian plane

Ukraine: Pro-Russia rebels downed Malaysian plane

AP Photo
Fire engines arrive at the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine, as the sun sets Thursday, July 17, 2014. Ukraine said a passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down Thursday as it flew over the country, and both the government and the pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied any responsibility for downing the plane.
  
HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down a Malaysian jetliner with 298 people aboard Thursday, sharply escalating the crisis and threatening to draw both East and West deeper into the conflict. The rebels denied downing the aircraft.

American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought the plane down but were still working on who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukrainian side of the border, a U.S. official said.

Bodies, debris and burning wreckage of the Boeing 777 were strewn over a field near the rebel-held village of Hrabove in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border, where fighting has raged for months.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden described the plane as having been "blown out of the sky."

The aircraft appeared to have broken up before impact, and there were large pieces of the plane that bore the red, white and blue markings of Malaysia Airlines - now familiar worldwide because of the carrier's still-missing jetliner from earlier this year.

The cockpit and one of the turbines lay at a distance of one kilometer (more than a half-mile) from one another. Residents said the tail was about 10 kilometers (six miles) farther away. Rescue workers planted sticks with white flags in spots where they found human remains.

There was no sign of any survivors from Flight 17, which took off shortly after noon Thursday from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers, including three infants, and a crew of 15. Malaysia's prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

President Petro Poroshenko called it an "act of terrorism" and demanded an international investigation. He insisted his forces did not shoot down the plane.

Ukraine's security services produced what they said were two intercepted telephone conversations that showed rebels were responsible. In the first call, the security services said, rebel commander Igor Bezler tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane. In the second, two rebel fighters - one of them at the crash scene - say the rocket attack was carried out by a unit of insurgents about 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the site.

Neither recording could be independently verified.

Earlier in the week, the rebels had claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian military planes.

President Barack Obama called the crash a "terrible tragedy" and spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Poroshenko. Britain asked for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Ukraine.

Later, Putin said Ukraine bore responsibility for the crash, but he didn't address the question of who might have shot it down and didn't accuse Ukraine of doing so.

"This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine," Putin said, according to a Kremlin statement issued early Friday. "And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."

At the United Nations, Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told the AP that Russia gave the separatists a sophisticated missile system and thus Moscow bears responsibility, along with the rebels.

Officials said more than half of those aboard the plane were Dutch citizens, along with passengers from Australia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Philippines and Canada. The home countries of nearly 50 were not confirmed.

The different nationalities of the dead would bring Ukraine's conflict to parts of the globe that were never touched by it before.

Ukraine's crisis began after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office in February by a protest movement among citizens angry about endemic corruption and seeking closer ties with the European Union. Russia later annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine, and pro-Russians in the country's eastern regions began occupying government buildings and pressing for independence. Moscow denies Western charges it is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest.

Kenneth Quinn of the Flight Safety Foundation said an international coalition of countries should lead the investigation. Safety experts say they're concerned that because the plane crashed in area of Ukraine that is in dispute, political considerations could affect the investigation.

The RIA-Novosti agency quoted rebel leader Alexander Borodai as saying talks were underway with Ukrainian authorities on calling a short truce for humanitarian reasons. He said international organizations would be allowed into the conflict-plagued region.

Some journalists trying to reach the crash site were detained briefly by rebel militiamen, who were nervous and aggressive.

Aviation authorities in several countries, including the FAA in the United States, had issued warnings not to fly over parts of Ukraine prior to Thursday's crash, but many carriers, including cash-strapped Malaysia Airlines, had continued to use the route because "it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money," said aviation expert Norman Shanks.

Within hours of Thursday's crash, several airlines said they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace.

Malaysia Airlines said Ukrainian aviation authorities told the company they had lost contact with Flight 17 at 1415 GMT (10 a.m. EDT) about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Tamak waypoint, which is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Russia-Ukraine border.

A U.S. official said American intelligence authorities believe the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile but were still working to determine additional details about the crash, including who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukraine side of the border.

But U.S. intelligence assessments suggest it is more likely pro-Russian separatists or the Russians rather than Ukrainian government forces shot down the plane, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The U.S. has sophisticated technologies that can detect missile launches, including the identification of heat from the rocket engine.

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on his Facebook page the plane was flying at about 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) when it was hit by a missile from a Buk launcher, which can fire up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet). He said only that his information was based on "intelligence."

Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said both Ukrainian and Russian forces have SA-17 missile systems - also known as Buk ground-to-air launcher systems.

Rebels had bragged recently about having acquired Buk systems.

Sutyagin said Russia had supplied separatists with military hardware but had seen no evidence "of the transfer of that type of system from Russia."

Earlier Thusday, AP journalists saw a launcher that looked like a Buk missile system near the eastern town of Snizhne, which is held by the rebels.

Poroshenko said his country's armed forces didn't shoot at any airborne targets.

"We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets," he said.

The Kremlin said Putin "informed the U.S. president of the report from air traffic controllers that the Malaysian plane had crashed on Ukrainian territory" without giving further details about their call. The White House confirmed the call.

Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told the AP he was certain that Ukrainian troops had shot the plane down, but gave no explanation or proof.

Purgin said he did not know whether rebel forces owned Buk missile launchers, but said even if they did, they had no fighters capable of operating them.

In Kuala Lumpur, several relatives of those aboard the jet came to the international airport.

A distraught Akmar Mohamad Noor, 67, said her older sister was coming to visit the family for the first time in five years. "She called me just before she boarded the plane and said `see you soon,'" Akmar said.

It was the second time a Malaysia Airlines plane was lost in less than six months. Flight 370 disappeared in March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It has not been found, but the search has been concentrated in the Indian Ocean far west of Australia.

There have been several disputes over planes being shot down over eastern Ukraine in recent days.

A Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down Wednesday by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting the insurgents. Ukraine Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said the pilot of the Sukhoi-25 jet hit by the missile bailed out after his jet was hit.

Moscow's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin denied Russia shot down the Ukrainian fighter jet.

Pro-Russia rebels claimed responsibility for strikes on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets Wednesday.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile but the pilot landed safely.

Earlier this week, Ukraine said a military transport plane was shot down Monday over eastern Ukraine by a missile from Russian territory.

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