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Battle at Donetsk airport; Ukraine leader says no talks with ‘terrorists’

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Battle at Donetsk airport; Ukraine leader says no talks with ‘terrorists’ | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Battle at Donetsk airport; new Ukraine leader says no talks with ‘terrorists’
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Ukraine launched air strikes and a paratrooper assault against pro-Russian rebels who seized an airport on Monday, as its newly elected leader rejected any talks with “terrorists” and said a robust military campaign in the east should be able to put down a separatist revolt in “a matter of hours”.

Ukrainians rallied overwhelmingly in Sunday’s election behind Petro Poroshenko, a political veteran and billionaire owner of chocolate factories, hoping the burly 48-year-old can rescue the nation from the brink of bankruptcy, civil war and dismemberment by its former Soviet masters in the Kremlin.

Monday’s rapid military response to separatists who seized the airport in Donetsk was a defiant answer to Moscow, which said it was ready for dialogue with Poroshenko but demanded he first scale back the armed forces’ campaign in the east.

Even as the fighting was getting under way, Poroshenko held a news conference in Kiev where he said the government’s military offensive needed to be “quicker and more effective”.

“The anti-terrorist operation should not last two or three months. It should last for a matter of hours,” he said.

As for the rebel fighters: “They want to preserve a bandit state which is held in place by force of arms,” he said. “These are simply bandits. Nobody in any civilized state will hold negotiations with terrorists.”

Gunfire and explosions could be heard as a warplane flew over Donetsk’s Sergei Prokofiev International Airport, hours after truckloads of armed rebel fighters arrived and seized a terminal. Thick black smoke rose from within the perimeter.

The government said its jets had strafed the area with warning shots and then struck a location where rebels were concentrated, scattering the fighters before paratroops were flown in to face them.

Eight hours after it began, fighting was continuing after nightfall and had spread to residential neighborhoods nearby.

“Fighting continues in the airport, with the use of planes and helicopters,” said separatist leader Denis Pushilin. “It’s a full-blown military standoff. I have no information on casualties. Our groups have destroyed one helicopter of the enemy.”

At one point, three Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopter gunships fired rockets and cannon at the concrete and glass terminal. More plumes of black smoke shot up into the air as the helicopters fired at targets on the runway. The gunships threw out decoy flares as fighters shot at them from the ground.

The airport serves a city of 1 million people that the rebels have proclaimed capital of an independent “people’s republic”, and where they succeeded in blocking all voting in Sunday’s election.

Their attempt to seize the airport may have been intended to prevent Poroshenko from travelling there: he has said his first trip in office would be to visit the restive east.

Russia’s foreign ministry urged Kiev to halt what it called “military operations against its own people” and said it wanted the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to investigate clashes with pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk.

Pushilin called for “any available help from the Russian people”.

FIRM MANDATE

Preliminary results, with 80 percent of the vote counted, gave Poroshenko 54.1 percent of the vote – towering over a field of 21 candidates with enough support to avert a run-off. His closest challenger, former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, had just 13.1 percent and made clear she would concede.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Sarajevo he was glad no run-off would be required and that people would have to respect the new president’s legitimacy. He also acknowledged Poroshenko had his work cut out to heal Ukraine’s regional divide.

“The doors are open to him, but there is no political paradise awaiting,” he said. “He will have to bridge a gap between the country’s east and west, and I sincerely hope that he will be able to do so.”

Poroshenko’s most urgent task is finding a modus vivendi with the giant neighbor that has seemed poised to carve Ukraine up since mass protests in Kiev toppled a pro-Russian president in February.

Sorting out a dispute over the supply of Russian gas to Ukraine will also be high on the agenda.

Poroshenko said Moscow’s “argument about legitimacy has disappeared” as he had also topped the polls among those who were able to cast ballots in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“I hope Russia will support efforts to tackle the situation in the east,” Poroshenko said. He said he planned to meet Russian officials in the first half of June.

But he showed no sign of heeding Moscow’s demand that he call off the operation against rebels in the east.

“Protecting people is one of the functions of the state,” he said, promising to invest more in the army. “The Ukrainian soldier should no longer be naked, barefoot and hungry.”

So far, Ukraine’s military forces have had little success against rebels who have declared independent “people’s republics” in two provinces of the eastern industrial heartland where about 20 people have been killed in recent days.

Ukrainian officials say they have held back from using full force in part to avoid provoking an invasion from tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the frontier. Questions have also been raised about Ukrainian forces’ training, equipment and loyalties.

Monday’s fighting began after a Reuters photographer saw three truckloads bring dozens of armed men to the airport.

“The rebels are in the terminal. The rest of the airport is controlled by the Ukrainian national guard,” airport spokesman Dmitry Kosinov told Reuters before gunfire broke out.

The Ukrainian joint forces security operation in the region said a deadline for the rebels to surrender expired and two Sukhoi Su-25 jets carried out strafing runs, firing warning shots. A MiG-29 jet later carried out another air strike.

The militants then spread out across the territory of the airport, whose state-of-the-art main terminal was built for the 2012 European soccer championships held in Ukraine.

“NEW RUSSIA”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last month described eastern Ukraine as “New Russia”, has made more accommodating noises in recent days. He promised at the weekend that Moscow would respect the will of Ukrainians, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that promise on Monday in saying Russia was ready for dialogue with Poroshenko.

Western countries put little faith in Putin’s promises, saying he has repeatedly announced he would pull troops from the frontier without doing so. They dismiss Russia’s denials it has aided the rebels, whose Donetsk force is led by a mustachioed Muscovite the EU says is a Russian military intelligence agent.

But Poroshenko’s victory could ease pressure for extending sanctions against Russia when EU government leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday evening.

“We are not going to go forward on this for the moment,” one senior EU diplomat told reporters on Monday.

Even though separatists ensured that millions of Ukrainians were unable to vote in the eastern regions, Poroshenko’s sweeping margin of victory gives him a firm mandate that makes it harder for Moscow to dismiss him as illegitimate, as it did in the case of the interim leader

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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The stakes are high, the deliberations continue – Parliamentary Brexit vote

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The stakes are high, the deliberations continue – Parliamentary Brexit vote | The Thaiger

Call it Super Saturday, call it Deal or No Deal, call it the most important day in recent UK history. Today (Saturday) the UK House of Commons will gather on a Saturday, the first time for decades. Golf games have been postponed, polo sticks will have to gather dust and the cleaner’s been told to come back on Sunday.

Earlier this week, British PM Boris Johnson did the near impossible and secured a new Brexit deal from the EU. The EU shocked everyone by throwing out the controversial Irish border backstop and replacing it with an alternative plan, after months of saying that Theresa May’s deal could not be changed. Moreover, the EU leaders seem happy with the deal and have been waxing lyrical about the scruffy British PM they all dreaded negotiating with.

But it’s not going to be easy. Some PMs have already tabled amendments that could make Johnson’s run of success fall short of a finish line. Opposition MPs will put forward proposals to scrap Brexit or schedule a second referendum.

So how is the crucial, and historic vote, going to roll?

It’s far too close to call. PM Johnson doesn’t have a majority in Parliament and his Northern Irish allies, the DUP, who he needed to pass legislation, have already said that they won’t back the new plan. Meanwhile, his opposition MPs are lining up to criticise the deal. And there’s serious concern that the arch-Brexiteers in his own Conservative party will vote against the deal too.

Bottomline, if MPs don’t vote for this deal then they can’t be certain that Brexit will be delayed, despite the fact that Johnson is legally obliged to request a Brexit extension if no deal has been agreed by 11 pm on Saturday night. Last month, opposition MPs passed legislation that binds the British to this commitment. Mr. Johnson says he will comply with the law but reminds his opponents that this decision relies on the EU still having to unanimously agree to it.

But, if the deal passes, the UK finally leaves the EU. Johnson would probably hope to capitalise on his success and call for a general election soon after. His poll ratings are good at the moment, and you’d think they would improve after delivering Brexit.

If the deal goes down, Johnson requests the extension and it’s approved, then we get into the nasty election where both sides will tear each other apart, adding more to a polarised community that may take decades to recover from this folly.

And if the EU refuses an extension, then all hell breaks loose.

Has it all been worth it?

Anyway, bring on Super Saturday as the deliberations continue.

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World

Johnson tells MPs that there is ‘no better outcome’ than his Brexit plan

The Thaiger

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Johnson tells MPs that there is ‘no better outcome’ than his Brexit plan | The Thaiger

British PM Boris Johnson is warning British MPs there was “no better outcome” to the tortuous Brexit process than his divorce deal, as he scrambles to get MPs behind the agreement ahead of today’s knife-edge vote in parliament (Saturday UK time).

Johnson is urging lawmakers to back the “fantastic” terms he struck with EU leaders and let Britain leave the bloc on October 31.

“There’s no better outcome than the one I’m advocating tomorrow.”

“I want colleagues on all sides of the House to think about a world tomorrow night in which we’ve got this thing done,” he added in a separate interview with ITV.

“I think the nation will heave a great sigh of relief.”

Johnson pulled off a major coup in agreeing a new divorce deal at a Brussels summit on Thursday, only a fortnight before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU. But the deal’s fortunes, and Britain’s immediate fate, rest in the hands of a few undecided MPs, who will vote in the first Saturday session of the Commons since the 1982 Falklands War.

Political pundits suggest the vote could be exceptionally tight. Johnson has no majority among MPs, every opposition party has come out against the deal and even his parliamentary ally, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), says it cannot support the terms.

Johnson requires the support of 319 other MPs to guarantee victory – and claims he is confident of getting the numbers, as he spent the day meeting and calling MPs.

He must convince diehard eurosceptics in his own Conservative ranks, former colleagues he expelled from the party for seeking to block a “no deal” departure, and main opposition Labour MPs from Brexit-backing constituencies to have any chance.

Labour is ordering its MPs to vote against the deal but threatening no punishment if they vote in favour. Several MPs spent yesterday wrestling with their consciences as the more than three years of turmoil since the June 2016 EU membership referendum came to a head.

Johnson is expected to deliver a speech to parliament from 0830 GMT on Saturday, kicking off a day of debate that could last well into the evening.

The turning of the screws

If the Commons rejects the deal, Johnson will be forced by law to ask the EU to delay Brexit, for what would be the third time. He has said he would rather be “dead in a ditch”.

French President Emmanuel Macron piled the pressure on MPs, saying he did not want a new delay now a deal was struck.

“The October 31 date should be respected. I don’t think that new deadlines should be given,” he said at the EU summit in Brussels.

“We need to end these negotiations and get on negotiating the future relationship.”

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel added: “There is no choice between Brexit or no Brexit: it’s a choice between deal or no deal.”

Johnson took office in July vowing to keep to the October 31 Brexit deadline, deal or no deal.

He pledged to renegotiate the most contentious elements of a divorce text agreed by his predecessor Theresa May with Brussels last year, which MPs rejected three times.

The compromise deal that was finally struck on Thursday has a new arrangement for keeping open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The DUP has said it cannot support the plans, as efforts to avoid checks on the Irish land border would lead to new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

Meanwhile…

Former Conservative prime minister John Major (1990-1997) and his Labour successor Tony Blair (1997-2007) pleaded with MPs to back a second referendum, ahead of a major rally by the “People’s Vote” campaign outside parliament on Saturday (UK time).

“Whatever is the outcome, no deal or bad deal, it should not pass without the final say resting with the people,” said Blair.

Major said Brexit was a “thoroughly bad idea” that risked breaking up the UK.

The Pound steadied around $1.29 yesterday as dealers took a breather at the end of a dizzying week.

ETX Capital analyst Michael Baker said the market was “really gambling” on the vote and had “not priced in fully all scenarios – so expect big moves”.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse | PHOTO: Associated Press

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Local investor sentiment dampened by Brexit woes and slump in Chinese economy

The Thaiger

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Local investor sentiment dampened by Brexit woes and slump in Chinese economy | The Thaiger

The British pound fell today as investors fret over PM Boris Johnson’s chances of pushing his Brexit deal through the British parliament, while Asian markets were mostly down after data showed China’s economy expanded at its slowest pace in nearly three decades.

The pound rallied almost to US$1.30 yesterday following news that negotiators had hammered out an agreement that would avoid Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal – a move many warn would be economically catastrophic. But the brief celebrations were soon tempered by the realisation that the British PM faces an uphill task in getting the deal past lawmakers, with opposition MPs and even some in his own Conservative party saying they won’t pass it.

Most importantly, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Johnson’s government, said it was “unable to support these proposals”.

Forex traders sold sterling, pushing it back down below $1.29, and it extended losses in Asia. Focus is now on a crucial vote in London on the deal scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday).

“Much will depend on the PM’s ability to get some if not all DUP and (Scottish National Party) MPs onside, in addition to also getting the backing from the 21 ex-Conservative MPs he expelled from the party last month,” said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

“Rejection of the deal might well see more political brinkmanship around a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but the most likely scenario would be yet another extension of the 31 October Brexit date.”

Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said whichever way the vote goes, “traders should prepare themselves for some severe volatility on Monday morning, with multiple big-figure moves a strong possibility”.

China growth slows again

Asian equity markets, meanwhile, were mostly lower after China said its economy expanded 6% in the third quarter, the slowest pace in 27 years, as leaders struggle to address weak domestic demand and the long-running US trade war.

The reading was a drop from the previous three months but in line with an AFP forecast and the government’s 6-6.5% target for the year.

While the National Bureau of Statistics said the economy “maintained overall stability”, it added that it “is under mounting downward pressure” from weakness at home and abroad.

Shanghai ended down 1.3% with Stephen Innes at AxiTrader saying traders were concerned the figures were not weak enough to prompt the Chinese central bank to embark on a big stimulus drive.

“With the People’s Bank of China, who arguably have plenty of policy ammunition to right the ship, probably unwilling to turn on the monetary taps, investors are taking risk off the table,” he said in a note.

Hong Kong was off 0.5% amid concern over the possibility of more violent protests over the weekend, while Sydney closed down 0.5 percent and Singapore eased 0.4%.

Seoul shed 0.8% and Wellington lost 0.7%, with Taipei and Manila also lower. But Tokyo closed 0.2 higher at a 10-month high, while Mumbai and Jakarta also edged up.

Hopes for the China-US trade talks were given a lift after Beijing’s commerce ministry said negotiators have “accelerated efforts” to hammer out details of last Friday’s mini-deal and were holding talks on moving on to the next phase of a wider agreement.

Donald Trump said Wednesday he hopes to sign the deal with President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Chile next month.

And the Turkish lira jumped more than 1% after Ankara said it would pause military operations in northern Syria for five days and US Vice President Mike Pence said Washington would not impose any fresh sanctions.

Key markets today…

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2857 from $1.2891 at 2050 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.48 pence from 86.31 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1122 from $1.1127

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.63 yen from 108.62 yen

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.4% at 7,152.55

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.2% at 22,492.68 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5% at 26,719.58 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.3% at 2,938.14 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: UP four cents at $53.97 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 22 cents at $59.69 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.1% at 27,025.88 (close)

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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