Ukraine Army Helicopter ‘Shot Down’ Near Sloviansk

Ukraine Army helicopterAs the crisis in Ukraine continues, pro-Russian rebels in the East have shot down a military helicopter near the flashpoint city of Sloviansk killing 14 people.

The aircraft was reportedly hit after offloading soldiers at a military base.

Sloviansk has seen fierce fighting between separatists and government forces in recent weeks.

President-elect, Petro Poroshenko has vowed to tackle the uprising in eastern Ukraine, saying he would deal firmly with “bandits” and “murderers”.

There has been an upsurge in the conflict since Mr Poroshenko’s election on Sunday. The rebels say they lost up to 100 fighters when they tried to seize Donetsk airport on Monday.

Since then further clashes have been reported in several areas – including Sloviansk – where pro-Russia militiamen are holding four international monitors.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that the missing OSCE members were alive and well and there was hope they would be released soon.

“We have not yet been able to re-establish contact with them; it has now been since Monday. Of course, as the days pass we get more concerned but we are using all of our contacts, all our government contacts, diplomatic contacts, non-state actors on the ground of which there are many, to re-establish contact with them.

“We believe they are fine, they are well but of course one thing we do want is to see them return to their base in Donetsk,” Bociurkiw said.

Earlier on Thursday, the leader of pro-Russian separatists in the area where the monitors were seized said they are likely to be released soon.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, whose separatist group controls the town of Slaviansk, said the OSCE had been warned not to travel in the area, but had sent a four-man team out all the same.

The team, which comprises a Dane, a Turk, an Estonian and a Swiss, are among a few hundred monitors sent to monitor compliance with an international accord for de-escalating the crisis in troubled eastern Ukraine, where separatists have seized control of strategic points in several towns.

Egypt Election: Sisi Secures Crushing Win

Abdul-Fattah-al-SisiJust as predicted, Egypt’s former military chief, Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi has won the country’s presidential election by a landslide.

Provisional results show he gained over 93% of the vote with ballots from most polling stations counted.

Egyptians cheered and waved flags on Thursday to celebrate the victory as the General, who toppled Egypt’s first freely elected leader, joins a long line of leaders drawn from the military.

Judicial sources said that Sisi captured 92.2% of votes cast in more than 50% of polling stations. His only rival, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, gained 3.8% while 4.2% of votes were declared void.

Newspaper headlines on Friday morning heralded Sisi’s victory, writing “Sisi takes the throne” and “Sisi sweeps to victory.”

Fireworks erupted in Cairo when Sisi’s results began to emerge. His supporters waved Egyptian flags and sounded car horns on the crowded streets of the capital.

Celebrations continued until morning when people gathered and celebrated the apparent victory.

Voter turnout was 44.4% of Egypt’s 54million voters. That would be less than the 40million votes, or 80 percent of the electorate, that Sisi had called for, but for Sisi supporters on the streets of Cairo, his victory still heralds a bright new era.

“It will change 180 degrees in Sisi’s era. We were living in anxiety in our homes and on the street with robberies and carjacking. There was real anxiety. Now God will calm the situation with Sisi in the picture”, said one of the jubilant supporters.

In a country polarized since the revolt against Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians said voters had stayed at home due to political apathy, opposition to another military man becoming president, discontent at suppression of freedoms among liberal youths, and calls for a boycott by Islamists.


Egyptians Defy Curfew Imposed By Mursi

Protests and violence have continued overnight in Egypt as thousands defied curfews imposed by President Mohammed Morsi, who declared a state of emergency on Monday.

Marches took place in the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez after dark, despite the curfews and a temporary state of emergency.

Dozens of people have been killed in five days of violent protests.

Meanwhile, Mr Morsi’s call for national dialogue has been rejected by his political opponents.

He had urged opposition leaders to attend a meeting on Sunday evening in an effort to calm the situation, but only Islamists already aligned with the president turned up.

The latest protests in the cities along the Suez canal were sparked by death sentences handed down by a Port Said court on 21 local football fans involved in deadly riots at a football match in the city almost a year ago.

Elsewhere Egyptians more broadly opposed to Mr Morsi’s authority have taken to the streets in the wake of the Egyptian revolution’s second anniversary.

More deaths on Monday mean that between 50 and 60 people are now believed to have been killed in violent clashes with security forces since Thursday.

Earlier, state news agency Mena reported six deaths in Port Said during daylight hours on Monday, when funerals were held for three people killed on Sunday.

After nightfall, groups attacked police stations and one man was killed, according to medical sources.

Security men and soldiers were also injured, Egyptian authorities said, but troops in tanks and armoured vehicles in Suez and Port Said did not appear to be intervening to uphold the curfew.

One protester in Ismailia, Khalid Ali, said: “We are completely rejecting everything that President Morsi declared yesterday.

“He imposed a curfew and a state of emergency which he used to oppose when he was a member of the parliament. We are here in Ismailia in solidarity with our brothers in Suez and Port Said.”

‘Excessive force’

In Suez, people defied the curfew to march towards the headquarters of the provincial government.

In Cairo, where no curfew has yet been imposed, violence continued on Monday with one man killed by gunfire near Tahrir Square.

Clashes between protesters and police appeared to centre around the Qasr el-Nil bridge that leads on to the square.

Also in Cairo, a senior police officer was seized by protesters and briefly held at a hotel before activists negotiated his release.

The officer had been leading security forces near the US embassy on Monday when he was grabbed.

State TV said a total of 590 people had been injured in violence across Egypt on Monday alone, with most of them in Port Said.

In response to the growing violence on the streets, Egypt’s cabinet approved a draft law allowing the army to participate in policing and have the power of arrest. The bill was later passed by the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.

The text of the bill says the army will “support the police in maintaining order and protecting vital installations until the end of parliamentary elections and whenever the National Defence Council, headed by Mr Morsi, requests it”.

Meanwhile the human rights group Amnesty International condemned the use of violence by Egyptian security forces dealing with protests citing “disturbing eyewitness accounts of excessive force… including instances of lethal force”.

‘Form, not content’

Mr Morsi’s call for dialogue appeared to fall on deaf ears, both in the streets and among political opponents.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading member of the opposition National Salvation Front, told journalists that before it would attend any national dialogue, the president would have to appoint a national unity government and take steps to amend the disputed constitution.

“The dialogue to which the president invited us is to do with form and not content,” Mr ElBaradei said.

“We support any dialogue if it has a clear agenda that can shepherd the nation to the shores of safety.”

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, speaking at the same news conference, said: “We aspire to a dialogue, but there are no guarantees that this dialogue will be a success… while blood is being spilled.”

Mr Morsi invited representatives from 11 political forces – Islamists, liberals and leftists – to come to the presidential palace for talks on Monday evening, but only Islamists attended.