Selasa, 11 Mac 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Ukraine appeals to the West as Crimea turns to Russia

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 08:55 PM PDT

SEVASTOPOL/KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's government appealed for Western help on Tuesday to stop Moscow annexing Crimea but the Black Sea peninsula, overrun by Russian troops, seemed fixed on a course that could formalise rule from Moscow within days.

With their own troops in Crimea effectively prisoners in their bases, the new authorities in Kiev painted a sorry picture of the military bequeathed them by the pro-Moscow president overthrown two weeks ago. They announced the raising of a new National Guard to be drawn from volunteers among veterans.

The prime minister, heading for talks at the White House and United Nations, told parliament in Kiev he wanted the United States and Britain, as guarantors of a 1994 treaty that saw Ukraine give up its Soviet nuclear weapons, to intervene both diplomatically and militarily to fend off Russian "aggression".

But despite NATO reconnaissance aircraft patrolling the Polish and Romanian borders and U.S. naval forces preparing for exercises in the Black Sea, Western powers have made clear that, as when ex-Soviet Georgia lost territory in fighting in 2008, they have no appetite for risking turning the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War into a military conflict with Moscow.

Diplomacy seemed restricted to a war of words. The U.S. and Russian foreign ministers did speak by telephone. But the U.S. State Department said Moscow's position offered no room for negotiation and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning U.S. financial aid to the "illegitimate regime" in Kiev, which it calls ultra-nationalists with "Nazi" links.

That language echoed ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, who gave a news conference in Russia insisting that he was still the legitimate head of state. Toppled by protests sparked by his rejection of closer ties with the European Union in favour of a deal from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yanukovich blamed his enemies for provoking Crimean secession.

Parliament in Kiev, whose position is backed by Western governments, dismisses plans for a referendum on Sunday to unite the region with Russia as illegitimate and resolved on Tuesday to dissolve Crimea's regional assembly if by Wednesday it had not scrapped the plebiscite. There seems no chance that it will.

Moscow, which to widespread scorn denies its troops have any role in the takeover of the once Russian-ruled region, says people in Crimea, a small majority of whom are ethnic Russians, should have the right to secede. It has made much of anti-Russian sentiment among some Ukrainian nationalists - though many native Russian speakers in Ukraine are wary of Putin.


U.S. lawmakers are preparing sanctions against Russia and European Union leaders could impose penalties, such as bans on visas for key officials, as early as Monday.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Tuesday he would introduce a bill that would include $150 million in aid for Ukraine, sanctions and backing for a shift in funding for the International Monetary Fund.

The bill echoes one passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week in backing $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine, but it would also authorize $50 million for democracy, governance and civil society assistance, as well as $100 million for enhanced security cooperation for Ukraine and other states in Central and Eastern Europe.

However, by the time the West acts, Crimea could already have voted - in a referendum not recognised by Kiev or the West - to seek union with Russia. The ballot paper offers no option to retain the status quo of autonomy within Ukraine.

Voters among the two million population must choose either direct union with Moscow or restoring an old constitution that made Crimea sovereign with ties to Ukraine. On Tuesday, the regional assembly passed a resolution that a sovereign Crimea would sever links to Kiev and join Russia anyway.

The Russian parliament has already approved the accession in principle of Crimea, which was handed to Ukraine by Soviet rulers 60 years ago. Still, it is not clear whether or how soon Putin would formalise such a union as he engages in a complex confrontation with the West for geostrategic advantage.

In disputes with Georgia, Russia has granted recognition to small breakaway states on its borders, a process critics view as annexation in all but name. It fiercely criticised Western recognition of the independence of Kosovo from its ally Serbia - a process which Crimea's parliament nonetheless cited as a legal precedent for its own forthcoming declaration of independence.

There seems little chance that Crimea's new leaders, who emerged after Yanukovich's overthrow as Russian-backed forces took control of the peninsula, will fail to get the result they want. A boycott by ethnic Tatars, 12 percent of the regional population and deeply wary after centuries of persecution by Moscow, will have little effect as there is no minimum turnout.

In Sevastopol, the Crimean home port of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, Valery Medvedev, the chairman of the city's electoral commission, made no pretence at concealing his own preference:

"We're living through historic times. Sevastopol would love to fulfil its dream of joining Russia. I want to be part of Russia and I'm not embarrassed to say that," he told reporters.

There is little sign of campaigning by those opposed to the government line. Billboards in Sevastopol urge people to vote and offer a choice of two images of Crimea - one in the colours of the Russian flag, the other emblazoned with a swastika.


It is unclear whether thousands of Ukrainian servicemen, many of whom are native Crimeans but are effectively trapped on their bases and ships by Russian troops and local militia allies, will take part in the referendum.

One sailor, who declined to be named, said he would only vote if he got the order from his commander to do so, a position echoed by many other servicemen spoken to by Reuters. They all said they would vote for Crimea to remain part of Ukraine.

Elena Prokhina, an ethnic Russian planning to vote for union with Moscow, said she feared the referendum could lead to conflict with others in Ukraine, notably nationalists in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country of 46 million.

"Knowing what I know about the fanaticism of the western Ukrainians, we will have to defend our rights after the referendum," she said. "They won't just let us leave."

Around Sevastopol, Ukrainian military facilities remained under virtual siege on Tuesday. At an air defence base outside Sevastopol, dozens of men who looked like Russian soldiers were camping outside the gate, while an armed Ukrainian serviceman could be seen pacing the base's roof keeping a wary eye on them.

In the port, two Ukrainian warships remained on alert but unable to set sail because of Russian vessels and a cable strung across the harbour by Russian forces. Relatives of the sailors come to the dockside every day to converse and provide food.

A Ukrainian officer said there was a fragile understanding between the two fleets not to escalate the situation, but he said nerves were frayed: "The Russians have not troubled us until now," he said. "But all it takes is one order and they will open fire. We won't be able to hold out long".


In parliament, the acting defence minister said that of some 41,000 infantry mobilised last week, Ukraine could field only about 6,000 combat-ready troops, compared with more than 200,000 Russians deployed on the country's eastern borders. The prime minister said the air force was outnumbered 100 to one.

Acting president Oleksander Turchinov warned against provoking Russia, saying that would play into Moscow's hands, as he announced plans to mobilise a National Guard, though he gave little detail of its size or expected functions.

Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who will visit the White House and United Nations Security Council this week, said the 1994 treaty under which Ukraine agreed to give up its Soviet nuclear weapons obliged Russia to remove troops from Crimea and also meant Western powers should defend Ukraine's sovereignty.

"What does the current military aggression of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory mean?" he said.

"It means that a country which voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons, rejected nuclear status and received guarantees from the world's leading countries is left defenceless and alone in the face of a nuclear state that is armed to the teeth.

"I say this to our Western partners: if you do not provide guarantees, which were signed in the Budapest Memorandum, then explain how you will persuade Iran or North Korea to give up their status as nuclear states."

Parliament passed a resolution he had proposed calling on the United States and Britain, co-signatories with Russia of that treaty to "fulfil their obligations ... and take all possible diplomatic, political, economic and military measures urgently to end the aggression and preserve the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine".

But Western powers have been careful to note that Ukraine, not being a member of NATO, has no automatic claim on their help and Ukrainian officials gave no details on what they hoped for. The wording of the 1994 treaty indicates that help is only required if Ukraine is threatened by a nuclear attack.

(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk, Richard Balmforth and Ron Popeski in Kiev; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Peter Graff and Michael Perry)

Indonesia's next leader unlikely to ease tough mineral export rules

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 08:45 PM PDT

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's next president is unlikely to make major changes to the country's controversial mining rules, after major political parties backed an export ban that has led miners to halt $6 billion in annual mineral exports.

The broad political support will disappoint miners, like Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Newmont Mining Corp, that may have been hoping the tough new rules were only temporary measures imposed by a lame duck administration.

Political parties representing presidential front runners for the July election told Reuters they support the current government's moves to ban mineral exports and tax concentrate shipments, aimed at forcing miners to build smelters in Indonesia.

Freeport has cut copper output by 60 percent due to a prolonged dispute over the export tax imposed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is barred from running for a third term.

Opinion polls show Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) as the most popular presidential pick. If he decides to run, his main competition will likely be ex-general Prabowo Subianto of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and wealthy businessman Aburizal Bakrie of the Golkar Party.

"Golkar will not alter (the export ban policy), instead we will underline the importance of value-added (commodities)," Harry Azhar Azis, a senior member of the Golkar Party's economic team, told Reuters.

Gerindra said the president's handling of the new mining rules had caused widespread investor confusion, but the political party would not change the mining rules if its candidate, Prabowo, wins the presidency.

"We want there to be a consistent message that tells people like Freeport and Newmont to just do it (and build smelters). There may be short term pain, but in the medium to long term it will be better for the economy," Hashim Djojohadikusomo, Prabowo's brother and a senior party member, told Reuters.

PDI-P also fully supported the new mining laws and would not significantly revise them, said Hasto Kristianto, the party's deputy secretary general.

Freeport, whose Indonesian unit runs the world's fifth-largest copper mine, has refused to pay an escalating export tax introduced on January 12 as part of a package of new mining rules, and has been in talks with the government on the issue.

Maintaining the mineral ore export ban would provide legal certainty for foreign mining firms, like Russia's United Company Rusal, that are looking to expand into Indonesia and invest billions of dollars on new smelters.

"If Indonesia sticks strictly to the rules, the investment will come," said Maxim Sokov, first deputy CEO of En+, the parent company of Rusal, which signed an MOU last month to invest as much as $3 billion in smelters.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Thatcher and Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Australian state rejects Glencore bauxite mine bid

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 08:35 PM PDT

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's Queensland state government has rejected proposals from Swiss giant Glencore Xstrata and a local firm to mine bauxite, fearing that neither would develop the mine swiftly enough to benefit the local indigenous community.

The state opened the Aurukun deposit to bids in late 2012, attracting interest from five companies, including Rio Tinto, and receiving final bids from Glencore and Australian Indigenous Resources Pty Ltd (AIR).

"After carefully considering the proposals, the government is not satisfied that either bid ... could deliver what the government had hoped for in a timely manner," Queensland deputy premier Jeff Seeney said in a statement on Wednesday.

The state remains open to proposals that would open a mine "in a timely fashion" and "for the benefit of the local community", he said, without specifying how quickly it wants a mine developed.

Bauxite is used to make alumina, which is then refined into aluminium.

Bauxite prices have improved on the back of a recent ban on exports from Indonesia, the main supplier to top aluminium producer China, but the Aurukun bid came at a time when most miners, facing weaker commodity prices, had retreated from building any mines from scratch.

The Aurukun deposit, where reserves could support production of 6.5 million tonnes a year or the equivalent of nearly 10 percent of China's bauxite imports in 2013, has long been stuck on the drawing board. It was held until 2004 by Alcan of Canada, which failed to develop it over 29 years.

It was then awarded to Aluminium Corp of China (Chalco), which planned to develop the mine as part of a $2.5 billion alumina and aluminium project, but gave it up after the global financial crisis spread to commodities markets.

Aurukun is mainly an Aboriginal community of about 1,000 people in the remote area of Cape York, near similar deposits mined by Rio Tinto.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Himani Sarkar)


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