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Ukraine says Russia seized its ships near annexed Crimea after firing on them

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Ukraine accused Moscow of illegally seizing three of its naval ships off Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday after opening fire on them, a charge that if confirmed could ignite a dangerous new crisis between the two countries.

Russia did not immediately or directly respond to the allegation, but Russian news agencies cited the FSB security service as saying it had incontrovertible proof that Ukraine had orchestrated what it called “a provocation” and would make its evidence public soon.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko immediately called a meeting with his top military and security chiefs to discuss the situation, which involved two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels and a tug boat.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and then built a giant road bridge linking it to southern Russia which straddles the Kerch Strait – a narrow stretch of water which links the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov which is home to two of Ukraine’s most important ports.

Russia’s control of Crimea, where its Black Sea Fleet is based, and of the bridge, mean it is able to control shipping flows.

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The crisis began earlier on Sunday after Russia stopped the three Ukrainian ships from entering the Sea of Azov by placing a cargo ship beneath the bridge.

A Reuters witness said Russia backed its blockade with at least two Sukhoi Su-25 warplanes which screeched overhead, while Russian state TV said Russian combat helicopters had been deployed in the area.

The Ukrainian navy said on social media that six Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the subsequent seizure of its ships which appear to have been rammed and boarded and that the alleged Russian attack on them had occurred after they had retreated and headed back towards Odessa, the Black Sea port from where they had begun their journey.

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“After leaving the 12-mile zone, the Russian Federation’s FSB (security service) opened fire at the flotilla belonging to … the armed forces of Ukraine,” it said in a statement.

The European Union in a statement said it expected Russia to restore freedom of passage via the Kerch strait and urged both sides to act with utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation. A NATO spokeswoman issued a similar appeal to both sides.

RISK OF WIDER CONFLICT
With relations still raw after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the incident risks pushing the two countries towards a wider conflict.

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A bilateral treaty gives both Russia and Ukraine the right to use the Sea of Azov, which lies between them and is linked by the narrow Kerch Strait to the Black Sea. Since Russia annexed Crimea, tension has risen with both countries complaining about shipping delays and harassment.

Earlier on Sunday, Russia’s border guard service had accused Ukraine of not informing it in advance of the three ships’ journey, something Kiev denied.

Russia said the Ukrainian ships had been manoeuvring dangerously and ignoring its instructions with the aim of stirring up tensions.

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Russian politicians denounced Kiev, saying the incident looked like a calculated bid by Poroshenko to increase his popularity ahead of an election next year.

In another sign of rising tensions, Russia’s state-controlled RIA news agency reported on Sunday night that Ukrainian forces had started heavy shelling of residential areas in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

Reuters could not independently confirm that and the Interfax news agency cited separatists as denying there had been any unusual escalation.

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Russia said the Ukrainian ships had been manoeuvring dangerously and ignoring its instructions with the aim of stirring up tensions.

Russian politicians denounced Kiev, saying the incident looked like a calculated bid by Poroshenko to increase his popularity ahead of an election next year.

In another sign of rising tensions, Russia’s state-controlled RIA news agency reported on Sunday night that Ukrainian forces had started heavy shelling of residential areas in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

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Reuters could not independently confirm that and the Interfax news agency cited separatists as denying there had been any unusual escalation.


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Two teen suspects sought in Canada murders of US-Australian couple

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Police in Canada on Tuesday named two suspects wanted in connection with three murders, including the killings of an American woman and Australian man whose bodies were found in rural British Columbia.

Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, had been reported missing in British Columbia but are now believed to be on the run.

They were last seen in the north of Saskatchewan province, driving a gray Toyota RAV-4, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Sergeant Janelle Shoihet, told a press conference.

Both suspects are considered to be dangerous, police said in a warning to the public.

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Republican Marsha Blackburn shuts down applause as 9/11 bill vote unfolds in the Senate

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The funding for 9/11 first responders has officially passed the Senate after public outcry and significant lobbying by firefighters, police and others who worked after the Twin Tower attacks. But it was the emotional testimony from comedian Jon Stewart that drew much-needed publicity to the cause.

But as the bill was coming up for a vote, with the assurance it would pass, the gallery erupted with applause, with some senators joining in. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) shut it down quickly.

"Expression of approval is not permitted in the gallery," Blackburn shouted, while banging her gavel. She proceeded to bang her gavel at least 25 times more and repeated again that any expression of approval was not permitted.

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GUILTY: Jury rules Michael Flynn’s former business partner is guilty of lobbying for Turkey

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Michael Flynn's former business partner Bijan Kian was found guilty by a jury for illegally lobbying for a foreign country.

The information was uncovered as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and as the Justice Department's crackdown on illegal foreign lobbying, CNN explained.

Flynn has had a difficult go in his court case, but information Flynn gave was helpful, according to the DOJ.

Kian is an Iranian-American businessman who was charged with conspiring to hide his lobbying work for Turkey without registering as a foreign agent for the Turkish government.

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