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Simferopol (Ukraine) (AFP) - Pro-Kremlin militia fired warning shots as unarmed foreign observers tried to enter Crimea on Saturday while Russia stepped up its standoff with the West over Ukraine by threatening to keep Washington from checking on its nuclear arms. The dangerous escalation in the Black Sea peninsula that Russia effectively seized last week saw 40 gunmen in balaclavas and military fatigues fire shots above a convoy with 54 civilian and military observers from 29 countries of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It was the third successive day that the OSCE buses attempted to enter the tension-wracked peninsula to check on the frozen conflict that has pitted overpowered Ukrainian troops against Russian forces and Kremlin-backed militias. Ukraine's border guards service added to the tinderbox atmosphere by reporting that one of its light patrol planes came under fire from "extremists" in the same area but was unscathed.
PARIS (AP) — The Louvre has always showcased nudes. Never quite like this.
Eilat (Israel) (AFP) - A ship allegedly carrying advanced rockets from Iran to Gaza that was intercepted by the Israeli navy was escorted into the Red Sea port of Eilat on Saturday. Israeli naval commandos seized the vessel on Wednesday in the Red Sea between Eritrea and Sudan, with the military saying it was carrying an Iranian shipment of M-302 rockets destined for the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Israeli radio said that ambassadors and military attaches posted to Israel as well as "prominent Israeli figures" would be invited to view the weapons seized by the army. This, the radio said, "will prove to the world that Iran is providing weapons to terrorists active in the Gaza Strip".
A Sunni Lebanese militant group linked to al Qaeda has apologized for the civilian casualties of a suicide bombing last month and said its fight was against Iran and its ally Hezbollah, not Shi'ites in general. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades took credit for a February 19 attack on Shi'ite Iran's cultural center in Beirut that killed eight people in an area where support for the Shi'ite political and military movement Hezbollah runs strong. "The Abdullah Azzam Brigades' operations do not target Shi'ites in general, or any other sect, and we always stress to our martyrdom-seekers to be cautious and abort an operation if they think it could kill others than those targeted," it said. Lebanon has been increasingly hit by violence linked to the war in its much larger neighbor Syria, which has killed over 140,000 people over the last three years and forced millions to flee their homes, including nearly 1 million into Lebanon.
A ship seized by the Israeli navy on suspicion of smuggling arms from Iran to the Gaza Strip docked on Saturday in Israel, which planned to put the cargo on display in hope of denting Tehran's rapprochement with the West. Israel said it found dozens of advanced Syrian-made rockets hidden on board in Iran and destined for the ship's next port in Sudan, from where they would have been trucked through Egypt to Gaza. Iran and Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers, both hostile to the Jewish state, rejected the Israeli findings as fabrications. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been dismayed at world powers' nuclear diplomacy with Iran since Tehran installed the relatively pragmatic Hassan Rouhani as president last year, voiced hope they would now rethink the outreach.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, arrived in Tehran on Saturday, media reported. Her visit comes amid a recent thaw in Iran's strained relations with the West following last year's election of moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and over its controversial nuclear programme. "Ashton and her political and economic delegation arrived in Tehran and were officially welcomed by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi," official IRNA news agency said.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Tehran on Saturday to discuss issues including Iran's disputed nuclear program, before another round of talks between Iran and world powers, Iranian media reported. During Ashton's two-day visit, her first to Iran and the first by an EU foreign policy chief since 2008, bilateral, regional and international issues will be discussed, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The European Union's foreign policy chief has arrived in Iran, her first visit to the Islamic Republic as nuclear talks with world powers continue.
BEIRUT (AP) — A militant group issued a rare apology Saturday for a twin suicide bombing in Beirut that killed eight people and wounded dozens, including children from a nearby orphanage.
No matter the weather along Istanbul’s coast road, the homeless man Ramazan Ercan was there. With his thick, cascading gray-white beard and dark wooly hat, Ramazan made a home on the basalt boulder breakwater just below road level, a few steps from the water. The long sidewalk that passed by Ramazan’s slap-together “dwelling” is one of the longest and flattest pavements in Istanbul. Istanbul is a city of ever-rising glass buildings, brimming with cultural energy and packed with ancient delights and endlessly fascinating architecture.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's moderate-leaning president has strongly criticized hard-line officials for ordering reformist newspapers shut down.
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared from air traffic control screens over waters between Malaysia and Vietnam early Saturday morning, leaving the fates of the 239 people aboard in doubt. A look at some of the world's deadliest air disasters:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani defended Saturday what he called "freedom of the press with responsibility" and criticised the practice of shutting down offending newspapers. "The government is in favour of freedom of expression with responsibility," he said in a vigorously applauded speech to media figures broadcast live on television. There is a long-standing practice in Iran of temporarily shutting down newspapers as punishment for publishing articles deemed offensive to the values of the Islamic republic. But Rouhani said "shutting down a newspaper should be the last resort not the first.
By Fredrik Dahl VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran and six world powers held "substantive and useful" expert-level talks over Tehran's nuclear program this week, they said on Friday, ahead of a new round of political negotiations later this month. Seeking to build on an interim agreement reached late last year in Geneva, Iran and the major powers aim to hammer out a final settlement of the decade-old dispute over the Islamic Republic's atomic activities by late July. But they also acknowledge that there are still big differences over the future scope of Iran's nuclear program and that success is far from guaranteed. "The talks are very serious and substantive and useful," the head of the Iranian delegation at the expert-level talks, senior Foreign Ministry official Hamid Baidinejad, told Iran's Fars news agency ahead of Friday's session.