Ukraine Crisis

Pro-Russia separatists claim downing of Ukrainian military transport plane

July 15, 2014

On Monday, somebody shot down a Ukrainian military An-26 transport plane carrying food and water to Ukrainian troops trying to rout the pro-Moscow separatists gathered in their strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk. The separatists claimed responsibility for the downing of the plane and said they captured four crew members, but Ukraine reportedly says it has "undisputed proof" that Russia was involved.

The airplane was flying at more than 21,000 feet, Ukraine says, putting it out of the reach of the shoulder-fired rockets the separatists have used so far. Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said that the plane had been "downed by another, more powerful missile that probably was launched from the territory of the Russian Federation," either from a surface-to-air system or a Russian jet. Russia, for its part, is threatening Ukraine with "irreversible consequences" for an artillery round that fell in Russian territory, killing a civilian.

NATO says that Russia has been slowly increasing its troop levels near the Ukraine border, with up to 12,000 troops in the area, from about 1,000 in mid-June. The U.S. is also accusing Russia of sending heavy weapons and military personnel to help lead the separatists in their battle against Kiev. "While Russia says it seeks peace, its actions do not match its rhetoric," the U.S. government said in a statement.


Kurdish forces now control 90 percent of Kobani, activists say

7:41am ET
Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

Islamic State militants have been almost completely pushed out of the strategically and symbolically important Syrian border city of Kobani, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) have fought their way into Kobani's Maqtalah neighborhood, and now control at least 90 percent of the city, the monitoring group said Monday. The long battle for Kobani has pitted ISIS against the YPG and Iraqi Kurds, plus other Syrian rebel groups and U.S.-led airstrikes.

This just in

Turkey blocks Facebook pages that 'insult' the Prophet Muhammad

7:37am ET

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reports that an Ankara court has ordered authorities to censor Facebook pages that "insult" the Prophet Muhammad.

If the pages aren't blocked, the court threatened to block all Facebook access, according to The Associated Press.

The news is the latest in Turkey's internet censorship. The ban comes just days after a separate court voted to block Turkey's access to Charlie Hebdo's latest cover, which satirizes the Prophet Muhammad.

Nature's Nightmares

Airlines cancel 3,400 flights due to East Coast mega-blizzard

6:57am ET

The Northeastern U.S. should prepare itself for a "crippling and potentially historic blizzard" through Tuesday, the National Weather Service says. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was no less dramatic in his warnings: "I want everyone to understand that we are facing — most likely — one of the largest snowstorms in the history of this city," he said. "Don't underestimate this storm." Among those heeding the warnings: Airlines.

As of Monday morning, airlines have canceled more than 1,800 flights on Monday and another 1,600 on Tuesday, according to United, for example, has scratched all flights on Tuesday at the New York City area's three main airports plus Logan in Boston and Philadelphia International Airport. The National Weather Service is forecasting up to 3 feet of snow in New York and points north, plus winds as strong as 75 miles per hour. Watch de Blasio ask all you New Yorkers to stay safe. —Peter Weber


Secret Service finds 'device' on White House grounds

6:15am ET

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unable to say early Monday what the unidentified "device" was that the Secret Service found somewhere on the White House grounds, nor where it was found, but he did say that "early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat right now to anybody at the White House." The New York Times suggests that maybe the object was a drone.

Earnest spoke from New Delhi, India, where he's traveling with President Obama and the first lady, and he referred all further questions to the Secret Service. Obama daughters Sasha and Malia stayed behind in Washington. You can watch Earnest not provide much information below. —Peter Weber


Miss Colombia Paulina Vega crowned Miss Universe

5:41am ET

On Sunday night, Miss Colombia Paulina Vega beat out 87 other contestants in Miami to win the Miss Universe crown. Miss USA, Nia Sanchez, was first runner-up. Vega, 22, is a business student who's pretty new to beauty pageants and says she wants to own her own business, because "it gives me independence." She takes over from last year's Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler from neighboring Venezuela. Her yearlong reign will include a luxury apartment in New York, a new wardrobe, a salary, and a scholarship to the New York Film Academy. Below, you can watch the moment Vega learns she won. —Peter Weber

The Donald Abides

Watch Donald Trump explain why Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush can't win in 2016

4:37am ET

Several viable 2016 Republican presidential candidates spoke over the weekend at Iowa Rep. Steve King's Iowa Freedom Summit. So did Donald Trump.

As he has for the past two presidential elections, Trump suggested that he might run next year. "I'm the one person who can make this country great again, that's all I know," he told reporters after his speech. "If I run for president, and if I win, I would totally succeed in creating jobs, defeating ISIS, and stopping the Islamic terrorists, reducing the budget deficit, securing our southern border, stopping nuclear weapons in Iran and elsewhere."

As amusing as that is, Trump really hit his stride during the speech, when he explained to the gathered Republicans why the two presumptive GOP establishment frontrunners, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney (neither of whom attended), can't win. Watch Trump's relatively astute punditry below. —Peter Weber

This just in

Dozens of police officers killed in the Philippines after fighting rebels

4:10am ET
Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images

Military officials say that at least 30 people were killed during fighting on Sunday between police and Muslim rebels in the Philippines.

Officials in Mamasapano said 27 police officers and five rebels were killed, while seven other police officers were missing and eight had been captured by rebels, Reuters reports. An army spokesman said the police were trying to arrest Zulkifli bin Hir, a bomb expert from Malaysia with a $5 million bounty on his head.

The skirmish is likely to strike a blow to an agreement that the government reached last March with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Their deal — which involved Moro giving up its weapons and the government giving the Muslim minority more economic and political power — brought to an end 45 years of conflict that left 120,000 dead and two million displaced.

POTUS abroad

In friendly India visit, Obama becomes first president to attend Republic Day Parade

4:09am ET

President Obama began a three-day visit to India on Sunday, and the protocol-bending hug at the airport from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi set the tone for a day filled with public displays of affection. The two leaders said the visit marked an era of "new trust" between the sometimes-uneasy allies, and announced a breakthrough on a long-stalled civil nuclear agreement plus partnerships on defense and curbing some greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama spent most of Sunday in talks with Modi, who said at a press conference afterward that "the chemistry that has brought Barack and me closer has also brought Washington and Delhi closer." But the big event in Obama's visit was on Monday, when he became the first U.S. president to attend India's Republic Day Parade, as the personal guest of Modi.

The parade, to celebrate the enactment of India's democratic constitution, "is part Soviet-style display of India's military hardware, part Macy's Thanksgiving Day-type parade with floats highlighting India's cultural diversity," explains The Associated Press' Julie Pace. You can get a taste of Obama's parade-watching experience in this AP video, and watch a Reuters report on the first day of Obama's visit below. —Peter Weber


Australia's knighting of Prince Philip not without controversy

3:48am ET
WPA Pool/Getty Images

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott is defending his decision to make Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, an Australian knight.

"The monarchy has been an important part of Australia's life since 1788," he said. "And Prince Philip has been a great servant of Australia. He's been a great servant of all the countries of the Commonwealth. Here in this country, he's the patron of hundreds of organizations." Abbott reinstated the knights and dames division of the Order of Australia in 2014, after receiving approval from the Queen, The Associated Press reports.

In a move that angered critics, Abbott made the announcement on Monday, which happens to be Australia's national holiday. "It's a time warp where we're giving knighthoods to English royalty," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told Fairfax Radio. "On Australia Day, we're talking about Australia, Australian identity. The government's managed to find a British royal to give a medal to, a knighthood to."

Greece votes

Euro sinks to 11-year low after Syriza victory in Greece

2:54am ET

The leftist, anti-austerity Syriza party could take control of Greece as soon as Wednesday, if Prime Minister–designate Alexis Tsipras is sworn in on Monday and his government is quickly approved by the newly elected parliament. Investors aren't thrilled with Syriza's decisive win in Sunday's snap election.

Tsipras' pledge to renegotiate Greece's sovereign debt, cancel bailout-mandated austerity measures, and perhaps eventually pull Greece out of the euro currency sent the euro tumbling to $1.1098, its lowest level since September 2003. Stock futures also dropped on news of the Syriza's big win. Some analysts say the market fears are misplaced, arguing that Tsipras is unlikely to drop the euro and other European governments have greatly reduced their exposure to Greek debt since 2012, lowering the risk of contagion.

Watch Tsipras celebrate, and outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warn him not to wreck the economy, below. —Peter Weber

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