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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Russia to Bail Out Ukraine

After talks between Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and Russian president Vladimiar Putin, Russia announced that it would buy $15 billion of Ukrainian government bonds and lower the price of gas by a third. It is, essentially, a financial aid package – Ukraine’s bonds are basically “junk bonds” and the country needs at least $10 billion in the coming months to avoid bankruptcy.  Although the two countries signed a raft of trade agreements, Yanukovych has not agreed to join a customs union with other ex-Soviet republics, claiming he still intends to sign a deal with the EU, but wants to negotiate for better terms.

Opposition leaders vowed to block the bill’s passage through parliament an accused Yanukovych of selling their country to the highest bidder. Within two hours of the deal being announced, up to 50,000 protesters had gathered in Kiev’s Independence Square to demand Yanukovych’s ouster and snap elections.

Judge Rules Against NSA

Federal District Judge Richard Leon has ruled that the NSA’s mass, indiscriminate collection of all Americans’ telephone data likely violates the Constitution, describing the practice as “almost Orwellian.” He ordered the government to stop collecting data on the personal phone calls of the two plaintiffs and to destroy the records of their calling history. Crucially, Leon challenges the 1979 Supreme Court decision that provides the legal underpinning of this NSA program, Smith v. Maryland, in which the court ruled that the government could legally access the telephone data of a given person. In 1979, government surveillance was unusual and mass surveillance, impossible; he argues that US privacy laws need to reflect the technology of the time.

Leon stayed his injunction, however, due to “national security interests,” allowing the program to continue while the government appeals his ruling.

West Suggests Assad Might Stay

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) announced that Western nations told them that the peace talks next month may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad. In fact, for both America and Russia to back any deal, the opposition would have to accept a transitional government that incorporates many high-ranking officials from Assad’s regime. This shift is a reflection of the broader in change Western priorities, from removing Assad to combating Islamist militants.

Meanwhile, hospitals in the city of Aleppo are ‘overwhelmed’ by casualties from the Assad regime’s indiscriminate three-day air assault on civilian-populated areas, which has killed over 100 people in recent days. Assad seems to be trying to crush opposition in the city ahead of the peace talks; the SNC has accused the international community of failing to do anything to stop the bloodshed leading up to the talks.

 India-US Diplomat Feud Escalates

The arrest and strip-search of India’s deputy consul general, Devyani Khobragade, in New York City has triggered an escalating diplomat dispute. Khobragade was arrested last week for visa fraud and making false statements on an application for her Indian housekeeper to live and work in New York – she allegedly claimed she would pay the housekeeper $4,500, but was in fact only paying her $573. The possible strip-search and Khobragade being held as a “common criminal” has caused outrage in India.

Reports in India said American diplomats and their families will have airport passes withdrawn and duty free arrangements suspended. Indian authorities removed concrete security barriers from in front of the US embassy in New Delhi in retaliation. Some politicians even suggested actively targeting and arresting the gay partners of US diplomats (India’s Supreme Court has recently banned homosexuality).

Outrage over Italy’s Treatment of Migrants

A video showing migrants being told to strip naked outdoors in the cold and sprayed for scabies has caused outrage and underline’s the EU’s continued failure to tackle the issue of immigration humanely. Italy’s government had promised to improve migrant conditions after more than 360 would-be refugees drowned in October, and today it promised again to investigate the treatment of migrants.

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