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Ukraine: 49 dead as rebels down military plane

KDWN

NOVOHANNIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane Saturday, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard in a bloody escalation of the conflict in the country’s restive east.

It was a bitter setback for the Ukrainian forces – the deadliest single incident yet in their battle against an armed insurgency that the government, backed by the U.S., says is supported by Russia. It also came only a week after the new president, billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, spoke about a peace plan in his inaugural address.

Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of Ukraine’s national security council and declared Sunday a day of national mourning.

Afterward, the president scolded the head of the country’s SBU security service, referring to “omissions” in measures to protect military aircraft from attack. He called for “a detailed analysis of the reasons” and hinted that personnel changes were imminent.

In the southern port of Mariupol, five border guards were killed and seven wounded Saturday when their column of vehicles was ambushed, the guards service said.

The U.S. government reiterated its support for Poroshenko’s government and rejected Russia’s statements that it was not arming the rebels. The U.S. said Russia had sent tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels, making sure the unmarked tanks were of a type not currently being used by Russian forces.

“We condemn the shooting down of the Ukrainian military plane and continue to be deeply concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine, including by the fact that militant and separatist groups have received heavy weapons from Russia, including tanks, which is a significant escalation,” said White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande called Russian President Vladimir Putin to express their “dismay” over the downing of the plane and said the incident makes clear how urgent a cease-fire is, German government spokesman Georg Streiter said in a statement.

Merkel stressed that, for a cease-fire to last, Russia must effectively control its border with Ukraine to stem the flow of weapons and fighters, and the Russian government must also exert its influence on pro-Russia rebels.

Analysts said the downing of the plane could bring a renewed emphasis on increasing sanctions against Russia.

The incident “will refocus attention on the fact that Russia does not seem to be doing very much to moderate the insurgency (or) the cross-border resupply of separatists,” said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Standard Bank PLC.

“Comments from U.S. officials are now quite specific, and I would expect the focus to return to sanctions next week,” he said.

Nine crew and 40 troops were aboard the Il-76 troop transport when it went down early Saturday as it approached the airport at Luhansk, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said. Defense Ministry spokesman Bohdan Senyk said the rebels used anti-aircraft guns and a heavy machine gun to down the plane, while the prosecutor general’s office said rebels used an anti-aircraft missile.

Luhansk, a city near the border with Russia, is one of two eastern areas where separatists have seized government buildings and declared independence. Ukrainian forces still control the Luhansk airport.

The plane’s tail section lay with other pieces of scorched wreckage in a field near the village of Novohannivka, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Luhansk. An AP reporter saw a dozen or more armed separatists inspecting the crash site.

The death toll Saturday exceeded the 46 who died after a fire and shootings in Odessa on May 2. At least 40 people also died in fighting at Donetsk airport in late May and a rebel spokesman said the toll on his side that day may have been as high as 100.

The Kiev government has accused Russia of permitting three tanks to cross the border this week into eastern Ukraine, where they were used by rebels. Russia denies supplying the separatists and says Russians fighting in Ukraine are volunteers.

Moscow did not respond to the tank reports but instead accused the Ukrainian military of violating the border several times, including when a Ukrainian armored vehicle ventured about 150 meters (yards) Friday into Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned Saturday if the incursions continued it would “take all necessary measures to suppress them.”

NATO, meanwhile, released images Saturday that it said showed recent Russian tank movements near the border. It said the tanks seen in eastern Ukraine “do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military.” It said those tactics were used by the Russians who had seized Crimea in March.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated in February after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office by protesters who wanted closer ties with the European Union and an end to the country’s endemic corruption. Russia then seized and annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

The U.S. and Europe rejected the annexation and responded with financial sanctions targeting individuals. They have threatened to further extend the sanctions to the Russian economy.

The European Union, meanwhile, reported that senior officials from Ukraine and Russia, including Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, were holding talks late Saturday in Kiev on their natural gas dispute.

Russia says Ukraine owes billions in unpaid gas debts and has set a deadline of Monday before it will demand upfront payments for gas supplies. Ukraine disputes the debt amount and, with its economy in dire straits after the departure of Yanukovych, has little ability to repay.

Also in Kiev, about a hundred protesters hurled eggs Saturday at the Russian Embassy and overturned several parked cars with diplomatic plates, holding a sign saying “Russia is a killer.”

McHugh contributed from Kiev. Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed reporting.

Ukraine: 49 dead as rebels down military plane

KDWN

NOVOHANNIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane Saturday, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard in a bloody escalation of the conflict in the country’s restive east.

It was a bitter setback for the Ukrainian forces – the deadliest single incident yet in their battle against an armed insurgency that the government, backed by the U.S., says is supported by Russia. It also came only a week after the new president, billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, spoke about a peace plan in his inaugural address.

Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of Ukraine’s national security council and declared Sunday a day of national mourning.

Afterward, the president scolded the head of the country’s SBU security service, referring to “omissions” in measures to protect military aircraft from attack. He called for “a detailed analysis of the reasons” and hinted that personnel changes were imminent.

In the southern port of Mariupol, five border guards were killed and seven wounded Saturday when their column of vehicles was ambushed, the guards service said.

The U.S. government reiterated its support for Poroshenko’s government and rejected Russia’s statements that it was not arming the rebels. The U.S. said Russia had sent tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels, making sure the unmarked tanks were of a type not currently being used by Russian forces.

“We condemn the shooting down of the Ukrainian military plane and continue to be deeply concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine, including by the fact that militant and separatist groups have received heavy weapons from Russia, including tanks, which is a significant escalation,” said White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande called Russian President Vladimir Putin to express their “dismay” over the downing of the plane and said the incident makes clear how urgent a cease-fire is, German government spokesman Georg Streiter said in a statement.

Merkel stressed that, for a cease-fire to last, Russia must effectively control its border with Ukraine to stem the flow of weapons and fighters, and the Russian government must also exert its influence on pro-Russia rebels.

Analysts said the downing of the plane could bring a renewed emphasis on increasing sanctions against Russia.

The incident “will refocus attention on the fact that Russia does not seem to be doing very much to moderate the insurgency (or) the cross-border resupply of separatists,” said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Standard Bank PLC.

“Comments from U.S. officials are now quite specific, and I would expect the focus to return to sanctions next week,” he said.

Nine crew and 40 troops were aboard the Il-76 troop transport when it went down early Saturday as it approached the airport at Luhansk, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said. Defense Ministry spokesman Bohdan Senyk said the rebels used anti-aircraft guns and a heavy machine gun to down the plane, while the prosecutor general’s office said rebels used an anti-aircraft missile.

Luhansk, a city near the border with Russia, is one of two eastern areas where separatists have seized government buildings and declared independence. Ukrainian forces still control the Luhansk airport.

The plane’s tail section lay with other pieces of scorched wreckage in a field near the village of Novohannivka, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Luhansk. An AP reporter saw a dozen or more armed separatists inspecting the crash site.

The death toll Saturday exceeded the 46 who died after a fire and shootings in Odessa on May 2. At least 40 people also died in fighting at Donetsk airport in late May and a rebel spokesman said the toll on his side that day may have been as high as 100.

The Kiev government has accused Russia of permitting three tanks to cross the border this week into eastern Ukraine, where they were used by rebels. Russia denies supplying the separatists and says Russians fighting in Ukraine are volunteers.

Moscow did not respond to the tank reports but instead accused the Ukrainian military of violating the border several times, including when a Ukrainian armored vehicle ventured about 150 meters (yards) Friday into Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned Saturday if the incursions continued it would “take all necessary measures to suppress them.”

NATO, meanwhile, released images Saturday that it said showed recent Russian tank movements near the border. It said the tanks seen in eastern Ukraine “do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military.” It said those tactics were used by the Russians who had seized Crimea in March.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated in February after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office by protesters who wanted closer ties with the European Union and an end to the country’s endemic corruption. Russia then seized and annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

The U.S. and Europe rejected the annexation and responded with financial sanctions targeting individuals. They have threatened to further extend the sanctions to the Russian economy.

The European Union, meanwhile, reported that senior officials from Ukraine and Russia, including Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, were holding talks late Saturday in Kiev on their natural gas dispute.

Russia says Ukraine owes billions in unpaid gas debts and has set a deadline of Monday before it will demand upfront payments for gas supplies. Ukraine disputes the debt amount and, with its economy in dire straits after the departure of Yanukovych, has little ability to repay.

Also in Kiev, about a hundred protesters hurled eggs Saturday at the Russian Embassy and overturned several parked cars with diplomatic plates, holding a sign saying “Russia is a killer.”

McHugh contributed from Kiev. Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed reporting.

Ukraine: 49 dead as rebels down military plane

KDWN

NOVOHANNIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane Saturday, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard in a bloody escalation of the conflict in the country’s restive east.

It was a bitter setback for the Ukrainian forces, which have struggled to suppress an armed insurgency by foes of the new government, and came only a week after the new president, billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, spoke about a peace plan in his inaugural address.

Yet the incident, the deadliest for the Ukrainian military in the four-month-old conflict, suggested the two sides were very much still at odds. Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of Ukraine’s national security council and declared Sunday a day of national mourning.

The U.S. government reiterated its support for Poroshenko’s government and rejected Russia’s statements that it was not arming the rebels. It said Russia clearly had sent tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels, making sure the unmarked tanks were of a type not currently being used by Russian forces.

“We condemn the shooting down of the Ukrainian military plane and continue to be deeply concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine, including by the fact that militant and separatist groups have received heavy weapons from Russia, including tanks, which is a significant escalation,” said White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson.

Analysts said the downing of the plane could bring a renewed emphasis on increasing sanctions against Russia.

The loss of the plane “will refocus attention on the fact that Russia does not seem to be doing very much to moderate the insurgency (or) the cross-border resupply of separatists,” said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Standard Bank PLC.

“Comments from U.S. officials are now quite specific, and I would expect the focus to return to sanctions next week,” he said.

Nine crew and 40 troops were aboard the Il-76 troop transport when it went down early Saturday as it approached the airport at Luhansk, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said.

Luhansk is in eastern Ukraine near the border with Russia, an area where separatists have seized government buildings and declared independence. Ukrainian forces still control the Luhansk airport, however.

Defense Ministry spokesman Bohdan Senyk said the rebels used anti-aircraft guns and a heavy machine gun to down the plane, while the prosecutor general’s office said rebels used an anti-aircraft missile.

The plane’s tail section lay with other pieces of scorched wreckage in a field near the village of Novohannivka, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Luhansk. An AP reporter saw a dozen or more armed separatists inspecting the crash site.

The death toll Saturday exceeded the 46 who died after a fire and shootings in Odessa on May 2. At least 40 people also died in fighting at Donetsk airport in late May and a rebel spokesman said the toll on his side that day may have been as high as 100.

The Kiev government has accused Russia of permitting three tanks to cross the border this week into eastern Ukraine, where they were used by rebels. Russia denies supplying the separatists and says Russians fighting in Ukraine are volunteers who went there on their own.

Moscow did not respond to reports it was sending tanks into Ukraine but instead issued a warning Saturday, accusing the Ukrainian military of violating the border. The Russian Foreign Ministry said if the incursions continued it would “take all necessary measures to suppress them.”

The ministry listed several incidents when it said the Ukrainian armed forces crossed into Russian airspace or territory, including on Friday when it said a Ukrainian armored vehicle ventured about 150 meters (yards) into Russia.

NATO, meanwhile released images Saturday that it said showed recent Russian tank movements near the border.

The tanks seen in eastern Ukraine, NATO said, “do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military. In fact, they do not have markings at all, which is reminiscent of tactics used by Russian elements that were involved in destabilizing Crimea.”

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated in February after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office by protesters who wanted closer ties with the European Union and an end to the country’s endemic corruption. Russia then seized and annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

The U.S. and Europe rejected the annexation and responded with financial sanctions targeting individuals they deemed to have played a role. They have threatened to further extend the sanctions to the Russian economy.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the Ukraine situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, expressing their “grave concern” over the continued combat in eastern Ukraine. They “stressed the importance of rapidly establishing a ceasefire in Ukraine” and called for measures to de-escalate the fighting.

The statement from Hollande’s office also said Hollande and Merkel stressed the need to find an agreement in the natural gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Russia says Ukraine owes billions in unpaid gas debts and has set a deadline of Monday before it will demand upfront payments for gas supplies. Ukraine disputes the debt amount.

The European Union reported that senior officials from Ukraine and Russia, including Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, were holding talks in Kiev later Saturday on the gas issue.

McHugh contributed from Kiev. Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed reporting.

Ukraine: 49 dead as rebels down military plane

KDWN

NOVOHANNIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane Saturday, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard in a bloody escalation of the conflict in the country’s restive east.

It was a bitter setback for the Ukrainian forces, which have struggled to suppress an armed insurgency by foes of the new government. And it came only a week after Ukraine’s new president, billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, spoke about a peace plan in his inaugural address.

Yet the deadliest single incident in the four-month-old conflict suggested the two sides were still far apart in their demands and talk of de-escalating the conflict remained premature.

The loss of the plane “will refocus attention on the fact that Russia does not seem to be doing very much to moderate the insurgency (or) the cross-border resupply of separatists,” said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Standard Bank PLC.

The United States, meanwhile, rejected Russia’s statements that it was not arming the separatists, saying Russia clearly had sent tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels, making sure the unmarked tanks were of a type not currently being used by Russian forces.

Nine crew and 40 troops were aboard the Il-76 when it went down early Saturday as it approached the airport at Luhansk, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said. The Russian-built Il-76 is a four-engine jet used to transport heavy gear and people.

Luhansk is in eastern Ukraine near the border with Russia, an area where separatists have seized government buildings and declared independence after holding disputed referendums. Ukrainian forces still control the Luhansk airport, however.

Defense Ministry spokesman Bohdan Senyk said the rebels used anti-aircraft guns and a heavy machine gun to down the plane, while the prosecutor general’s office mentioned an anti-aircraft missile.

The plane’s tail section lay with other pieces of scorched wreckage in a field near the village of Novohannivka, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Luhansk. An AP reporter saw a dozen or more armed separatists inspecting the crash site.

The death toll Saturday exceeded the 46 who died after a fire and shootings in Odessa on May 2 and the 12 troops who died May 29 when rebels shot down a helicopter near the eastern city of Slovyansk.

The Kiev government has accused Russia of permitting three tanks to cross the border into eastern Ukraine, where they were used by rebels. Russia denies supplying the separatists.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said Russia had stockpiled both tanks and weapons for the rebels at a depot in southwest Russia.

“Separatists in eastern Ukraine have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. “Russia will claim these tanks were taken from Ukrainian forces, but no Ukrainian tank units have been operating in that area. We are confident that these tanks came from Russia.”

NATO released images on Saturday that it said showed recent Russian tank movements near the border.

The tanks seen in Ukraine, NATO said, “do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military. In fact, they do not have markings at all, which is reminiscent of tactics used by Russian elements that were involved in destabilizing Crimea.”

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated in February after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office by protesters who wanted closer ties with the European Union and an end to the country’s endemic corruption.

Russia then seized and annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea after a disputed referendum. The U.S. and Europe rejected the annexation and responded with financial sanctions targeting individual officials they deemed to have played a role. They have held off on widening the sanctions to the Russian economy but have not ruled that out.

“Comments from U.S. officials are now quite specific, and I would expect the focus to return to sanctions next week,” said Ash, the analyst.

Poroshenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at D-Day anniversary ceremonies in France and there were reports Russia might take steps to tighten control over its border. Russia says Russian citizens fighting with the Ukrainian separatists are volunteers who went on their own.

Before Saturday’s incident, the Ukrainian health ministry said at least 270 people had died in clashes between government forces and armed separatists.

McHugh contributed from Kiev.

Ukraine: 49 dead as rebels down military plane

KDWN

NOVOHANNIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane Saturday, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard in a bloody escalation of the conflict in the country’s restive east.

It was a bitter setback for the Ukrainian forces, which have struggled to suppress an armed insurgency by foes of the new government. And it came only a week after Ukraine’s new president, billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, spoke about a peace plan in his inaugural address.

Yet the deadliest single incident in the four-month-old conflict suggested the two sides were still far apart in their demands and talk of de-escalating the conflict remained premature.

The loss of the plane “will refocus attention on the fact that Russia does not seem to be doing very much to moderate the insurgency (or) the cross-border resupply of separatists,” said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Standard Bank PLC.

The United States, meanwhile, rejected Russia’s statements that it was not arming the separatists, saying Russia clearly had sent tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels, making sure the unmarked tanks were of a type not currently being used by Russian forces.

Nine crew and 40 troops were aboard the Il-76 when it went down early Saturday as it approached the airport at Luhansk, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said. The Russian-built Il-76 is a four-engine jet used to transport heavy gear and people.

Luhansk is in eastern Ukraine near the border with Russia, an area where separatists have seized government buildings and declared independence after holding disputed referendums. Ukrainian forces still control the Luhansk airport, however.

Defense Ministry spokesman Bohdan Senyk said the rebels used anti-aircraft guns and a heavy machine gun to down the plane, while the prosecutor general’s office mentioned an anti-aircraft missile.

The plane’s tail section lay with other pieces of scorched wreckage in a field near the village of Novohannivka, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Luhansk. An AP reporter saw a dozen or more armed separatists inspecting the crash site.

The death toll Saturday exceeded the 46 who died after a fire and shootings in Odessa on May 2 and the 12 troops who died May 29 when rebels shot down a helicopter near the eastern city of Slovyansk.

The Kiev government has accused Russia of permitting three tanks to cross the border into eastern Ukraine, where they were used by rebels. Russia denies supplying the separatists.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said Russia had stockpiled both tanks and weapons for the rebels at a depot in southwest Russia.

“Separatists in eastern Ukraine have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. “Russia will claim these tanks were taken from Ukrainian forces, but no Ukrainian tank units have been operating in that area. We are confident that these tanks came from Russia.”

NATO released images on Saturday that it said showed recent Russian tank movements near the border.

The tanks seen in Ukraine, NATO said, “do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military. In fact, they do not have markings at all, which is reminiscent of tactics used by Russian elements that were involved in destabilizing Crimea.”

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated in February after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office by protesters who wanted closer ties with the European Union and an end to the country’s endemic corruption.

Russia then seized and annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea after a disputed referendum. The U.S. and Europe rejected the annexation and responded with financial sanctions targeting individual officials they deemed to have played a role. They have held off on widening the sanctions to the Russian economy but have not ruled that out.

“Comments from U.S. officials are now quite specific, and I would expect the focus to return to sanctions next week,” said Ash, the analyst.

Poroshenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at D-Day anniversary ceremonies in France and there were reports Russia might take steps to tighten control over its border. Russia says Russian citizens fighting with the Ukrainian separatists are volunteers who went on their own.

Before Saturday’s incident, the Ukrainian health ministry said at least 270 people had died in clashes between government forces and armed separatists.

McHugh contributed from Kiev.