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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: US Has 'Excessive Influence' in Ukraine


iStock / 360 / Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed the United States has "an excessive influence" on the actions of Kiev authorities, describing America's impact on the ongoing crisis during an interview with television network RT.

“When you receive daily calls from John Kerry, who is saying what you should do, and when you realize how far the U.S. is from Ukraine and how much they are agitated, it appears that indeed they direct this process to a large extent,” he said.

He went on to say that anti-terrorist operations were tied to visits from high-level American officials.

The U.S. has an impact "not on the country but on the regime, which took power in Kiev," Lavrov added, and "they act much more openly and without any remorse, if one compares them with Europeans, who act more covertly."

On Wednesday, the Obama administration denied accusations from the foreign minister that claimed the U.S. is funding or running military operations in Ukraine.

"I think many of the claims he made in his interview are ludicrous and they're not based in facts of what is happening on the ground," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Lavrov warned that Russia would not back down and said the country could retaliate against Ukraine if it continued operations against pro-Russian militants. Any attacks on Russians in the country would be considered an attack on Russia itself, he said.

Psaki called his statements "counterproductive and inflammatory," explaining that the foreign minister's comments don't reflect a plan on the Geneva agreement recently signed by Ukraine, the European Union, the United States, and Russia.

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US Expresses 'Deep Concern' Over American Journalist Kidnapped in Ukraine


State Dept photo(WASHINGTON) -- The United States called for the immediate release of an American journalist Wednesday, following the detention of Vice News reporter Simon Ostrovsky in eastern Ukraine.

While she did not name Ostrovsky directly, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. raised concerns with Ukrainian officials to "de-escalate the security situation," and asked Russia to ensure the freedom of any hostages.

"I can express a deep concern about the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen, journalist in Slovyansk, Ukraine, reportedly at the hands of pro-Russian separatists," Psaki said.

The self-proclaimed "People's Mayor" of Sloviansk told ABC News that the reporter was spreading false, one-sided information and needed to be taught otherwise.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said Ostrovsky, who has been detained for two days, is being treated well, fed well, and that "he's getting material for his next book."

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Yemen to Pay Families of Civilians Killed in Drone Strikes


MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Yemeni government plans to make a cash payment to the families of the three civilians killed in a string of airstrikes over the weekend, a spokesperson for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C. said Wednesday.

Dozens of alleged militants with the al Qaeda affiliate al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were killed in multiple airstrikes -- suspected to have been launched from American drones -- and in an on-the-ground raid over the weekend and into Monday, according to the Yemeni government.

However, three civilians were caught in the midst of the carnage when “their pickup truck unexpectedly appeared next to [a] targeted vehicle,” a statement from the Yemeni government on Monday said.

“Yes, [the] Yemeni government did and will compensate the families of civilian casualties as a result of [counter-terrorist] operations,” Yemeni Embassy spokesperson Mohammed Albasha said on Twitter Wednesday.

A local Yemeni news outlet reported Tuesday that the government planned to give up approximately $55,000 and firearms to the victims’ families, but a Yemeni official who spoke to ABC News could not confirm those details. So-called “solatia” payments are often expected by local customs around the world in cases of wrongful deaths -- a practice in which the U.S. Defense Department has historically taken part to the tune of millions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The airstrikes, conducted Saturday and Sunday, targeted militants traveling in vehicles as well as a suspected al Qaeda training camp that the Yemeni government said was “completely destroyed.”

Following the strike, Yemen launched a “successful” on-the-ground counter-terrorism raid, the government said. A source briefed on the operation confirmed to ABC News that American pilots had flown Yemeni special operations troops in on Russian helicopters, as first reported by CNN.

On Monday, neither the CIA, Pentagon, White House National Security Council or State Department would comment directly on any U.S. involvement in the operations, except to say, as spokespersons for State and the Pentagon did, that the U.S. has a “strong, collaborative relationship with the Yemeni government.”

Both the CIA and Pentagon have conducted unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations in Yemen in the past, to much controversy. In 2009, a CIA drone strike there killed high-profile al Qaeda recruiter and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Weeks later, a similar strike killed his 16-year-old son, who U.S. officials said was collateral damage in a strike targeting another al Qaeda figure. In December 2013, a suspected drone-fired missile hit a wedding procession, killing 11.

When asked about the solatia payments, a Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment to ABC News and referred any questions related to the strikes to the Yemeni government, “which publicly acknowledged the airstrikes.”

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Prince Charles' Brother-In-Law Dies Following Head Injury


Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Charles' brother-in-law Mark Shand has died following a head injury. He was 62.

"It is with deep sadness that we have to confirm that The Duchess of Cornwall's brother, Mark Shand, has today passed away in New York. Mr. Shand died in hospital as a result of a serious head injury which he sustained during a fall last night," Clarence House said in a statement Wednesday.

"The Duchess, The Prince of Wales and all her family members are utterly devastated by this sudden and tragic loss. Mark Shand was a man of extraordinary vitality, a tireless campaigner and conservationist whose incredible work through the Elephant Family and beyond remained his focus right up until his death," the statement continued.

Shand, a one-time playboy and thrill-seeker, became a conservationist whose mission was to save the Asian elephant from extinction. After riding his elephant, Tara, across India, he set up a charity, Elephant Family. He had been at a fundraising event for the charity before he fell and was taken to hospital.

Prince Charles married the Duchess of Cornwall on April 9, 2005 in a small civil ceremony before saying "I do," at Windsor Castle. Shand was her younger brother.

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Ferry Diver's Search for Bodies 'Extremely Difficult' in Muddy Water


JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images(JINDO, South Korea) -- Divers trying to retrieve bodies from the sunken South Korean ferry are finding the job "extremely difficult," feeling their way through the ink-black water with their hands as they work their way through rooms in the capsized ship.

“Divers can’t see anything,” Park Kyung Hoon told ABC News.

“Basically, they are blindly feeling their way around the ship. It is like a maze, so divers have to use their hands to feel around different rooms and under chairs and so on,” said Park.

Park, a diving team captain for the Blue Dragon Training Corp., volunteered along with other divers when he heard about the April 16 tragedy, when a ferry sank off South Korea’s southern coast with hundreds of high school students still trapped inside.

“By the time I went out to the site, the ferry had sunken completely underwater, and there were barge lines and cranes over it,” he said.

His team has been collaborating with the Coast Guard, but search efforts have been hindered by surging currents that stir up the silty bottom into a muddy soup.

“When I first went into the water, I couldn’t see anything,” Park said. “The water was extremely clouded and currents were strong. So the time we could spend underwater and rescue searching was very short. Divers had to come out of the water within a short period of time.”

As of Wednesday, at least 156 people have been confirmed dead with 146 others still missing. There are 174 known survivors, including all 12 of the ferry's crew.

The search has become more difficult. Divers initially brought out bodies that were in the ship's lounge, but divers are now having to break through cabin walls to retrieve more bodies.

"The lounge is one big open space, so once in it we got our search done straight away. But in the case of the cabins, we will have to break down the walls in between because they are all compartments," said Koh Myung-seok, a spokesman for the task force surrounding the sunken ferry.

The water conditions are also becoming more challenging.

“In my opinion, today and tomorrow will be the last days where water conditions will be good enough to dive in,” Park said. “Starting from tomorrow, currents become strong again. It will become difficult for scuba divers to go into the water. The water will be clouded as well.”

Park had harsh words for the ship’s captain, who’s accused of abandoning his passengers to save his own life.

“A captain’s role and his utmost priority is to ensure the safety of the passengers onboard and lead the crew effectively,” he said. “But it is unacceptable that a captain would abandon the helpless people onboard and escape to save his own life.”

 


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Astronauts Complete Spacewalk to Repair Computer on ISS


NASA TV(HOUSTON) -- Two NASA astronauts completed a spacewalk Wednesday to fix a backup computer on the International Space Station.

Steve Swanson and Rick Mastracchio were tasked with the job, which took just over an hour and a half.

According to NASA, the Multiplexer/Demultiplexer (MDM) back up computer failed on April 11 following a routine check by Mission Control.

"While the primary computer continues operating flawlessly NASA managers ordered Wednesday’s spacewalk repair to ensure redundancy on critical systems," the space agency said in a statement.

NASA said the six crew members aboard the ISS were not at risk during the outage.

Before Swanson and Mastracchio went back inside the space station on Wednesday, Mission Control tested the backup computer to make sure it was working properly.

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Object of Interest Washes Ashore Amid Search for Missing Flight 370


(PERTH, Australia) -- An unidentified object washed ashore in Australia, and investigators are trying to determine if the object is related to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

According to a press release from Australian authorities, the item washed ashore near Augusta, on the country’s southwestern coastline.

The news has been shared with Malaysia officials, who are overseeing the overall search efforts.

Authorities believe the jet landed in the Indian Ocean, but have yet to find any evidence directly connected to the doomed plane.

The 777 jetliner was carrying 239 people when it went missing March 8.


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Prince William and Duchess Kate DJ in Australia


Morne de Klerk - Pool/Getty Images(ADELAIDE, Australia) -- Prince William and Duchess Kate have not missed a mark on their trip Down Under, and now the royals can say they have not missed a beat either.

After spending a night alone at a luxurious resort near Uluru in Australia, the duke and duchess arrived Wednesday in Adelaide, Australia, where they visited a music studio and gave DJ-ing a spin, literally.

Kate, 32, and William, 31, egged each other on as to who would be the first to spin tracks as they visited the Northern Sound System, an alternative learning center focused on music in the suburb of Elizabeth, which is named after Prince William’s grandmother, the queen.

“She was fantastic,” Shane Petersen, a workshop facilitator in the hip-hop class the couple visited, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of Kate’s DJ-ing ability. “But [William] can fly a helicopter, so it’s horses for courses.”

Kate also showed off her dancing, following along with students as they showed her a type of wave dance move.

When it was William’s turn to scratch the records, he also revealed what type of music is perhaps on his iPod, if he owns one, or playing in Kensington Palace.

“I like house music,” William said, according to the ABC. “I still like a bit of rock’n'roll and the classics, and a bit of R&B.”

The couple’s son, 9-month-old Prince George, was not with his parents on this leg of the royal family’s first official trip overseas since George’s birth, but the young prince was never far from his parents’ minds.

The couple unveiled a plaque in Adelaide renaming the city’s center square as Prince George Plaza and also accepted on George’s behalf a green, custom-made skateboard that featured “George” on the bottom flanked by Australian flags and kangaroos.

“[Prince William] loved it and Kate thought that the design was nice,” said skateboarder Luke Haldenby, who presented it to William and Kate, according to the ABC.

Prince William declined the crowd’s urging to give George’s skateboard a try but he did take up the offer to contribute to a spray paint mural being created by a group known as the Aerosol Angels.

“He did a pretty good job, and he admitted when he’d finished his bit of artwork that he was now addicted,” said the group’s leader, Simon Burt, according to the BBC.

The duke and duchess are now scheduled to return to Canberra, Australia, where they will reunite with Prince George, who stayed behind in Canberra with his nanny.

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Madeleine McCann Probers Focus on Child Sex Attacker


JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)(LONDON) -- Detectives are investigating whether Madeleine McCann, the toddler who vanished in Portugal seven years ago, may have been abducted by a serial sex attacker.

One of those possible victims was a 10-year-old girl who was assaulted in 2005 in the same resort where Maddie vanished.

Scotland Yard has recently learned for the first time of five sexual assaults, and one attempted sexual assault, on British girls between 2004 and 2006. Police say they attach particular significance to one of the attacks: the sexual assault in 2005 of a British 10-year-old girl in Praia de Luz, the resort where Madeleine’s family were staying. That attack was not reported at the time.

McCann was 3 when she vanished from the family’s resort room in 2007 while her parents dined nearby.

These latest cases were brought to police attention after a public appeal for information last month.

Senior investigating officer Andy Redwood calls the new leads “extremely positive” and a “priority” for his investigation. Scotland Yard have requested case files for the six attacks from Portuguese police.

The British investigation is now examining 18 cases where a male intruder entered the apartments and villas of British vacationers in the Western Algarve region of Portugal. They include nine sexual assaults and three “near-misses,” officials said. The victims were all British girls aged between 6 and 12 years old. Fourteen of the attacks were reported to the police at the time.

Detective Chief Inspector Redwood says he is confident that some if not all of the cases are linked because of their “significant similarities.”

In order to protect the identities of the victims, police are not disclosing why some of the attacks were not reported earlier. While some of the attacks were known to police in Portugal, they were not considered relevant by them to the McCann case because they didn’t involve abduction.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt says he is “cautiously optimistic” that police in Portugal will soon move forward with Scotland Yard’s requests for help.

Senior British detectives have expressed frustration with the slow pace of the judicial process, and the cooperation they have received from their Portuguese counterparts.

Portuguese authorities have resisted British requests to form a joint investigation team.

In March police appealed for help regarding 12 cases of a male intruder entering vacation homes between 2004 and 2010. The man sexually assaulted five British girls aged between 7 and 10 in their beds.

They said that witnesses described the suspect as tanned, with short untidy hair. He spoke in English with a foreign accent and smelled strongly.

Scotland Yard has still not established the identity of a man seen by three witnesses carrying a child fitting Madeleine’s description on the night that she disappeared.

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Ferry Disaster Has Traumatized, Shamed South Korea


Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- The entire country of South Korea, which watched a ferry filled with high school students sink on live TV and has followed the futile search for survivors with 24/7 TV coverage, appears to be have been traumatized by the tragedy.

That trauma has been compounded by a collective shame over charges of criminal negligence by much of the ship's crew, inappropriate reactions by government officials and cruel hoaxes following the sinking.

Almost all entertainment programs that include music, comedy or drama have been cancelled. Attendance at movie theaters is off by as much as 40 percent. Fashion shows, sporting events and festivals for major cultural events have been put off through May.

“It’s not only the victims and their families but a majority of the general public is suffering from mental shock, sadness, rage, and feeling of helplessness,” read an editorial from Seoul Newspaper. “In short, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this entire nation is going through post-traumatic stress disorder.”

"After those nonstop broadcasts, personally this visual of cold water rising in the cabins with trapped kids dying a slow death was haunting me for days. I still cry for them," said Yong-sub Choi, vice president of value, culture and media for an investment company. His company has invested $1 million in a regional fireworks festival planned for early May, but decided to forsake half the investment and postpone it to August in honor of the victims.

The tragedy has riveted and horrified the country from the start. Cameras rushed to the ferry sinking as soon as the news broke and the population was mesmerized as it watched the tragedy unfold with students flailing in the cold water, the boat slowly turning upside down and eventually slipping beneath the surface.

Television viewers have barely looked away since the rescue efforts were broadcast without any break. The arrival of grief stricken families was recorded along with rough weather that hampered rescue efforts, and eventually the retrieval of bodies despite the prayers of a nation.

“It was so depressing, so I intentionally avoided watching TV at first,” said Jieun Kim, a mother of two children living in Seoul. “But it’s addictive. You keep wondering what happened. Gave up on the fourth day, and kept watching. My tears won’t stop. It’s uncontrollable.”

What has also taken a toll on the Korean psyche are the alleged acts of cowardice, callousness and cruel hoaxes.

Eleven of the ferry's crew, including the captain, have been taken into custody for actions that the South Korean president said were "murderous." Others would say craven.

In the days after the ferry sank, families were tormented with hoax text messages claiming to be from students trapped in air pockets complaining that they were cold, but still alive. A woman posed as one of the divers trying to rescue the trapped passengers was exposed as a fraud.

A photo of a government official sitting on a chair to eat ramen while the families of the ferry victims were eating on the floor circulated on South Korean social media and criticism poured in. The official ended up getting suspended and later fired from his post.

The response to the sinking has forced the nation to reassess what Korea has become.

A widely shared editorial on social networks from Saturday’s Joongang Ilbo concluded with a scathing self-criticism that, “A nation’s standards and capability is tested when disaster and crisis come by. Our country’s level is a failing grade and of a third-class country.”

“Korea is now depressed," an editorial in Hankyoreh newspaper said. "But for such collective depression to be rightly cured, this atmosphere should not be quickly changed nor forgotten.”

Choi added, "As a father, this burden is deep. I feel responsible for the deaths of those innocent young kids. Our generation have marched forward only looking ahead. It was all economic growth and wealth. We neglected to take effort to mature ethically."

“Koreans are very nationalistic and they take pride in the rapid development of their country. When there’s some problem or anything that reflects poorly on the collective, on the nation or Koreans on the whole, people will get upset about it,” said Daniel Pinkson, head of International Crisis Group in Seoul.

Yellow ribbons have proliferated on Korean social media and the country has held candlelight vigils, but those gestures have gone only so far.

“Koreans want to share everything together," said Sulim Park, public relations manager of Italian shoe brand, Tod’s. The company cancelled three shows and events out of respect for the ferry victims. "My family or friends were not personally affected by this tragedy, but call it nationalism or whatever, but we try to share the grief together.”

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Report: Divorced, Remarried Woman Can Have Communion, Pope Says


iStock / 360/Thinkstock(ROME) -- Could there be a switch in Catholic doctrine?

Pope Francis has reportedly phoned a divorced and remarried Catholic woman in Argentina to tell her that she could "safely receive Communion." 

Italian news media report the pope called Jacquleina Sabetta in response to a letter she had written to him.

Catholic doctrine dictates that divorced people can receive communion, but divorced and remarried people cannot.

The pope apparently told her the issue is under discussion.

The Vatican said it neither confirms nor denies the call.

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Bashar al-AssadÂ’s Deadly Loophole in Syria Deal


JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration’s top accomplishment on Syria -- a deal in which President Bashar al-Assad would surrender his chemical weapons -- risks being undermined by substantial, potentially deadly loopholes in the agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry touted on Tuesday the fact that Syria had given up almost all its declared chemical weapons and would finish the process by the end-of-April deadline.

“We now have the majority percentage of chemical weapons moved out of Syria, and we’re moving on schedule to try to complete that task,” he said at a State Department event.

But events in Syria paint a more complicated picture of Assad’s continued ability to kill civilians with chemical weapons.

Earlier this month, the Assad regime allegedly used chlorine gas -- a weapon Syria is not required to relinquish -- against civilians in the town of Kafr Zita, causing victims to suffocate, choke, vomit, foam at the mouth and develop hypertension, according to a letter from the head of the Syrian Coalition, a Western-approved opposition group, to the United Nations Security Council.

In the letter, Syrian Coalition representative Najib Ghadbian urged investigators from the joint mission between the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to inspect a research center in Damascus that allegedly produces Syria’s chlorine gas.

The U.S. State Department said earlier this week that it has “indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine” in Kafr Zita. “We’re examining allegations that the government was responsible.”

The Assad regime has not responded to the allegations and ABC News calls to Syria’s Mission to the U.N. were not returned.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that “there are remaining concerns about the brutality of the Assad regime,” but she defended the deal that has stripped the Syrian government of much of its chemical arsenal.

“The point here is that we’ve removed 86 percent of the most harmful chemicals. That still is a positive step,” Psaki said.

Ghadbian noted that the use of chemical weapons does violate a second provision of the deal Syria agreed to in the fall, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118: it had to sign on to what’s known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the “development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons.”

Should such a U.N./OPCW investigation find that Syria did use chlorine gas on civilians, the U.N. Security Council would have authority under Chapter 7 of its charter to punish the regime.

But so far, said Oubai Shahbandar, spokesman for the Syrian Coalition, the Security Council hasn’t discussed inspecting production sites or punishing for the regime for its alleged use of chlorine weapons.

Any Security Council decision would also have to get the approval of Russia, a permanent member and ally of Syria. Because that’s unlikely to happen, Shahbandar said, the onus falls on the United States to hold the regime accountable.

“Assad continues to press his luck because he believes he can get away with it,” Shahbandar said. “It is now time that he does not.”

The United States acknowledged that confirming beyond doubt that the regime used chlorine gas would be difficult.

“The time required to conduct any investigation of alleged CW use would be dependent on the circumstances surrounding the investigation, not least of all the cooperation of the host country,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Assad can continue to inflict chlorine gas attacks on civilians, knowing that the hands of the international community, especially the United States, are tied, said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“I think [his actions] are based on a calculation that Obama just doesn’t want to do anything,” Tabler said.

The deal agreed to in the fall, which President Obama touted at the time as a diplomatic way to avoid airstrikes on Syria, also omits the destruction of Syria’s 12 production and storage facilities where Syria might be hiding additional chemical weapons that it simply did not declare to the OPCW,  Tabler states.

Critics of the administration’s approach towards Syria have urged the United Nations to expand its mandate to include facility destruction, but there’s little chance that would happen either, given Russia’s veto power.

The more likely scenario, Tabler said, is that the April deadline for Syria to give up its chemical weapons will come and go, but the regime’s killings of civilians with chemical weapons will continue.

“In the course of one week we’re going to find that the regime is not complying. It’s good to get all of those chemical weapons out of there, but the regime is doing it in such a way that it’s not solving the problem, it’s just tightening the grip on power,” Tabler said.

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Death Toll Mounts in South Korean Ferry Sinking


JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- One week after a ferry sank off the coast of South Korea, the death toll continues to climb.

As of Wednesday, at least 156 people have been confirmed dead with 146 others still missing. There are 174 known survivors, including all 12 of the ferry's crew.

The updated death count comes as South Korean prosecutors are considering charges of accidental homicide against the captain, third mate and helmsman of the ferry, which sank last Wednesday. Most of the victims were high school students on the ferry for a field trip.

According to prosecutors, Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the ferry sank. By then, the ship had tilted so much that many of the missing were not able to escape.

Divers reached the interior of the sunken ferry earlier this week but their mission has been made more difficult by murky waters and strong currents. The search involves areas of the vessel where passengers were told to stay.

As of Wednesday, weather conditions had improved. The recovery effort also involves 212 boats, 34 aircraft and 550 rescue workers.

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Ukraine Security Chief: At Least 130 Russian Officers Leading Efforts in Eastern Ukraine


Genya Savilov//AFP/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) -- At least 130 members of the Russian intelligence service and military are leading uprising efforts in Eastern Ukraine, the director of Ukraine's national security service said Tuesday.

In a Google Hangout sponsored by the Atlantic Council, security official Valentyn Nalyvaichenko explained there were as many as 30 special troops or officers of Russia's intelligence service, the GRU, working in the Slaviansk region, plus another 100 in Donetsk.

"They are not alone," he added, saying that they recruited pro-Russian locals.

The information was provided through three GRU officers detained and questioned by Ukraine, and Nalyvaichenko says they have already identified "two main organizers" responsible for unrest in the region. A criminal investigation has been launched.

The security chief also confirmed reports that a military plane in Sloviansk was hit by gunfire. Addressing Ukraine's response to the crisis, he explained Kiev's best option to "calm down the situation" is to obtain more funding from the central government to provide "more support to maintain normal life" for local authorities, according to the Atlantic Council.

Nalyvaichenko also cited reliance on international civilian mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help persuade pro-Russian separatists to stand down.

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US To Deliver Helicopters to Egypt, Clears Partial Military Assistance


iStock/Thinkstock(CAIRO) -- The United States cleared Egypt to receive some military assistance, following a conversation Tuesday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy.

The Obama administration approved the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters in support of Egypt's counterterrorism operations in Sinai, in hopes that it will help the country's government counter extremists threatening American, Egyptian, and Israeli security.

In a call with Fahmy, Kerry informed the foreign minister that Egypt is sustaining its relationship with the United States and upholding its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Though he addressed the country's importance as a "strategic partner" for the U.S., Kerry said "he is not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition," according to a statement by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

In addition to the secretary of state's conversation, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke with Egyptian Minister of Defense Col. Gen. Sedki Sobhy on Tuesday to inform him of the upcoming military assistance.

"This is one element of the president's broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build their capacity to counter terror threats, and is the United States' national security interest," a readout from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby explained.

Still, full certification that Egypt is on a path to democracy is needed for further aid.  Hagel urged the Egyptian government to show progress on "a more inclusive transition" respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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