23 May 14. Ukraine officials battle ‘chaos’ in east as rebels target election. As election officials in eastern Ukraine made final preparations before Sunday’s pivotal presidential ballot they were facing renewed threats and provocations from pro-Russia separatists determined to thwart the vote. Across the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, observers and human rights groups reported raids on local election offices, with commissioners taken hostage and ballots and other property stolen. The Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election-focused non-profit, has already ruled out the possibility of elections being physically held in the towns of Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Enakievo – where the separatists have taken full control of the local government. “The situation is complete chaos,” said Alexander Kluzhev of the Committee of Voters’ Donetsk chapter. “The goal is to completely demoralise the election workers. One day the commission is working fine, the next day gunmen come and start stealing their property.” Russian president Vladimir Putin has sought to distance himself from the provocations by pro-Russia separatists. Speaking at the St Petersburg Economic Forum on Friday, Mr Putin promised Moscow would “respect the choice of the Ukrainian people” in Sunday’s vote. But he also noted that legal doubts about the election remained, arguing that Viktor Yanukovich, who fled to Russia in February amid a popular uprising, was still technically president. Mr Putin said Ukraine had devolved into “full-scale civil war” but expressed confidence it would eventually “find peace”. Kiev is counting on the election to bring popular legitimacy to the government and stability to the country after Mr Yanukovich’s removal. But much will depend on the quality of the elections and the ability of all citizens to participate. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe whose role as a mediator in the Ukraine crisis has been backed by the EU, the US and Russia, has deployed 100 long-term observers and 900 short-term observers to monitor the vote, joining 220 monitors already in the country. Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German diplomat and the OSCE’s co-mediator of roundtable talks in Ukraine, said the mission was working to ensure that as many polling stations as possible were operating in the east. “Every vote counts, and every polling station counts … If one district in Donetsk can vote it’s better than if no district can vote, and if two districts can vote, it’s better than if only one district votes.” In an effort to ease tensions, Ukraine’s state security service chief, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, said the army would temporarily halt military operations against the pro-Russian insurgents on election day. Authorities will also set up alternative voting locations for some eastern towns. (Source: FT.com)
22 May 14. North Korea on Thursday fired shells into waters near a South Korean warship on patrol south of the disputed Yellow Sea border, prompting an evacuation of residents on a nearby island, officials said.
Two shells fell near the South Korean ship, which was sailing near the front-line island of Yeonpyeong, the South’s defense ministry said.
“North Korea fired shells which fell near our ship, but it did not cause any damage to our ship,” a ministry spokesman told AFP. The North’s move began at 6 pm, prompting a response from the South Korean vessel which fired several rounds into waters near a North Korean vessel, he said.
The exchange of fire sparked a tense confrontation between warships from the two sides, but there was no additional provocation from North Korea, the spokesman said. “The situation is now stable but we are closely watching the movement of North Korean troops,” another ministry official said. The defense ministry sent a message of protest to North Korea through a military hotline, he said. The North’s military threatened Wednesday to attack South Korean warships ‘without any warning’ if there was even a ‘trifle’ viol