Campaigning Starts in Ukraine’s Hard-to-Predict Presidential Race

A 90-day political campaign period has opened in Ukraine, where the incumbent president’s future is uncertain.

President Petro Poroshenko hasn’t yet announced whether he plans to run in a March 31 election, although he is expected to seek re-election. Monday marked the official start of campaigning.

A poll of 2,017 eligible voters published last week put Poroshenko’s approval rating at just over 14 percent. Another likely candidate, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, had support from 16 percent of those surveyed.

Other presidential hopefuls trailed behind the two. The Razumkov Center poll had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

Ukraine has been hit hard by the tug-of-war with Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and backed a separatist insurgency in the country’s industrial heartland in the east.

 

Vatican Spokesman, Deputy Resign Suddenly

The Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, and his deputy resigned suddenly Monday amid an overhaul of the Vatican’s communications operations that coincides with a troubled period in Pope Francis’ papacy.

 

In a tweet, Burke said he and his deputy, Paloma Garcia Ovejero, had resigned effective Jan. 1. Francis accepted the resignation Monday, the Vatican said in a statement.

 

“At this time of transition in Vatican communications, we think it’s best the Holy Father is completely free to assemble a new team,” Burke wrote.  

 

He and Garcia both thanked the pope. “A stage is ending. Thank you for these two and a half years,” Garcia tweeted.

 

Francis named a longtime member of the Vatican’s communications operations, Alessandro Gisotti, as an interim replacement.

 

The pope has recently overhauled the Vatican’s media operations for the second time by ousting the longtime editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and naming a new director of editorial content for all Vatican media, the Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli.

 

The resignations clearly took the new team by surprise.

 

The head of Vatican communications, Paolo Ruffini, said he had learned of the decision by Burke and Garcia and respected it. He praised their professionalism and said he had full confidence in Gisotti, who had been a longtime journalist with Vatican Radio and more recently had been head of social media for the Vatican.

 

“The year ahead is full of important appointments that will require maximum communications efforts,” Ruffini said in a statement.

 

It was perhaps a reference to Francis’ high-stakes summit on preventing clergy sex abuse in February, as well as his multiple foreign trips planned for 2019: Panama, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bulgaria and Macedonia in the first half of the year, and rumored trips to Madagascar and Japan in the second half.

 

Francis also has to deal with continued fallout from the clergy abuse scandal, in Chile, the U.S. and beyond. The next year will likely see the outcome of a canonical investigation into ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, accused of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians, as well as the results of a Vatican investigation into McCarrick’s rise through church ranks.

 

Burke, then a Fox TV correspondent in Rome, was hired as a communications adviser for the Vatican’s secretariat of state in 2012. At the time, the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI had suffered a series of communications blunders, and it was thought that Burke could provide guidance.

 

In 2015, Burke was named deputy spokesman under the Rev. Federico Lombardi, an Italian Jesuit.

 

When Lombardi retired in 2016, Burke became main spokesman and was joined by Garcia, the first woman to ever hold the position of deputy. Garcia had been the Vatican correspondent for the Cadena Cope, the Spanish broadcaster.

 

Russia: 4 Dead in Apartment Collapse, Apparent Gas Explosion

At least four people died Monday when sections of an apartment building collapsed after an apparent gas explosion in Russia’s Ural Mountains region, officials said.

The authorities said five others were hospitalized with injuries, and 68 other residents remained unaccounted for in the accident in Magnitogorsk, a city of 400,000 about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) southeast of Moscow.

 

The nation’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said the collapse of a section of the ten-story building was apparently caused by a gas leak. It happened before dawn when most residents were still asleep on the New Year’s Eve.

Nearly 1,400 rescuers were searching for those who could have been buried under debris.

 

Emergency workers have evacuated residents of nearby sections of the building, fearing they could also tumble down.

The Kremlin said that President Vladimir Putin has been briefed on the situation. Cabinet officials arrived in Magnitogorsk to oversee the rescue efforts.

Gas explosions in Russian homes and businesses are common, and they are usually blamed on neglect of safety rules or poor maintenance.

 

A Big Build-Up to a Big Drop: The Times Square New Year’s Ball

An estimated 1 million people will pack New York City’s Times Square to watch the huge, brilliantly lighted, crystal ball drop to signal the start of the new year. It is an American New Year’s tradition that goes back more than a century. As VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports, lot of work goes into making sure that ball lights up the sky in spectacular fashion, exactly on time.

Young Libyan Women Play for Equal Rights on the Soccer Field

Young women looking to play the world’s most-popular sport have a place all their own in Libya. An all-girls soccer academy in the capital looks to break societal norms in the Muslim majority country that frown upon women wearing shorts or competing on the same fields as men. But it is not without criticism that coaches turn constructive. Arash Arabasadi reports.

Чубаров закликав кримчан святкувати початок Нового року за київським часом

Голова Меджлісу кримськотатарського народу Рефат Чубаров закликав жителів анексованого Росією Криму святкувати початок Нового 2019 року за київським часом. Про це він написав на своїй сторінці у Facebook.

«Закликаю кожного з вас, хто живе в тимчасово окупованому Криму, вийти 31 грудня 2018 o 24:00 за київським часом на свою вулицю або двір (балкон, веранду) і відзначити петардами, хлопавками, бенгальськими вогнями початок 2019 року. Знайте, за московським часом на вулиці і двори Криму виповзе тільки п’яна окупаційна бидлота», – написав Чубаров.

В анексованому Росією Криму та на окупованій частині Донбасу запровадили використання московського часу без сезонного переходу.

Після анексії півострова багато жителів Криму зустрічають Новий рік за київським часом.

Міжнародні організації визнали окупацію та анексію Криму незаконними і засудили дії Росії. Країни Заходу запровадили низку економічних санкцій. Росія заперечує окупацію півострова і називає це «відновленням історичної справедливості». Верховна Рада України офіційно оголосила датою початку тимчасової окупації Криму і Севастополя Росією 20 лютого 2014 року.

Теніс: Цуренко вийшла до другого кола Brisbane International

Українська тенісистка Леся Цуренко пробилася у друге коло турніру серії Premier Brisbane International, який стартував в Австралії.

Цуренко, яка посідає 27-ме місце у рейтингу найкращих тенісисток світу, обіграла 24-ту ракетку світу, представницю Румунії Мікаелу Бузарнеску, віддавши їй усього два гейми – 6:0, 6:2.

Наступною суперницею українки стане 283-тя ракетка світу, австралійка Кімберлі Біррелл.

Найкраща тенісистка України, четверта ракетка світу Еліна Світоліна стартує на турнірі з другого кола. Світоліна є діючою чемпіонкою Brisbane International.

New Year’s Eve Ball Drop to Honor Journalism

A group of journalists will usher in the New Year Monday in New York City’s Times Square as the time-honored tradition of the annual ball drop recognizes journalism and free speech.

Leading American reporters and editors will be on stage just before midnight to push the button that begins the countdown to the New Year.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 53 journalists were killed on the job in 2018 and another 251 were imprisoned around the world.

In another first, New York police will use a drone to monitor the crowds. The camera-carrying drone will be added to the arsenal of more than 1,200 fixed video cameras that will be deployed by the police.

The security plan also includes road closures, thousands of uniformed and plainclothes officers, sharpshooters on rooftops of surrounding buildings and the sealing of manhole covers.

On Sunday, officials did a test run of the 544-kilogram ball sliding down a pole. This year’s ball will feature 2,688 crystal triangles and is backlit with LED lights capable of producing a number of colors and patterns.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that the city expecting “up to 2 million people in Times Square itself” for the celebration.

 

Putin Tells Trump in New Year’s Letter He’s Open to Meeting

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told U.S. President Donald Trump in a New Year’s letter that the Kremlin is “open to dialogue” on the myriad issues hindering relations between their countries.

The Kremlin published a summary of Putin’s “greeting message” to Trump on Sunday. The summary states the Russian leader wrote: “Russia-U.S. relations are the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security.”

Trump canceled a formal meeting with Putin scheduled for Dec. 1 at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, tweeting “it would be best for all parties” given Russia’s seizure days earlier of three Ukrainian naval vessels.

Since then, the Kremlin has repeatedly said it is open to dialogue.

The message to Trump was among dozens of holiday greetings Putin sent to other world leaders, each tailored to reflect a bilateral theme. The recipients included Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Putin has backed throughout a civil war that started in 2011.

Putin’s message to Assad “stressed that Russia will continue to provide all-around assistance to the government and people of Syria in their fight against terrorism and efforts to protect state sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the Kremlin summary.

Moscow hosted talks with Turkey on Saturday in which the two countries agreed to coordinate actions in northern Syria after Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing U.S. forces from the country.

The main group of Kurdish-led forces fighting against Assad with U.S. support has said the U.S. pullout could lead to the revival of the Islamic State group.

Putin, in his message to Assad, “wished the Syrian people the earliest return to peaceful and prosperous life.”

 

Journalist Group: 94 Slayings of Media Staff in 2018

An international trade association says on-the-job slayings of journalists and news media staff rose again in 2018 following an overall decline during the past half-dozen years.

The International Federation of Journalists said in an annual report set for release Monday that 94 journalists and media workers died in targeted killings, bomb attacks and conflict crossfire this year, 12 more than in 2017.

Before the declines seen in five of the past six years, 121 people working for news organizations were slain in 2012. Since the federation started its annual count in 1990, the year with the most work-related killings, 155, was 2006.

The deadliest country for people who work in the news media this year was Afghanistan, where 16 of the killings occurred. Mexico was next, with 11. Yemen had nine media slayings and Syria eight in 2018.

Beyond the tragedy of lives lost, such killings affect the pursuit of truth and sharing of information in communities and countries where they happen, the president of the International Federation of Journalists said.

“Journalists are targeted because they are witnesses,” the group’s president, Philippe Leruth, told The Associated Press. “And the result of this, when a journalist or many journalists are killed in a country, you see an increase of self-censorship.”

Iraq, where 309 media professionals were killed over the past quarter-century, long topped the federation’s annual list. The federation identified a photojournalist as the one victim in the country this year.

While 2018 brought a worldwide increase, the total remained in the double digits for a second year running. The total of 155 in.

The IFJ connects some 600,000 media professionals from 187 trade unions and associations in more than 140 countries. The group said the new report showed that journalists face dangers apart from the risks of reporting from war zones and covering extremist movements.

“There were other factors, such as the increasing intolerance to independent reporting, populism, rampant corruption and crime, as well as the breakdown of law and order,” the Brussels-based group said in a statement.

Suddenly high on the list, in sixth place, was the United States with five killings. On June 28, a gunman in Annapolis, Maryland, opened fire in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette newspaper and fatally shot four journalists and a sales associate. The man had threatened the newspaper after losing a defamation lawsuit.

The Oct. 2 slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who lived in self-imposed exile in the United States, had worldwide impact. He went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to formalize a divorce so he could marry his Turkish fiance, but instead was strangled and dismembered there – allegedly by Saudi agents.

Khashoggi wrote critically of Saudi Arabia’s royal regime, and the alleged involvement of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the journalist’s slaying has put the governments of other countries under pressure to sever economic and political ties.

“Jamal Khashoggi was a very well-known figure, but you know, the most shocking statistic is that we know that nine of 10 journalist murders remain unpunished in the world,” Leruth said.