01. Russia tells White House it will not return Crimea to Ukraine;
02. Lebanon annulled law allowing marriage between rapists and victims;
03. Kremlin denies allegations it violated U.S. missile treaty;
04. Senate blocks Obama-era rule tightening checks on mentally ill gun buyers;
05. Burundi govt again refuses crisis talks with opposition;
06. Irish government survives confidence vote, pressure on PM rises.

The Rostov-On-Don submarine sails past the guided missile cruiser Moskva during the Navy Day celebrations in Sevastopol, Crimea.

Russia tells White House it will not return Crimea to Ukraine

(Reuters) Russia said on Wednesday it would not hand back Crimea to Ukraine or discuss the matter with foreign partners after the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump expected the annexed Black Sea peninsula to be returned.

Moscow says an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia in a 2014 referendum wanting protection from what the Kremlin cast as an illegal coup in Kiev.

Ukraine says the referendum was a sham held at gunpoint after Russian troops illegally annexed the peninsula, that Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by people power, and that Moscow should return Crimea.

“We don’t give back our own territory. Crimea is territory belonging to the Russian Federation,” Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told a news briefing on Wednesday.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that Trump expected and wanted to get along with Russia, but was expecting Moscow to hand Crimea back.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked about Spicer’s comments, said President Vladimir Putin had already explained why Crimeans had turned to Russia.

“The theme of returning Crimea will not be discussed … Russia does not discuss its territorial integrity with foreign partners,” Peskov told a conference call with reporters.


Lebanon annulled law allowing marriage between rapists and victims

(NNA) The Parliamentary Committee on Administration and Justice of Lebanon, chaired by MP Robert Ghanem, abrogated, this Wednesday, Article 522 of the Penal Code

This article of the Lebanese Penal Code stipulated, inter alia, that a rapist can escape conviction should he recognize his crime and marry his victim.

Source. (I couldn’t find a better source in English, sorry.)

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov speaks during the annual end-of-year news conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia.

Kremlin denies allegations it violated U.S. missile treaty

(Rehters) Russia is committed to honoring its international obligations, including in relation to missiles, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, responding to reports it had violated a treaty with the United States by deploying a new ground-based missile.

“Russia has been and remains committed to its international commitments, including to the treaty in question,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a daily telephone briefing.

“Nobody has formally accused Russia of violating the treaty,” he said.

On Tuesday, media reported, citing U.S. officials, that Russia had deployed a ground-launched cruise missile despite U.S. complaints that this violated an arms control treaty banning ground-based U.S. and Russian intermediate-range missiles.


The Capitol building earlier this month.

Senate blocks Obama-era rule tightening checks on mentally ill gun buyers

(NPR) By a 57-43 margin, the Republican-led Senate voted Wednesday to repeal an Obama-era regulation designed to block certain mentally ill people from purchasing firearms. The vote, which approves a House resolution passed earlier this month, now sends the measure to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

President Trump, who campaigned as a defender of gun rights and a friend of the National Rifle Association, is widely expected to sign the measure.

The rule on the verge of rollback would have required the Social Security Administration to report the records of some mentally ill beneficiaries to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Those who have been deemed mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs — roughly 75,000 people — would have been affected by the rule, according to NPR’s Susan Davis.

It was implemented by former President Obama after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, which saw 20 students and six teachers killed at an elementary school by 20-year-old Adam Lanza. The Hill reports that the rule was set to take effect in December.

Yet GOP lawmakers have argued that the regulation was needlessly heavy-handed, painting people with mental illnesses with too broad a brush and infringing on their constitutional rights. The Associated Press reports that Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a leading Republican critic of the rule, said it is filled with “vague characteristics that do not fit into the federal mentally defective standard” prohibiting someone from buying or owning a gun.

The House got that ball rolling two weeks ago; the Senate sent it the rest of the way to President Trump’s desk.


Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza bids farewell to his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma at the airport after an Africa Union-sponsored dialogue in an attempt to end months of violence in the capital Bujumbura.

Burundi govt again refuses crisis talks with opposition

(AFP) Burundi’s government affirmed Tuesday it will shun peace talks with opposition figures planned for later this week in Tanzania, dragging out a political crisis that has stretched for over a year.

The talks are intended to resolve deadly political violence that has rocked the tiny central Africa nation for over a year, killing at least 500 people.

Violence erupted when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in office in April 2015. At least 300,000 people have fled the country.

The talks are scheduled to take place Thursday through Saturday in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha.

But the government refuses to sit down with members of the umbrella opposition group — the National Council for the Restoration of Arusha Agreement and Rule of Law (CNARED) — and a major civil society movement.

“The CNARED is an organisation not recognised by Burundian law and which includes individuals sought by Burundian justice,” Willy Nyamitwe, presidential spokesman and also a member of the government delegation, told AFP.

The Burundi regime has previously described CNARED as a “terrorist organisation”.

The CNARED said it would also not participate.

However, it added that it would “send a delegation to Arusha to see Mkapa and go over one or two details before reaching a final decision on the matter,” one of its leaders told AFP on condition of anonymity.


Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny arrives at the European Union leaders summit in Valletta, Malta.

Irish government survives confidence vote, pressure on PM rises

(Reuters) Ireland’s minority government on Wednesday survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence over its handling of a policing scandal, but Prime Minister Enda Kenny faced growing calls from members of his own party to step aside.

Parliament voted 57-52 in favor of the government, with the 44 members of the country’s second largest party, Fianna Fail, abstaining. Independent members of the governing coalition only confirmed their support an hour before the debate in parliament.

Kenny, who was heavily criticized after a poor showing by his Fine Gael party in an election a year ago, has said he does not intend to lead the party into the next election.

He has not said when he will step aside and at least six members of the party have in recent months called for Kenny to step down sooner rather than later to give a new leader time to establish a position before a new election.

Those calls have gathered pace since Kenny’s Fine Gael support fell to 21 percent in an opinion poll last week, 11 points behind fellow centrist party Fianna Fail – by far the biggest margin of any recent polling.

Several commentators have suggested Kenny may make his plans clear after a visit to Washington to mark St. Patrick’s Day on March 17.

The third largest party, Sinn Fein, announced on Saturday it would introduce a motion of no confidence over the manner in which the government had handled allegations by members of parliament that the chief and former chief of police had orchestrated a campaign to damage the reputation of a high-profile whistleblower.

The government agreed on Wednesday to establish a publicly led inquiry into the allegations, which will include the examination of police commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan’s mobile phone records. She has faced calls from some opposition parties to stand down.

The government has said it will widen the terms to include potential collusion between police and the state’s child protection agency over a clerical error at the agency that led to false sex abuse allegations being made against the whistleblower.


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