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Elizabeth Pond, the respected American author who has reported on Eastern Europe for three decades, recently wrote a eulogy for Ukraine. The seizure of Crimea, Russia’s military rout of the Ukrainians in the east, and the humiliating ceasefire imposed on President Petro Poroshenko, she wrote, meant that Ukraine was again “a borderland playground” for its mighty neighbor.

Poroshenko, says Pond, gambled that the Ukrainian army could defeat the Russian-backed insurgents without provoking an outright Russian invasion. He was mistaken.

Ukrainian military defeat in late August was followed by a September 5th ceasefire, in which Poroshenko conceded three years of special status to secessionist Donetsk and Luhansk. Those districts adjacent to Russia form the core of the Donbas region that accounts for 20 percent of Ukraine’ industry and 18 percent of its population.

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A further setback followed. In mid-September, Poroshenko visited Washington, receiving a tumultuous reception from congress. But the Obama administration rejected his appeal for precision weaponry that could defeat the rebels.

Ukraine was exposed as dismembered and alone. Russia’s objective of subjugating and destabilizing Ukraine had succeeded.

So what is the importance of Ukraine’s parliamentary election on Sunday? The best that can be hoped for, say analysts, is public endorsement of Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk’s program of economic and political reform.

The president’s ‘Petro Poroshenko Bloc’ is expected to be the biggest winner with over 30% of the vote. Yatseniuk’s People’s Front is projected to get 6 to 9 percent. Five to ten parties are expected to enter parliament. Analysts say only 23 percent of Ukrainians in the Russian-speaking east are likely to vote.

With the election being boycotted by separatists and the party of disgraced former president Viktor Yanukovych not participating, this will be Ukraine’s first election in which pro-western and pro-Russian parties are not pitted against each another.

The election, says Oxford University’s Timothy Garton Ash, can provide legitimacy to Ukraine’s reformist leaders. Their task, he says, is to build a properly functioning state, something that has not occurred during 23 years of independence.

The biggest problem is corruption, a fact freely admitted by
Poroshenko and Yatseniuk. This month they pushed through the outgoing parliament anti-corruption legislation of the kind required by the European Union as a condition for an economic association agreement. Yatseniuk hails the provision that government officials make public their assets and financial transactions. Poroshenko calls the legislation a “decisive step against the cancerous tumor of corruption.”

But these promises have been made before and nothing happened. Transparency International, the anti-corruption agency, ranks Ukraine even lower than Russia, a dismal 144 on its corruption perception index of 177 countries. Russia is 127.

In July, an economic advisory panel advising the Kyiv government declared, “swift and radical economic reforms must be undertaken if Ukraine is to seize this historic opportunity to clean up corruption.” It identified as essential: macro-economic stabilization, rule of law, regulatory reform, free market pricing for energy, tax simplification, trade enhancement, land reform, and bank restructuring.

Canadian economist Oleh Havrylyshyn, a member of the advisory body, says as of now not one of the recommendations has been implemented. However, he’s optimistic that reforms will begin after the election.

When Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin met in Milan on October 17 progress was reportedly made on the acrimonious dispute over gas supplies and pricing. Opinions are mixed whether Russian gas shipments — suspended since June — will resume before winter. Ukraine confronts severe energy shortages, something economist Havrylyshyn says will only be resolved through the painful medicine of market based pricing.

Ukraine’s economy is declining with gdp growth for 2014 forecast at minus 8%. Ukraine does have a $17 billion bailout program with the International Monetary Fund, conditioned on rigorous reforms. As with Russia, Ukraine’s currency has lost value, down 18% against the dollar in the past three months.

Through the persistent gloom one analyst sees hope. Hudson Institute scholar David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent, says the Maidan protests against dictatorship and corruption have inspired Russia’s long-suffering citizens. Speaking October 1 at Washington’s Institute of World Politics, Satter said Russia’s “unambiguous aggression in Ukraine” revealed Putin for what he is….”the head of a criminalized gang..who ignited civil war.”

Post-communist Russia and Ukraine, Satter continued, evolved in similarly corrupt ways with oligarchs controlling the economy. Both Putin and Yanukovych, he said, became parasitic. Theft and corruption began at the top. Lawlessness and moral decay became pervasive.

Putin was threatened, said Satter, by Ukrainians desire to connect with the European Union, a western alternative to a hopeless status quo. Despite the current nationalist fervor, Putin’s Ukraine adventure, argues Satter, hastens his eventual demise. He makes no prediction as to when.

Can Ukraine reform? Can oligarch Poroshenko and his alllies take on Ukraine’s oligarchs and build the free, rule-based society they profess to want? The answer should be apparent within 6 to 12 months.

Barry D. Wood has written extensively about post-communist economic transformation. Twitter @econbarry.

A version of this post appeared on marketwatch.com.


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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A growing sense of desperation is fueling a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar, with the number who have fled by boat since communal violence broke out two years ago now topping 100,000, a leading expert said Saturday.

Chris Lewa, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Arakan Project, said there has been a huge surge since Oct. 15, with an average of 900 people per day piling into cargo ships parked off Rakhine state. That’s nearly 10,000 in less than two weeks, she noted, one of the biggest spikes yet.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million that only recently emerged from half a century of military rule, has an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya. Though many of their families arrived from neighboring Bangladesh generations ago, almost all have been denied citizenship. In the last two years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left hundreds dead and 140,000 trapped in camps, where they live without access to adequate health care, education or jobs.

Lewa, who has teams monitoring embarkation points, is considered the leading authority on the number of fleeing Rohingya. But boats are now shoving off from more and more places, she said, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of how many are leaving.

“The real number may be higher,” Lewa said.

She said some Rohingya families have received phone calls notifying them that ships from the latest exodus have started arriving in neighboring Thailand, where passengers often are brought to jungle camps, facing extortion and beatings until relatives come up with enough money to win their release.

From there they usually travel to Malaysia or other countries, but, still stateless, their futures remain bleak.

In Myanmar, the vast majority live in the northern tip of Rakhine state, where an aggressive campaign by authorities in recent months to register family members and officially categorize them as “Bengalis” — implying they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh — has aggravated their situation.

According to villagers contacted by The Associated Press, some were confined to their villages for weeks at a time for refusing to take part in the “verification” process, while others were beaten or arrested.

More recently, dozens of men were detained for having alleged ties to the militant Rohingya Solidarity Organization, or RSO, said Khin Maung Win, a resident from Maungdaw township, adding that several reportedly were beaten or tortured during their arrests or while in detention.

Lewa said three of the men died.

“Our team is becoming more and more convinced that this campaign of arbitrary arrests is aimed at triggering departures,” she said.

Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing denied any knowledge of arrests or abuse.

“There’s nothing happening up there,” he said. “There are no arrests of suspects of RSO. I haven’t heard anything like that.”

Every year, the festival of Eid al-Adha, which was celebrated by Muslims worldwide early this month, marks the beginning of a large exodus of Rohingya, in part due to calmer seas but also because it is a chance to spend time with family and friends.

But there seems to be a growing sense of desperation this year, with numbers nearly double from the same period in 2013.

Lewa said a number of Rohingya also were moving overland to Bangladesh and on to India and Nepal.

The United Nations, which has labeled the Rohingya one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world, earlier this year confirmed figures provided by Lewa about a massive exodus that began after communal violence broke out in June 2012, targeting mainly Rohingya.

With the latest departures, Lewa estimates the total number of fleeing Rohingya to be more than 100,000.

It was not immediately clear where the newest arrivals were landing.

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Associated Press writer Esther Htusan contributed to this report.


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A freshman who opened fire at a school near Seattle injured two of his cousins in the shooting, killed a girl and injured other students before killing himself.


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(Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Friday that he expects the Justice Department’s investigation into the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, to be complete by the time he leaves office.

Holder, who was speaking at a news event in Los Angeles, last month announced his resignation but said he would not leave until his replacement was chosen and confirmed by the Senate. The Obama administration is expected to announce a nominee to replace him by the end of the year.

Brown’s death sparked angry protests across the St. Louis suburb and has drawn global attention to race relations in the United States.

Holder’s legacy as attorney general, a position he has held since the start of the Obama administration, has been largely shaped by his vocal advocacy for racial justice.

Holder also said he was “exasperated” to see leaks earlier this week from the grand jury reviewing the case locally. The leaked information indicated that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, was acting in self-defense.

“It appears that people are somehow trying to shape public opinion,” Holder said.

In addition to the criminal investigation into Wilson’s actions, the Justice Department is also conducting a civil investigation into the patterns and practices of the Ferguson Police Department.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Beech)


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(Reuters) – A white off-duty St. Louis police officer shot a black teenager six times in the back of the legs and once in the side of the head in what was likely a fatal wound, a doctor who performed a private autopsy for the teen’s family said on Friday.

The shooting of Vonderrit Myers, 18, in a St. Louis neighborhood earlier in October led to a renewed intensity of demonstrations that have continued in the area since unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot dead on Aug. 9 by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

St. Louis police have said Myers was armed and fired on the officer who shot him dead in what they said was a firefight. Myers’ family disputes that description and said he was unarmed.

Crime lab results released on Oct. 14 showed that Myers had gunshot residue on his hands, the waistband of his jeans and a T-shirt.

Four rounds struck Myers in the back of the legs, entering on an upward trajectory, consistent with him running up a hill in the front yard of a house, said Dr. Cyril Wecht, who was commissioned by his family to perform the autopsy.

“As he was running, he was being shot,” Wecht said.

Another shot entered the side of his left thigh, and would have left him immobile while the fatal wound to the side of the head did not have an upward trajectory, Wecht said.

“I do not believe that shot would have struck him while he was running away … up a hill,” Wecht said.

Wecht said none of the wounds came at close range, but he could not determine the order of the shots.

The officer who shot Myers has not been publicly identified. His attorney, Brian Millikan, said the autopsy and the entry wounds are consistent with what his client described to investigators.

“It doesn’t change the fact that Myers attempted to murder this policeman,” Millikan said.

Millikan said that after a foot chase, Myers was lying in a gangway with his feet out of the gangway and his legs extended toward the officer as he was propped up on his left elbow.

“When the policeman is firing back, it’s only natural that the back of his legs are going to be exposed to the policeman’s line of fire,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Sandra Maler)


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(Reuters) – Authorities were seeking a motive on Saturday as to why a high school student in the United States’ Washington state shot dead a female classmate and wounded four others in a campus cafeteria before killing himself.

The shooter, a homecoming prince at Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle, took his own life as his classmates fled to safety.

The incident was the latest in a series of deadly shooting rampages at U.S. schools that have played a central role in a national debate over gun laws.

A school district official, who declined to be named, identified the shooter as Jaylen Fryberg, a freshman described by classmates and parents as a popular member of both the wrestling and football teams.

“He came up from behind and had a gun in his hand and he fired about eight bullets…They were his friends so it wasn’t just random,” student Jordan Luton told CNN.

“Then he turned and looked at me and my girlfriend…and kind of gave us a smirk and turned around and then shot more bullets outside,” Luton said.

All of the victims of the shooting were under 18, and three were in critical condition with gunshot wounds to the head, said Joanne Roberts, chief of medicine at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. The fourth wounded victim suffered less serious injuries.

Two of the wounded were boys and two were girls, hospital officials said. The boys, 15-year-old Andrew Fryberg, shot in the head, and 14-year-old Nate Hatch, shot in the jaw, were both in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Friday night, a spokeswoman said.

Local media reported the boys were cousins of the shooter.

Police would not confirm the gunman’s identity or discuss possible motives for the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation.

But a school official and several witnesses said he had been involved in a fight with another student. And a friend of one of the victims said he had been recently rejected by a female classmate.

SEARCH FOR A MOTIVE

At Marysville’s The Grove Church, hundreds of parents, students and community members packed the aisles during a vigil on Friday evening, holding flowers and crying throughout a prayer service.

Outside the vigil, 9th grader Bella Panjeli said she attended a different school but was friends with one of the female victims, calling her “a beautiful girl and so, so sweet.”

She also said Fryberg was in an ongoing dispute with his cousin over the victim’s affections.

“I heard he asked her out and she rebuffed him and was with his cousin,” Panjeli said, adding that she learned of the connection after talking to the victim’s family and friends. “It was a fight over a girl.”

Two parents of students at the school said an altercation broke out on an athletic field following football practice in recent days, adding that one boy involved was among those shot.

Students who knew Fryberg described him as outgoing and unlike the loner personality that is often associated with school shootings.

There were no indications on his social media accounts that he had been planning such a rampage, but on Tuesday he posted his feelings of despondency, apparently over a romantic split, on Twitter.

“It breaks me…It actually does…I know it seems like I’m sweating it off… But I’m not.. And I never will be able to,” he wrote.

Police would not say what kind of weapon Fryberg had used, but an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official told reporters the gun had been legally acquired. U.S. media reported the weapon was a .40-caliber Beretta handgun.

In 2012, a 20-year-old gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

(Writing by Curtis Skinner)


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Ottawa Shooting 20141023

CBC News has learned Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the man who attacked Parliament Hill and killed a reservist on Wednesday, drove around for almost 24 hours with a piece of junk mail taped in the rear window of his car in place of a real temporary licence plate.


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A California sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot in the forehead when he and a partner confronted a motorist parked in a suspicious vehicle in a motel parking lot, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said Friday.