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"Chaotic" Ukraine Referendum, Possible Schoolgirls Exchange, BFF Twins

Sunday prayers in Kiev’s Independence Square
Sunday prayers in Kiev’s Independence Square

The Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk voted overwhelmingly yesterday in favor of political independence from Kiev, with regional Electoral Commissions claiming to have counted close to 90% in support in Donetsk and over 96% in Luhansk in whatThe New York Times describes as “chaotic and sometimes violent plebiscites.” According to RT, the turnout was over 75% in both regions despite fears of violence and even as at least two people were killed by Ukrainian forces. This morning, the country’s acting President Olexandr Turchynov dismissed the referendum as a “farce” and rejected the reported turnout, saying that less than a third of the people had voted. CNN, meanwhile, published a video allegedly recorded at a polling station in Donetsk where people are seen voting multiple times.

Russia said it would respect the result of yesterday’s vote and called for dialogue between Kiev and the eastern regions,The Guardian reports. Moscow’s reaction came as EU foreign ministers were gathering in Brussels, where they are expected to expand sanctions against Russia. Reuters quotes diplomats as saying that 14 new people and two Crimea-based companies could be added to the list of sanctions.

  • Russian news agency Ria Novosti reports that Ukrainian forces launched mortar shells on a village near the eastern city of Sloviansk, destroying many homes and killing several civilians. German tabloid Bild am Sonntag published an article yesterday claiming that 400 elite U.S. commandos from private security company Greystone are involved in the “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine, echoing previous allegations from Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Read more in English from Voice of Russia.

“The privacy argument is pitted against the much more instinctive and visceral danger: that you and your children are going to be blown up by terrorists,” journalist Glenn Greenwald writes in his forthcoming book. Read more here.

In a new video obtained by AFP and allegedly showing the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, Islamist group Boko Haram says the girls have been converted to Islam and will not be freed until all of the Islamist group’s jailed militants are liberated. Yesterday, the governor of the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno, where the girls were kidnapped, said he had information about their whereabouts.

  • A 19-year-old student who managed to escape the abductors told AP about her difficulties returning to a normal life after being kidnapped, explaining: “I am pained that others could not summon the courage to run away with me. Now I cry each time I come across their parents and see how they weep when they see me.”The New York Timespublished an emotionally charged report from the girls’ hometown of Chibok, where parents told journalist Adam Nossiter, “Every day, I am in deep sorrow. I don’t even feel like eating.”

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Iran unveiled yesterday what it says is a successfully reproduced version of a U.S. drone captured in 2011 as well as images recorded by the unmanned aircraft of American personnel at a base in Kandahar, PressTV reports. According to AFP, the replica of the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel will soon take a test flight. This comes as the United Nations’ atomic watchdog is due to meet Tehran officials in Vienna today to discuss the country’s nuclear program.

As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Kathleen Hildebrand writes, things can become awkward between friends who happen to be at very different points in their professional lives. “When people with money are friends with people of modest means, the disparities don’t typically end with the bank accounts,” the journalist writes. “One person in the friendship often feels less comfortable than the other, and it tends to be the one with less money — the friend who can’t afford to join the group at the restaurant or go on the weekend trip, the one whose share may be paid for by the others.”
Read the full article:
Drinks Tonight? How Income Disparity Affects Friendships.

Libyan authorities announced yesterday that they had recovered 20 more bodies of migrants who died after the boat they were traveling on sank last week, taking the total death toll to at least 40, according to Al Jazeera. There are, however, conflicting reports about the exact date the boat sank as well as the number of passengers aboard, with the Libyan Navy saying that at least 74 people are still missing, while 51 have been rescued. Since Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011, the country has been the main crossing point for migrants looking to enter the EU. Another group of migrants, most of whom are believed to be women and children, is also reported missing in the Sahel-Sahara region between Algeria and Niger, after 13 bodies were found yesterday. Read more from SAPA.

Chinese police in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have arrested 232 people in connection with disseminating violent or terrorism-related videos.

Poor weather conditions have forced South Korean authorities to suspend for the third day in a row the search inside the ferry that sank on April 16, where the bodies of the 29 people still missing are believed to be trapped, Yonhap news agency reports. Yesterday, prosecutors working on the investigation summoned relatives of the ferry’s owner for questioning, but his eldest son reportedly ignored it.

The weekend’s most heartwarming story came from Ohio, where identical twins Jillian and Jenna were born holding hands after surviving a dangerous and rare monoamniotic gestation, meaning that the two shared the same amniotic sac and placenta.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Palestinian Olive Trees Are Also Under Israeli Occupation — And That's Not A Joke

In the West Bank, a quieter form of oppression has been plaguing Palestinians for a long time. Their olive groves are surrounded by soldiers, and it's forbidden to harvest the olives – this economic and social violence has gotten far worse since Oct. 7.

A Palestinian woman holds olives in her hands

In a file photo, Um Ahmed, 74, collects olives in the village of Sarra on the southwest of the West Bank city of Nablus.

Mohammed Turabi/ZUMA
Francesca Mannocchi

HEBRON – It was after Friday prayers on October 13th of last year, and Zakaria al-Arda was walking along the road that crosses his property's hillside to return home – but he never made it.

A settler from Havat Ma'on — an outpost bordering Al-Tuwani that the United Nations International Law and Israeli law considers illegal — descended from the hill with his rifle in hand.

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After kicking al-Arda, who tried to defend himself, the settler shot him in the abdomen. The bullet pierced through his stomach, a few centimeters below the lungs. Since then, al-Arda has been in the hospital in intensive care. A video of those moments clearly shows that neither al-Arda nor the other worshippers leaving the mosque were carrying any weapons.

The victim's cousin, Hafez Hureini, still lives in the town of Al-Tuwani. He is a farmer, and their house on the slope of the town is surrounded by olive trees — and Israeli soldiers. On the pine tree at the edge of his property, settlers have planted an Israeli flag. Today, Hafez lives, like everyone else, as an occupied individual.

He cannot work in his greenhouse, cannot sow his fields, and cannot harvest the olives from his precious olive trees.

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