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ARIZONA BUSINESSES WANT VETO OF BILL ANGERING GAYS

Monday, 24 February 2014 09:40 Published in National News

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's biggest business advocacy group is calling on Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill allowing business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to refuse service to gays.

The legislation passed last week has triggered a national backlash from supporters of gay rights, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is among business groups requesting a veto.

The chamber said Monday the bill could hurt tourism, make it hard to recruit new businesses and open the door to lawsuits against businesses.

But conservative groups supporting the legislation are pushing back and hoping Brewer signs it in to law.

The state Senate is expected to formally send the already approved bill to Brewer as early as Monday afternoon. She would then have five days to act.

UKRAINE ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR MISSING LEADER

Monday, 24 February 2014 09:34 Published in National News

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's acting government issued an arrest warrant Monday for President Viktor Yanukovych, accusing him of mass crimes against the protesters who stood up for months against his rule. Russia sharply questioned its authority, calling it an "armed mutiny."

Yanukovych himself has reportedly fled to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a pro-Russian area in Ukraine.

Calls are mounting in Ukraine to put Yanukovych on trial, after a tumultuous presidency in which he amassed powers, enriched his allies and family and cracked down on protesters. Anger boiled over last week after government snipers killed scores of protesters in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine's post-Soviet history.

The turmoil has turned this strategically located country of 46 million inside out over the past few days. The parliament speaker is now nominally in charge of a country whose ailing economy is on the brink of default and whose loyalties are sharply torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia.

Russia and the European Union appeared to be taking opposing sides in Ukraine's new political landscape.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev questioned the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities on Monday. According to Russian news agencies, he said the acting authorities have come to power as a result of an "armed mutiny," so their legitimacy is causing "big doubts."

In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly referred to parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov as the "interim president" and said Turchinov will meet with Monday visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Kiev.

Turchinov said he hopes to form a new coalition government by Tuesday.

Ukraine's acting interior minister, Arsen Avakhov, said on his official Facebook page that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Yanukovych and several other officials for the "mass killing of civilians."

At least 82 people, primarily protesters, were killed in clashes in Kiev last week.

Yanukovych set off a wave of protests by shelving an agreement with the European Union in November and turning instead for a $15 billion bailout loan from Russia. Within weeks, the protests expanded to include outrage over corruption and human rights abuses, leading to calls for Yanukovych's resignation.

After signing an agreement Friday with the opposition to form a unity government, Yanukovych fled Kiev for his pro-Russian power base in eastern Ukraine. Avakhov said he tried to fly out of Donetsk but was stopped then went to Crimea on Sunday.

Yanukovych then freed his official security detail and drove off to an unknown location, turning off all forms of communication, Avakhov said.

"Yanukovych has disappeared," he said.

Security has been tightened across Ukraine's borders, the Interfax news agency quoted the State Border Guard service as saying.

Avakhov published a letter that he said was from Yanukovych, dated Monday, in which he gave up his security guard. Yanukovych's aides and spokespeople could not be reached Monday to verify the reported letter — they have been rapidly distancing themselves from him as his hold on power disintegrates.

Activist Valeri Kazachenko said Yanukovych must be arrested and brought to Kiev's main square for trial.

"He must answer for all the crimes he has committed against Ukraine and its people," he said, as thousands continued to flock to the area to light candles and lay flowers where dozens were shot dead during clashes with police last week. "Yanukovych must be tried by the court of the people right here in the square."

Tensions have been mounting in Crimea in southern Ukraine. Russia maintains a large naval base in Sevastopol that has strained relations between the countries for two decades.

Pro-Russian protesters gathered in front of city hall in the port of Sevastopol on Monday chanting "Russia! Russia!"

"Extremists have seized power in Kiev and we must defend Crimea. Russia must help us with that," said Anataly Mareta, head of a Cossack militia in Sevastopol.

The head of the city administration in Sevastopol quit Monday amid the turmoil, and protesters replaced a Ukrainian flag near the city hall building with a Russian flag.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's position on the turmoil in Ukraine will be crucial to the future of Crimea and to Ukraine. Putin spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by telephone Sunday and the German government said the two agreed that Ukraine's "territorial integrity must be respected."

On Monday, German government spokesman Steffan Seibert told reporters that Ukraine's new leaders should consider the interests of the south and east — the pro-Russian sections of Ukraine — in the composition of a new government. He also said the offer of an association agreement with the EU is still on the table.

As president, Yanukovych moved quickly to consolidate power and wealth, curb free speech and oversee the imprisonment of his top political rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. But as protesters took control of the capital over the weekend, many allies turned against him.

Yet Yanukovych has proved politically resilient in the past. In Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, when protesters pressed for democratic reforms, his fraud-ridden victory in presidential elections was overturned. He soon came back as prime minister and then was elected president in 2010, riding on a wave of popular disappointment in the squabbling Orange team.

But Yanukovych's archrival Tymoshenko, the blond-braided heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution, is back on the political scene after having been freed from prison.

The current protest movement in Ukraine has been in large part a fight for the country's economic future — for better jobs and prosperity.

Ukraine has a large potential consumer market, an educated workforce, a significant industrial base and good natural resources, in particular rich farmland. Yet its economy is in tatters.

Ukraine has struggled with corruption, bad government and short-sighted reliance on cheap gas from Russia. Political unrest has pushed up the deficit, sent the currency skidding and may have pushed the economy back into a recession.

"The state treasury has been torn apart, the country has been brought to bankruptcy," Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a protest leader and prominent lawmaker whose name is being floated as a possibility for prime minister, said in parliament Monday.

Ukraine's acting finance minister said Monday that the country needs $35 billion (25.5 billion euros) to finance government needs this year and next and expressed hope that Europe or the United States would help. The minister, Yuri Kolobov, said Ukraine hopes for an emergency loan within the next two weeks and called for an international donors conference to discuss aid to Ukraine.

SOCHI CLEANS UP AS WORLD LEAVES OLYMPICS BEHIND

Monday, 24 February 2014 09:32 Published in Sports

SOCHI, Russia (AP) -- By the busload, the world's athletes and visitors rolled toward Sochi's airport and took off for home Monday, fresh from a Winter Games experience that many Russians pronounced a smashing success and that the Olympic movement's chief enthusiastically labeled a victory for the region and the host nation. "Yes! We did it!" one Olympic volunteer exulted as she darted into the night.

After 17 days of global sport and spotlight, Sochi ended the spirited chants of "Ro-ssi-ya! Ro-ssi-ya!" and started cleaning up.

Travelers through the region's airport, rebuilt completely for the games, reported briskly moving security lines and check-in times of anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours, depending on destination. On what was predicted to be the heaviest Olympic-related travel day, the transit situation seemed to come down to this: It was like a busy morning at any normal big-city airport.

By the Black Sea coastline, Olympic Park, which will be hosting events at the upcoming Paralympic Games, had cleared out. Like the city of Sochi around it, the park felt deserted except for the legions of volunteers in multicolored patchwork jackets who still patrolled the area. Most security barriers remained in place in anticipation of the Paralympics, but security was noticeably more relaxed.

These Winter Games, Russian President Vladimir Putin's political showpiece and bragging trophy, convened under storm clouds - international concerns about gay rights and fears of a terror attack among them. But athletes overwhelmingly chose not to use the Olympic stage to make any statements, and the games opened and closed with vigorous (if sometimes spotty) security and no sign of any potentially violent activity.

When it came to logistics and sports, Russia outdid itself. Beyond initial grumblings about unfinished hotels and stray dogs, the Olympic infrastructure performed close to flawlessly. And the athletes: The home team claimed 33 medals, its largest haul ever - even counting the Soviet Union days - and a far cry from the 2010 performance in Vancouver that disappointed Putin and so many Russians.

"Russia has delivered on its promise," said Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee.

The successes - and a visually rich closing-ceremony tour through Russian history that ended with a handoff to the next Winter Games host city, Pyeongchang in South Korea - produced a party-like-it's-1999 atmosphere across the finally chilly Olympic Park during Monday's early hours.

Young Sochi Games volunteers, restrained and professional for 17 days, busted loose, running around outside Fisht Stadium with whoops, hollers and squeals. Selfies gave way to enthusiastic group shots - and group hugs. "Thank you for coming! Thank you for being here!" volunteers shouted to passing visitors as Olympic Park emptied out.

"Amazing. Look at this. Look at what we got done," said Viktor Virchenko, a heavily mustachioed folk dancer from nearby Stanitsa Leningradskaya who was cheerfully stalking Olympic Park early Monday in traditional woolen hat and 19th-century regalia. "I am very proud," he said.

IOC President Thomas Bach, closing the games Sunday night, eschewed the wording of predecessors that sometimes tried to assess the overall quality of a particular Olympics. Instead, he focused on calling them "the athletes' games" and spent many words praising both the region and Putin. Russia, Bach said, came through when it needed to.

"What took decades in other parts of the world was achieved here in Sochi in just seven years," he said.

Which raises the question: What happens to Sochi next, now that it has been effectively built up from scratch? After billions in investment and a world-class event pulled off successfully, it has a G-8 summit and Formula One racing just around the corner.

But can it be a resort region with long-term viability, or will it - despite its mountains and water so conveniently close together - suffer the fate of some other former Olympic cities and struggle to bring the masses to its doorstep? Bach, for one, says it "definitely has a future" after a previous bid and two decades of preparation.

"Seeing now, 20 years after this transformation, it was really amazing," he said in the hours before the Olympics ended. "And now it will be important to secure the legacy of this games."

Many Russians give all credit to Putin.

"Good for him, our president. He built all this, developed all this. We didn't have this kind of resort before," said Sergei Lesnikov, a 54-year-old hockey coach from the city of Kirov. ""After the Olympics it will remain. ... Tell your friends and family to come and see it here. It's not so bad."

And Russia itself? Though the memorable images of the Sochi Games include Cossack militiamen beating young women activists, the overall impression is one of competence, optimism - and, of course, athletic prowess.

The country's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Kozak, paints a rosy picture of today's Russia - and tomorrow's: "The games have turned our country, its culture and the people into something that is a lot closer and more appealing and understandable for the rest of the world."

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