Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) - Russia was under intense US pressure Saturday to convince pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine to give up eastern towns they are occupying, after Washington said the situation in the former Soviet republic was in a "pivotal period". But with the separatists' refusal to budge throwing a deal to defuse the crisis into doubt, and US sanctions looming large, Russia was biting back -- warning that its military is massed on Ukraine's border, ready to act. In the major eastern city of Donetsk, separatist gunmen remained barricaded inside the regional government building. The failure to implement the agreement hammered out in Geneva on Thursday by the US, Russia, Ukraine and the EU threatened to deepen the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
By Patrick Rucker WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration further delayed its decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project on Friday, with no conclusion now likely until after the U.S. mid-term elections in November. President Barack Obama has said he will have the final say on whether to allow the pipeline connecting Canada's oil sands region to Texas refiners, and several government agencies had been given until May to weigh in. But the State Department said on Friday it was extending that agency comment period, citing a need to wait until the Nebraska Supreme Court settles a dispute over what path the $5.4 billion TransCanada Corp project should take. "That pipeline route is central to the environmental analysis for the project and if there are changes to the route it could have implications," a senior State Department official told reporters.
By Pavel Polityuk and Thomas Grove KIEV/SLAVIANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Armed pro-Russian separatists were still holding public buildings in eastern Ukraine on Friday, saying they needed more assurances about their security before they comply with an international deal ordering them to disarm. The agreement, brokered by the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Geneva on Thursday offered the best hope to date of defusing a stand-off in Ukraine that has dragged East-West relations to their lowest level since the Cold War. Enacting the agreement on the ground though will be difficult, because of the deep mistrust between the pro-Russian groups and the Western-backed government in Kiev, which this week flared into violent clashes that killed several people.
By David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed WASHINGTON AND NEW YORK (Reuters) - In September 2001, as the U.S. reeled from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vladimir Putin supported Washington's imminent invasion of Afghanistan in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War. He agreed that U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid could fly through Russian air space. He said the U.S. military could use airbases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia. And he ordered his generals to brief their U.S. counterparts on their own ill-fated 1980s occupation of Afghanistan.
Jindo (South Korea) (AFP) - The captain was not at the helm of the South Korean ferry that capsized two days ago, investigators said Friday, as anger spread over stalled rescue efforts for hundreds of missing passengers trapped by the submerged vessel. More than 48 hours after the 6,825-tonne Sewol suddenly listed and then sank, a small army of more than 500 exhausted divers -- battling powerful currents -- have yet to obtain any real access to the ferry's interior. As the dive teams worked on accessing the ferry, two divers bored holes in the hull and began injecting oxygen into the ship. Three giant, floating cranes reached the disaster site, but regional coastguard commander Kim Soo-Hyun stressed they would not begin lifting the multi-deck ferry until they were sure there were no survivors inside.
By Jim Forsyth SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - The sprawling Yearning for Zion Ranch in west Texas, where polygamist leader Warren Jeffs sexually assaulted young girls and justified it by claiming he was the "prophet of God," is now the property of the State of Texas. The Texas Department of Public Safety, which raided the Eldorado, Texas, ranch in April of 2008, said in a statement released on Thursday that the walled compound has been entered by law enforcement officers and "the residents have agreed to vacate the property." Jeffs was convicted of sexual assault in 2011. The statement noted that the state on January 6 secured a forfeiture judgment from the 51st Judicial District Court. "Law enforcement personnel are working with the occupants of the ranch to take all reasonable actions to assist with their departure of the property, to preserve the property, and to successfully execute the court order," the DPS said.
The Kremlin is preparing a new culture policy for Russia focusing on its distinctive civilisation and traditional values, which observers say has political ends amid Moscow's standoff with the West. At the end of four hours of questions Thursday in his annual call-in, President Vladimir Putin waxed philosophical on what it means to be Russian. The authors preparing the document, who are kept secret, believe that such a policy must be based on the thesis that "Russia is not Europe" and generously quote from Putin's speeches. The policy states Russia is at a historical crossroads and must make a choice between cultural extinction or the preservation of its unique "moral and spiritual foundations," which can only be done with a "state culture policy."
(This story from April 15 corrects name of researcher to Breiter, instead of Beiter, throughout story) By Alex Dobuzinskis (Reuters) - Young, casual marijuana smokers experience potentially harmful changes to their brains, with the drug altering regions of the mind related to motivation and emotion, researchers found. The study to be published on Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience differs from many other pot-related research projects that are focused on chronic, heavy users of cannabis. The collaborative effort between Northwestern University's medical school, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School showed a direct correlation between the number of times users smoked and abnormalities in the brain. "What we're seeing is changes in people who are 18 to 25 in core brain regions that you never, ever want to fool around with," said co-senior study author Dr. Hans Breiter, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University.
Oscar-winning actress, comedienne and talk-show host Whoopi Goldberg sang the praises of marijuana inhaled through a pocket vaporizer on Thursday as she made her debut as an online pot columnist. In fact, her name is Sippy." wrote Goldberg, 58, about her pocket vaporizer on "The Cannabist," a pot-friendly website run by the Denver Post newspaper in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain state was the second in the United States, after Washington in the Pacific Northwest, to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But in a country where, at the federal level, marijuana is classified as an illegal drug on a par with heroin, Goldberg said Sippy's compact proportions helps maintain discretion.