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OSO, Wash. — Standing beneath a banner proclaiming “Oso Strong” one month after the deadly landslide, President Obama told the residents of the hard-hit Stillaguamish Valley that the nation is grieving with them as they struggle to rebuild homes, businesses and families.

“There are still families who are searching for loved ones,” Obama said after an aerial tour of the devastation aboard the presidential helicopter Marine One and a visit with survivors and first responders. “There are families who have lost everything, and it’s going to be a difficult road ahead for them. That’s why I wanted to come here. To let you know that the country is thinking about all of you.”

The slide hit on a sunny Saturday morning, sending millions of cubic yards of mud and debris roaring down a hillside about an hour’s drive north of Seattle, flattening dozens of homes, closing crucial State Route 530 and largely cutting off the small town of Darrington.

Marine One flew directly over the square mile of devastation that first responders have dubbed “the pile,” giving the president a dramatic view of damage Tuesday.

The landscape was littered with ripped-up trees. A one-mile swath of highway had disappeared beneath the slide. Bright yellow excavators trundled across the pile, continuing the monthlong effort to recover bodies and belongings. An American flag flew at half-staff amid the wreckage.

Officials said this week that at least 41 people were killed in the fast-moving disaster, and two people remain missing. The highway is still covered in about 100,000 cubic yards of debris, and the state’s Department of Transportation estimates that it could take up to three more months to clear the roadway.

“We hope to have one lane of SR 530 with alternating traffic, local traffic, by this fall,” the department said on its website. “However, the roadway underneath the slide could be significantly damaged. It’s too soon to tell if the road will be drivable once the debris has been cleared.”

After the fly-over, Obama rode in a motorcade through the nearby rural town of Arlington, where dozens of residents lined the streets and waved. In one front yard was a pickup covered in football memorabilia and bearing the name Jovon Mangual.

The 13-year-old died of multiple blunt-force injuries in the March 22 disaster. So did his stepfather, Billy L. Spillers, 30, and his stepsisters Kaylee B. Spillers, 5, and Brooke Spillers, 2.

Shortly after the slide hit, the White House approved an emergency declaration so that state and local responders would have the resources they needed. Obama then declared a major disaster so that residents and business owners could rebuild.

Among the federal assistance made available, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced this week that eligible survivors of the slide who were forced to make lengthy detours around the highway blockage for work, school or ongoing medical care could apply for help covering commuting costs.

The United Way of Snohomish County said that it had raised more than $2 million as of Tuesday morning for its Disaster Recovery Fund for Mudslide Relief and distributed nearly half of that to assistance efforts in the hard-hit towns. Individuals and families, the group said, have received nearly $400,000 in emergency cash allotments, gas cards and other support.

Obama spoke Tuesday afternoon to firefighters and paramedics at the Oso firehouse, whose walls were papered with signs thanking the search-and-rescue volunteers, including a 20-foot-long yellow banner covered with the handprints of elementary school students.

The president told residents that the nation had been inspired by the teamwork and resilience of this small patch of northwestern Washington.

“We’ve seen neighbors and complete strangers donate everything from chain saws to rain jackets to help with the recovery effort,” he said. “We’ve seen families cook meals for rescue workers. We’ve seen volunteers pull 15-hour days, searching through mud up to 70 feet deep.

“One resident said, ‘We’re Oso. We just do it,’” Obama recounted. “That’s what this community is all about.”

Obama also talked about a letter he had received from a firefighter — one of many missives from residents in the region. The firefighter wrote about how “those who were operating the heavy machinery during this whole process did so with an incredible care and delicacy,” the president said.

The reason? “Because they understood that this wasn’t an ordinary job, this wasn’t just a matter of moving earth,” he continued, “that this was a matter of making sure that we were honoring and respecting the lives that had been impacted.”

Many in the crowd of 75 said they had done nothing since the slide but search the pile, eat and sleep.

“We’ve been working together for weeks, but this is the first time I feel we’ve really come together,” said William Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, gesturing toward the Navy aviators sitting next to him. “It feels like part of a healing process.”

Half a dozen Americorps workers wearing brightly colored vests, their uniforms in the search-and-recovery effort, clustered in the back of the audience. For 14 days at a stretch, they have been mapping the area and installing pumps to drain water to make it easier to search.

For people who have been so consumed by the dirty, intense work, the president’s visit was a reminder that the outside world is still paying attention, said Derek Voelker, a Marine who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 before returning home to nearby Monroe.

“This day is kind of a marker, in a way,” Voelker said. “The work is starting to wrap up. Things are never going to get back to normal here, but we are moving on.”

TOKYO — President Obama arrived here Wednesday to begin an eight-day tour of Asian allies designed to assure leaders that they have a strong U.S. backup at a time of rising tensions in the region.

Obama went directly to his task after landing in Tokyo, heading straight into a private dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the narrow wooden counter of a popular sushi restaurant in the busy Ginza shopping district. The leaders agreed in advance to put off their formal welcome ceremony and royal reception until after they had met one-on-one in a friendly, more casual setting.

Abe chose the spot — Sukiyabashi Jiro, a restaurant made famous in the recent documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”

The sushi session opens a week of delicate diplomacy for Obama as he finally makes the Asia trip he canceled last fall because of a government shutdown in Washington. At the heart of his mission is a complicated task — to promise a strong U.S. commitment to its allies without tripping in their complicated web of disputes with China.

The web is complex, with fresh reminders arising while Obama made his way to the region. Authorities in Shanghai this week seized a Japanese ship over claims dating back to the 1930s, a move denounced by the Japanese government.

Meanwhile, Abe angered Beijing on Monday by sending a ritual offering to a shrine in Tokyo that critics say honors World War II criminals. Relations between the two countries are deeply colored by historic grievances.

The conflict presents a minor awkward moment as Obama tries to reassure key allies such as Japan and South Korea without provoking too much concern in China.

“We have an enormously important alliance with Japan,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said aboard Air Force One, before referring questions about the Yasukuni shrine to the State Department.

On the threat of North Korean nuclear tests this week, however, the White House was more definitive. Officials said they don’t know if stepped-up activity around that country’s nuclear sites portends an actual test to coincide with the president’s visit.

But they also indicated that they consider it a possibility.

“North Korea has a history of taking provocative actions,” Carney said. “We are always mindful of the possibility that such an action could be taken. … That is something that they have, unfortunately, done many times.”

By starting his eight-day Asian trip in Japan, Obama is directly confronting some of the biggest challenges to his regional foreign policy. His proposed Pacific Rim free-trade agreement has bogged down in tariff disputes with Japan, making it a top priority in his conversations with Abe.

Trade officials in the administration say they haven’t written off the possibility of progress on the agreement this week but they downplayed the possibility that it could work out while Obama is here.

Trade is not the only area where Obama’s credibility is being tested. As allies look for reassurance that they have American backup in their territorial disputes with China, budget cuts at the Pentagon have limited the flow of military resources to the region. Obama hopes to calm fears about U.S. resolve to maintain a strong presence in Asia.

Those conversations began informally with the Wednesday dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro, where owner Jiro Ono, 89, still prepares the sushi himself.

Aides said Abe thought the unconventional setting would be a warm way to open the visit and build trust with Obama before they begin more serious discussions. Obama has tried the same tactic with foreign leaders when they visit the U.S., famously taking then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev out to Ray’s Hell Burger, a popular D.C.-area restaurant.

Later in the day, Obama plans to meet with the Japanese emperor at the Imperial Palace before sitting down for another meeting with Abe.

Afterward, the leaders are expected to take questions at a news conference — the first of four, with four different leaders, that Obama plans to hold this week.


Ferry disaster fills South Korea with shame

Pentagon orders 600 troops to Eastern Europe, criticizes Russia

Israelis, PalestinNEWS.GNOM.ES struggle for way forward as deadline nears

Twitter: @cparsons

Brussels may be a hub for international business, but the Belgian capital — whose Art Brussels contemporary art fair kicks off Friday — is also full of unexpected pleasures. Creative types are drawn to the city’s relatively low cost of living, multicultural flavor and vibrant art scene, anchored by the Wiels Contemporary Art Center. Here, on the eve of the fair, the New York-based artist Megan Marrin — currently an artist in residence at Wiels — lists a few of her favorite cultural gems in the city.


La Loge
Housed in a former Masonic temple built in the 1930s and founded by the architect Phillippe Rothier, La Loge is a contemporary art space and community gathering place of sorts in Ixelles, a district known for its distinctive Art Nouveau architecture. The space hosts site-specific exhibitions as well as events, lectures and panels relating to art, architecture and design. Emily Wardill’s new film, “When you Fall into a Trance,” which was filmed inside the space last year, is currently playing here three times a day.
Rue de l’Ermitage/Kluisstraat 86;

Rosa Brux
Run by a collective of artists, graphic designers, and filmmakers, this politically minded work studio and exhibition space is discreetly located in an apartment on the first floor of an unassuming building in the Anderlecht municipality. Art shows, screenings and events happen regularly and attract an interesting crowd. This weekend, the group will be exhibiting the work of Jeanne Gillard and Nicolas Rivet at Brussels’s alternative art fair, Poppositions.
Rue de l’Autonomie 9;

Triangle Books
This independent art-book publisher, founded and run by Olivier Vandervliet, has created unique printed matter with such artists as Harold Ancart, Thomas Bayrle, Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys. Vandervliet sometimes hosts happenings in conjunction with new releases; his collaboration with the Berlin-based artist Saâdane Afif will be feted this Friday with a party at Xavier Hufkens Gallery.

Atelier de Moulage
Brussels is known for its highly specific museums (institutions are devoted to sewers, trams and clocks). Set aside a day to visit this plaster-cast workshop, established in 1876 to make high sculpture accessible to the public. Part of the Cinquantenaire Museum in the Parc du Cinquantenaire — a spectacular public space in the European Quarter — this massive building holds thousands of molds for sculptures that can be purchased, including busts, life-size statues and reliefs. The best part of a visit is walking through endless tomblike halls of molds stacked floor-to-ceiling on the shelves.
Cinquantenaire Museum, Parc du Cinquantenaire 10;


Cinéma Nova
Also near the city center, this theater offers unique programming including avant-garde films from decades past and present, often grouped thematically. Last month, Radley Metzger appeared in person to discuss a retrospective of his films there; currently on view is a series called “Japanese Red Cinema,” celebrating the radical filmmaker Masao Adachi.
Rue d’Arenberg 3;

Actor’s Studio
Brussels boasts some of the most unique cinema spaces on the continent. The tiny, beloved Actor’s Studio, which is located near the city center and reached through the lobby of the Floris Arlequin Grand Place Hotel, shows a diverse array of European and American art-house films.
Petite Rue des Bouchers 16;


Idiz Bogam
Not far from the daily flea market at Jeu de Balle, this shop is known for its irreverent window displays, well-curated blend of modern furniture and high-end vintage clothing and in-store coffee and cocktail bar. The store is in the process of relocating a few doors down the street to a new space — which will focus more on customized vintage furniture — and is building a website which will offer online vintage shopping.
Rue Haute/Hoogstraat 180; +32 2 512 10 22.

Matongé neighborhood
The city’s Congolese district around the Porte de Namur offers incredible fabric shops, shopping arcades, restaurants, wig and beauty shops and the gorgeous Vendôme cinema. One not to miss store there is Jinny’s, where you’ll find aisle after aisle of every hair and beauty product you might need, and many more that you didn’t even know you needed.
Jinny’s, Chaussée de Wavre, 32; +32 2 502 48 08.

Het Ivoren Aapje
Situated near Place Saint Catherine, this beloved used bookstore (the name means “the ivory monkey,” after a book by Herman Teirlinck) stocks impeccably selected vintage and rare titles and ephemera, such as antique paintings and a cassette recording of Allen Ginsberg reading “Howl.”
Place du Béguinage/Begijnhofplein 4; +32 2 219 46 86.

Post Office Rules

Dear Diary:

Observed at the Rego Park post office in Queens on a window:

We will gladly take your order when you finish your telephone conversation.

Read all recent entries and our updated submissions guidelines. Reach us via email or follow @NYTMetro on Twitter using the hashtag #MetDiary.

MUMBAI, India — As a truck festooned with broomsticks, the symbol of the Aam Aadmi Party, wheezed in a narrow lane in Kamathipura, the red-light district in south Mumbai, women in floral nightgowns appeared on their doorsteps, curious about the commotion.

India Votes

News and analysis on the world’s largest election.

They smiled at each other as they watched Meera Sanyal, a former chief executive of the Indian unit of the Royal Bank of Scotland, gently placing Gandhi caps on the heads of garbage collectors, grubby children and drunken men as she went door to door in her campaign for Parliament.

“I had not heard her name, but I will remember now,” said Maya Chakraborty, 35, a sex worker. Minutes before, Ms. Sanyal had stopped to embrace her and asked what she wanted from her next member of Parliament.

“No one speaks to us and no one listens to us,” Ms. Chakraborty said. “It shows us what kind of person she is.”

This is the second parliamentary race for Ms. Sanyal, 52, who took a sabbatical in 2009 from R.B.S. to run as an independent candidate. In December, she stepped down as chief executive and ended a 30-year career in banking to pursue a life in public service, joining the Aam Aadmi Party. Her husband, Ashish, took a sabbatical from his job as a retail consultant to manage her campaign.

Many of the business elite of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, who live in south Mumbai favor the Bharatiya Janata Party and its candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, hailing him as the chief executive that India needs. Meanwhile, they view the upstart Aam Aadmi Party, with its emphasis on corruption and social development, as potentially bad for business.

But in Ms. Sanyal, the party has a candidate with experience as a chief executive, one with degrees from a prestigious French business school, Insead, and Harvard Business School.

Ms. Sanyal contended that her party’s anticorruption platform is actually more conducive to business.

“We are pro-business but anti-dishonest business,” she said. “We favor transparent functioning of competitive markets, but not crony capitalism.”

Ms. Sanyal said that any modern well-functioning economy first needed to rid itself of red tape, bureaucracy and unstable tax regimes. She compared India to the United States, pointing to the antitrust fines levied on the technology titans Bill Gates and Steven P. Jobs. “Can you imagine that happening here?” she said.

The south Mumbai constituency, a jumble of skyscrapers and slums, has twice elected Milind Deora, the Congress minister of state for information technology and shipping. In her 2009 match with Mr. Deora, Ms. Sanyal won only 10,157 votes, or 1.6 percent of the 641,000 votes cast.

This year, however, Ms. Sanyal said she sensed that the public may be more receptive to a political outsider after Anna Hazare’s anticorruption movement in 2011-12 and the Delhi gang-rape in December 2012, which led to sweeping changes in the country’s sexual assault laws.

“People are frustrated with the same-same,” she said. “This is not an Arab Spring; this is an Indian Monsoon, and the Aam Aadmi Party represents a way to peacefully sweep this country clean of corruption.”

However, Sharad Kumar, the Maharashtra State coordinator for the Association of Democratic Reform, said Ms. Sanyal was not likely to win because voters in the affluent areas were wary of Arvind Kejriwal, the party’s leader, who quit as chief minister of Delhi after only 49 days in office to protest the delays in introducing an anticorruption bill in the State Assembly.

Mr. Kumar said the race in south Mumbai was among three candidates: Mr. Deora; Bala Nandgaonkar, who represents the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena; and Arvind Sawant of Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s regional ally.

Ms. Sanyal said it did not matter if she won or lost. “People tell me that joining politics is foolish, but I tell them that I’ve had a very happy career and this is not about giving back,” she said. “It’s only about putting my skills where they count most.”

In the five years since she lost her first race, Ms. Sanyal said she took off on a series of “exploratory journeys.” During the first, which she called a “journey of ideas,” she talked to policy makers about the challenges in the fields of education, health, poverty, corruption and food security. The second, “a journey of villages,” took her to 120 villages across 15 states to live with the beneficiaries of her bank’s microfinance projects for female entrepreneurs in tribal districts.

Those experiences influenced her policy emphasis on small businesses. She said she would introduce measures that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to start and close businesses and would simplify licensing and regulatory procedures.

As she campaigned through Mumbai’s slums, where homes double as small industries producing lunchboxes, artificial jewelry and clay pots, it was easy to see why Mumbai represented India’s economic ambition. “You can’t create 10 million new jobs, but you can create 10 million new entrepreneurs,” she said.

In addition, Ms. Sanyal said she would work to ease Mumbai’s notorious traffic congestion and create affordable housing and open spaces by reclaiming unused tracts of land from the Bombay Port Trust.

“Everything else,” Ms. Sanyal said, “will be fixed by electing good people to Parliament.”

Last week, as Ms. Sanyal was campaigning through Mohammed Ali Road, a lower middle class neighborhood, she urged residents to vote for other candidates if they had done something to improve their lives. But if they wanted to clean the system with a proverbial broomstick, they should keep her in mind, she said.

A 6-year-old girl, perched on the second floor of a dilapidated building, frantically waved from a window, urging the campaign team to wait so that she could scurry down and collect a crisp Gandhi cap.

“I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said she dreamed of being a doctor,” Ms. Sanyal said. “If you ask me, this is what it’s about: The dreams of our children that are languishing away.”

Mansi Choksi is a freelance journalist in Mumbai. Follow her on Twitter @mansi_choksi.

To put it mildly, President Obama’s early promises of transparency in government haven’t exactly turned out that way.

In fact, lots of people who should know call his administration the most secretive ever. It has also been one of the worst for press freedom. James Goodale, the former Times lawyer, has labeled Mr. Obama worse than Richard Nixon on that score.

For those who care about such things – as I know many Times readers do – this week has been eventful, with some good news and some bad in the mix. To wit:

▪ A federal appeals panel has ruled that classified information about the targeted killing of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen should be made public.

The Times – along with the reporters Scott Shane and Charlie Savage – sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get the legal justification for the drone attack in 2011, as did the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Times’s newsroom lawyer, David McCraw, praised the decision, saying that the court had “reaffirmed a bedrock principle of democracy: The people do not have to accept blindly the government’s assurances that it is operating within the bounds of the law; they get to see for themselves the legal justification that the government is working from.” The ruling is a blow to what a Times editorial called the administration’s “self-serving and duplicitous game over its power to kill people away from any battlefield and without judicial oversight or accountability.” And it is likely to be appealed.

▪ In a directive from James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, the Obama administration told officials at 17 agencies to stop talking to reporters about intelligence-related matters.

The Times reported that the new rules required agency employees “to report any unplanned contact with journalists. Officials who violate the directive may be disciplined or fired, the directive says.”

The Reuters columnist Jack Shafer smacked it around in a column: “Directive 119 might make sense if the administration could point to a pattern of unauthorized discussions that has done lasting damage to national security. But that it does not do. Instead, it tightens the circle. And it feeds us all another helping of dung.”

▪ Meanwhile, here is the latest on the Times national security reporter’s Jim Risen’s efforts to both protect his confidential source and stay out of jail. Answering my request for a status report, he told me in an email Tuesday: “The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take the case. The Justice Department has until this Friday to respond to our request that the court hear our case. They are expected to file a brief Friday opposing our request. My lawyer will then have a few days to file a reply brief, probably in early May. And then the court will decide, at one of its conferences, probably in May or June, whether to take the case.”

▪ And finally, a new film by James Spione, “Silenced,” depicts the high price paid by former government employees who have become whistle-blowers. It has one more showing at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday before moving to Toronto; it will be in wider release later.

Mr. Spione had open access to a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst, John Kiriakou, whom Scott Shane wrote about last year in a front-page article. The activist and lawyer Jesselyn Radack, a whistle-blower herself, has a key role, and the former National Security Agency executive and whistle-blower Thomas Drake steals the show with his intelligence and dignity.

As for the film’s depiction of the press, there is a heroine and a goat. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer gets props for an early and influential profile of Mr. Drake that may have helped get the charges against him dropped; the counterbalance is NBC’s Savannah Guthrie – who, on camera, grills the pitiable and jail-bound Mr. Kiriakou as if she were on Eric Holder’s payroll. Seconds later, off camera, she smiles sweetly and whispers to him, “Take care.”

In Our Pages: April 24

1889: Fight at a French Fair

The Foire au Pain d’Épice at Vincennes has been the theatre of a lively struggle between the representatives of law and order and four men who were troubling the harmony of the gathering. An infantry captain was taking a stroll through the fair in civilian dress, when he noticed two soldiers very much the worse for liquor. He addressed a few words of remonstrance to them. The army captain then received some severe blows with sticks, but fortunately the police were reinforced and the principal assailants arrested.

1939: Halifax Asks for Understanding

LONDON — Foreign Secretary Viscount Halifax, speaking over a special trans- Atlantic relay, tonight [Apr. 23] asked Americans to visit England and see for themselves the similarity between citizens of Britain and the United States. Lord Halifax said visitors ‘‘will meet with a hearty welcome, sometimes, perhaps, more reserved than that with which you greet the stranger within your gates, but none the less sincere, and if at first we find it a little slow to open our minds to new acquaintances, let me assure you that this is only manner which does not make our hearts less warm.’’

LONDON – Seeing the recent success of Topshop, Uniqlo and other overseas low-cost retailers among United States consumers, the Anglo-Irish retailer Primark said on Wednesday that it planned to open its first store in the country next year.

Primark plans to occupy a 70,000-square-foot space in the Burnham Building at Downtown Crossing in Boston near the end of 2015. The location was previously home to Filene’s Department Store.

The retailer, which offers basic and affordable clothing, is looking to open additional stores in the Northeast by the middle of 2016.

Primark opened its first store in Dublin in 1969 and operates more than 250 stores in Britain, Ireland and Europe.

It is a unit of the food and retail company Associated British Foods, which posted revenue of 13.3 billion pounds, or about $22 billion, last year. It employs more than 106,000 people in 47 countries.

Affirmative action, which has inflamed Americans for years, is suddenly back on the front burner.

A new debate over the issue was triggered by the Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision Tuesday upholding a Michigan ban on affirmative action in admitting students to the state’s public colleges and universities.

Not surprisingly, the racial divide over the question runs deep, but the public’s views are complicated. Fifty-eight percent of Americans support the concept of “affirmative action programs for racial minorities,” according to a recent Gallup poll, up from 47 percent in June 2001.

READ: Supreme Court: States Can Ban Affirmative Action

“We can’t pinpoint causality for this shift exactly but Barack Obama’s being president may have something to do with it,” Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport said in an email on Gallup’s website. A bare majority of 51 percent of non-Hispanic whites endorse the idea of affirmative action, along with 76 percent of African-Americans and 69 percent of Hispanics.

But when the question is phrased differently, with the choice defined more starkly in racial terms, the results change dramatically. Under those circumstances, most Americans say applicants for college should be admitted solely on the basis of merit rather than having an applicant’s racial and ethnic background considered.

Sixty-seven percent of Americans favor admissions based solely on merit, about the same as the 69 percent who felt that way in 2004, Gallup found. Only 28 percent want racial and ethnic background considered, about the same as the 27 percent who said that In 2004.

READ: Majority of Americans Oppose Affirmative Action in College Admissions

Newport’s conclusion is that “the public would apparently agree with the thrust of the Supreme Court verdict in the Michigan case – even though, of course, the average American has no idea about the legal issues which were the real basis on which the justices made their decision.”

Whites favor making admissions decisions solely on merit by a 75-22 margin; African-Americans were divided, with 44 percent favoring merit-only and 48 percent wanting to consider race; Hispanics preferred merit-only by 59-31.

In upholding Michigan’s ban on considering race in admissions to the state’s public colleges and universities, the Supreme Court deferred to the will of the people as defined by voters who decided the issue directly. The prohibition was enacted in a statewide vote in 2006, passing with 58 percent support.


DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine admitted on Wednesday that they are holding an American journalist who has not been seen since early Tuesday.

Simon Ostrovsky, a journalist for Vice News, has been covering the crisis in Ukraine for weeks and was reporting about groups of masked gunmen seizing government buildings in one eastern Ukrainian city after another.

Pro-Russia insurgents who have been occupying police stations and other public buildings in eastern Ukraine for more than a week are defying the accords that Russia and Ukraine signed last week, urging all parties in Ukraine to lay down the arms and vacate the public offices.

Members of the nationalist Right Sector movement have also been occupying two buildings in the capital, Kiev, for months, but authorities have said the priority is to get the gunmen in eastern Ukraine to vacate the buildings they hold.

Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern city of Slovyansk, confirmed Wednesday that Ostrovsky was being held at the local branch of the Ukrainian security service that they seized more than a week ago.

“He’s with us. He’s fine,” Khorosheva told The Associated Press. When asked why Ostrovsky was held captive, Khorosheva said he is “suspected of bad activities,” which she refused to explain. She says the insurgents are holding Ostrovsky pending their own investigation.

In a statement, Vice News said it “is in contact with the U.S. State Department and other appropriate government authorities to secure the safety and security of our friend and colleague, Simon Ostrovsky.”

Ukraine has been engulfed in its biggest political crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. Months-long anti-government protests in the capital of Kiev culminated in President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing to Russia in late February.

The acting government has accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest in eastern Ukraine which it fears Moscow could use as a pretext for an invasion. Last month, Russia annexed Crimea weeks after seizing control of the peninsula.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered security forces to resume operations in the country’s east after the bodies of two people allegedly abducted by pro-Russia insurgents were found. There were no reports of any such operations by midday Wednesday.

  • Politics & Government
  • eastern Ukraine

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