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Monday, December 22, 2014

World briefs

Ukraine

NATO announced on Monday the creation of a “very high-readiness force” in response to Russian military aggression in Ukraine, CNN reports.

The force will be part of a Readiness Action Plan designed to help allied countries respond to security challenges, in addition to dealing with Russia, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a speech. U.S. officials support the creation of the military response force, but stressed that it should be purely defensive in nature.

National Security Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the force is “not intended as a provocation or as a threat to Russia, but rather as a demonstration of NATO’s continued commitment to our collective defense.”

Meanwhile on the ground, CNN reports that Ukrainian forces are significantly under-supplied compared to Russian rebel groups fighting in eastern Ukraine. British Prime Minister David Cameron has called the Russian occupation “unjustified” and “unacceptable,” and announced that new EU sanctions against Russia are currently being drawn up.

Iraq

In northern Iraq, Shia and Kurdish military forces are advancing against Islamic State forces after ending the bloody siege of the town of Amerli, and have also seized the strategic stronghold of Suleiman Beg from the IS.

These victories come in the wake of reports from Amnesty International of ethnic cleansing and “acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale” committed by the Islamic State against non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims, BBC reports. In recent months, Islamic State forces have seized large areas in western and northern Iraq, and BBC reports that thousands have been killed, mostly civilians, and over a million people have been forced to flee the areas. The advances in Amerli and Suleiman Beg are the most important victories against IS forces in months, BBC reports.

Libya

Islamist-linked militia forces have taken control of the U.S. embassy and most of the government ministries and offices in Libya’s capital city Tripoli, BBC reports.

Various militia groups have been vying for control of the country since they overthrew the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with help from Western countries. The Islamist-linked group Libya Dawn took control of the capital last week, forcing U.S. and other embassies to evacuate their staffs, and the elected parliament and other senior government representatives have had to flee to the eastern city of Tobruk.

After resigning last week, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has been reinstated by the democratically elected House of Representatives, and has been given the task of forming a new government. Libya Dawn has called on the General National Congress, the country’s previous parliament, to take over, but the United Nations said it will only back the democratically elected House, BBC reports.

Pakistan

Protests against the government of Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif turned violent over the weekend, resulting in three deaths and massive destruction of property, Reuters reported.

Pakistani defense minister Khawaja Asif said the government is preparing to launch police crackdowns against protest groups, which are being led by cleric Tahir ul-Qadri and former star cricket player and politician Imran Khan. The protesters stormed the state television headquarters and led a march on Sharif’s home in Islamabad.

U.S. officials said Monday that although they respect the right of Pakistanis to hold peaceful demonstrations, they condemn the use of violence and vandalism to enact change, Reuters reported.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged both sides to “refrain from violence, exercise restraint and respect the rule of law,” and called for the government and protest leaders to start a peaceful dialogue. Protesters have said they will not stop until Sharif resigns. Asif said a resignation is not an option, and that the government is prepared to do whatever it takes to restore order, Reuters reported.