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    Russian Parliament Speaker: We Will Support Crimea if It Decides to Join Russia

    The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament says Russian lawmakers will support Crimea's decision if the Ukrainian region decides in a referendum to join Russia.

    Ukraine's interim government, meanwhile, has rejected Crimea's moves to leave Ukraine, with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk saying Friday that "no one in the civilized world" will recognize the results of the region's referendum.

    Ukraine and Russia have been locked in a tense standoff since Russian forces entered the Crimean peninsula a week ago.

    On Thursday, the Moscow-backed Crimean parliament voted to become part of Russia, setting a referendum for March 16.

    The Ukrainian prime minister told reporters Friday he wants to "warn separatists" and others he described as "traitors of the Ukrainian state" that their decisions are "unlawful" and "unconstitutional." U.S. and European leaders have also called the referendum illegal.



    U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the two leaders found little common ground. The White House says Mr. Obama told Mr. Putin the presence of Russian forces in Crimea is a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty. The Kremlin says Mr. Putin denounced Ukraine's new Western-backed government as "illegitimate" and said Russia cannot "ignore" calls for help from Ukraine's Russia-leaning east and south.

    Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said Friday his government is "prepared to rebuild relations with Russia." But he said Russia must withdraw its troops, fulfill its agreements with Ukraine and stop supporting separatists in Crimea.

    The White House says Mr. Obama, in his phone conversation with Mr. Putin, called for direct talks between Kyiv and Moscow that would be mediated by the international community. Mr. Obama called for all Russian forces to return to their bases and for international monitors to ensure the safety of Ukrainians, including ethnic Russians.

    Pro-Western Ukrainian opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko urged Europe Thursday to take strong action to prevent Ukraine's Crimean peninsula from joining Russia, saying such a move would destabilize the entire continent.

    Witnesses and Western analysts say thousands of Russian military personnel have crossed into Crimea since last week. The reports set off a groundswell of Western condemnation against President Putin, and warnings of stiff penalties if Moscow fails to withdraw.

    In Washington Thursday, President Obama authorized sanctions, including visa restrictions, against those found to have violated Ukraine's territorial integrity. The EU also imposed measures against Russia, suspending talks on visas and a new economic agreement.

    On Capitol Hill, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to provide loan guarantees of $1 billion to Ukraine. That measure now goes to the U.S. Senate. The European Union is prepared to extend a $15 billion bailout to Kyiv if Ukraine can reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

    Ukraine's crisis began when protests erupted in late November after then-President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an economic deal with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia. What began as peaceful protests quickly turned violent, leading to the deaths of more than 80 protesters and charges that the Yanukovych government ordered snipers to shoot protesters. Mr. Yanukovych fled Ukraine last month.

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    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
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    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
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    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
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    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
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    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
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    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
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    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
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    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
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    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
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    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
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    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
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    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
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    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
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    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

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