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In brief: Putin upbeat on economy, better world ties

From wire reports

MOSCOW – Russia has weathered the worst of its economic troubles and is on the road to recovery, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday during a marathon call-in TV show, offering to normalize ties with the West if it treats Moscow as an equal partner and not a “vassal.”

He also defended the delivery of a long-range air defense missile system to Iran, casting it as a reward for Tehran’s flexibility in nuclear talks and vowing to continue working with global partners to reach a definitive solution to the country’s contested nuclear program.

Putin mixed promises with stern warnings and some humor during the carefully choreographed four-hour national broadcast, an annual affair intended to burnish his father-of-the nation image and secure his control over the Russian political scene.

His main message was that the gravest challenges are over and the slumping economy will be back on track soon.

He also made it clear that Russia wants an end to fighting in eastern Ukraine and is interested in rebuilding damaged ties with the United States and other Western nations. At the same time, he reaffirmed his long-held criticism of what he sees as U.S. aspirations of global domination, saying Washington must learn to treat Russia as an equal partner.

“The main condition for restoring normal relations is to have respect for Russia and its interests,” Putin said, adding that the United States “doesn’t need allies; they need vassals.”

Doctor describes Syria chlorine attacks

UNITED NATIONS – U.N. Security Council members were moved to tears Thursday as the first eyewitness to the latest suspected chlorine attacks on civilians in Syria emerged from the country to give a graphic eyewitness account of dying children.

A Syrian doctor who treated victims from a half-dozen attacks over the past month, Mohamed Tennari, was helped out of the country by the United States, which arranged for the closed-door briefing.

He showed a video of a suspected chlorine attack March 16 in his town of Sarmin in Idlib province, with images of three children, ages 1 through 3, dying despite attempts to resuscitate them. The medical area was so cramped that one of the children was lying on top of their grandmother, who also died.

“Everyone smelled bleach-like odors” and heard the sound of helicopters, Tennari later told reporters after showing them the video. He said most of the victims were women and children.

The U.S. and other council members have repeatedly blamed the Syrian government for such attacks, saying no one else in the grinding civil war has helicopters to deliver the toxic chemicals.

Today, Tennari will meet with Russia’s U.N. delegation as the U.S. and other council members try to persuade the Syrian government’s top ally to stop using its veto power against proposed action on the four-year conflict.

Police: Muslims threw Christians into sea

ROME – Italy’s migration crisis took on a deadly new twist Thursday as police in Sicily reported that Muslim migrants had thrown 12 Christians overboard during a recent crossing from Libya.

Palermo police said they had detained 15 people suspected in the high seas assault, which they learned of while interviewing tearful survivors from Nigeria and Ghana who had arrived in Palermo on Wednesday morning after being rescued at sea.

The 15 were accused of multiple homicide aggravated by religious hatred, police said in a statement.

The survivors said they had boarded a rubber boat April 14 on the Libyan coast with 105 passengers aboard. During the crossing, the migrants from Nigeria and Ghana – believed to be Christians – were threatened with being abandoned at sea by some 15 other passengers from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Guinea Bissau.

Eventually the threat was carried out and 12 were pushed overboard. The surviving Christians, the statement said, only managed to stay on board by forming a “human chain” to resist the assault.

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