Updated 

In brief | Nation & World | 4-1-14


Australian prime minister pledges to continue Flight 370 search ‘for some time’

PERTH, Australia — Although it has been slow, difficult and frustrating so far, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is nowhere near the point of being scaled back, Australia’s prime minister pledged Monday.

The three-week hunt for Flight 370 has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Ten planes and 11 ships found no sign of the missing plane in the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,150 miles west of Australia, officials said.

The search area has evolved as experts analyzed Flight 370’s limited radar and satellite data, moving from the seas off Vietnam, to the waters west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then to several areas west of Australia. The search zone is now 98,000 square miles, about a 2½-hour flight from Perth.

Items recovered so far were discovered to be flotsam unrelated to the Malaysian plane. Several orange-colored objects spotted by plane Sunday turned out to be fishing equipment.

Those leading the effort remain undaunted, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying officials are “well, well short” of any point where they would scale back the hunt. In fact, he said the intensity and magnitude of operations “is increasing, not decreasing.”

Russia pulls back battalion from Ukraine border; PM Medvedev promises plenty of aid

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea — Russia said Monday it was pulling a battalion of several hundred troops away from the Ukrainian border but kept tens of thousands in place, prompting a worried response from the Kiev government about what the U.S. warned was still a “tremendous buildup.”

Russia moved quickly to strengthen its economic hold on Crimea, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev arriving in the newly annexed peninsula with promises of funds for improved power supplies, water lines, education and pensions for the elderly.

Russia’s takeover of the strategic Black Sea region, its troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and its attempts to compel constitutional changes in Ukraine have markedly raised tensions with the West and prompted fears that Moscow intends to invade other areas of its neighbor.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call Monday that some troops were being withdrawn from the Ukraine border, Merkel’s office said. The withdrawal involved a battalion of about 500 troops, Russian news reports said.

The U.S. reacted cautiously to the Russian troop movement, with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel saying that “tens of thousands” of Russian forces still remained along the Ukrainian border, a situation he called “a tremendous buildup.”

North and South Korea fire hundreds of artillery shells into sea; island residents in shelters

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other’s waters Monday in a flare-up of animosity that forced residents of five front-line South Korean islands to evacuate to shelters for several hours, South Korean officials said.

The exchange of fire into the Yellow Sea followed Pyongyang’s sudden announcement that it would conduct live-fire drills in seven areas north of the Koreas’ disputed maritime boundary. North Korea routinely test-fires artillery and missiles into the ocean but rarely discloses those plans in advance. The announcement was seen as an expression of Pyongyang’s frustration at making little progress in its recent push to win outside aid.

North Korea fired 500 rounds of artillery shells over more than three hours, about 100 of which fell south of the sea boundary, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. South Korea responded by firing 300 shells into North Korean waters, he said.

No shells from either side were fired at any land or military installations, but Kim called the North’s artillery firing a provocation aimed at testing Seoul’s security posture. There was no immediate comment from North Korea.

By wire sources