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US, NATO warn Russia to avoid 'miscalculation' over Crimea
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Feb 27, 2014


China declares national days for Nanjing Massacre, Japan defeat
Beijing (AFP) Feb 27, 2014 - Chinese lawmakers approved national remembrance days Thursday to commemorate the Nanjing Massacre and Japan's defeat in World War II, state media said, amid bitter disputes over territory and history.

"September 3 was ratified as the victory day and December 13 the national memorial day for massacre victims", the official Xinhua news agency said, reporting decisions by members of the National People's Congress, China's rubberstamp parliament.

Japan invaded China in the 1930s and the two countries fought a full-scale war from 1937 to 1945.

China says more than 300,000 people were slaughtered by Japanese troops in a six-week killing spree in the then capital Nanjing, which began on December 13 1937. Some foreign academics put the figure lower.

It was unclear what significance the formal "national days" will have, although they are not expected to be public holidays.

The Chinese government previously designated as victory day September 3, the day after Japan formally surrendered to the Allies on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945.

"The approval of the national days has great historical significance and is a necessity in current circumstances," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said following the decision.

Tokyo and Beijing are embroiled in a series of rows, including a long-running diplomatic spat over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Tensions rose further last month when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine, which honours Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.

Chinese officials often call on Japan to "reflect" on its past, while Tokyo says its neighbours use history as a diplomatic stick to beat it with.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday joined NATO in warning Russia not to take any action that could lead to "miscalculation" amid rising tensions on Ukraine's majority-Russian Crimea peninsula.

Speaking after pro-Kremlin gunmen seized regional administration buildings in Crimea and Moscow ordered snap combat readiness drills near the border, Hagel warned: "I am closely watching the Russian military exercise.

"I expect them to be transparent about these activities," he told a press conference at the close of a two-day NATO defence ministers meeting.

"I urge them not to take steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation."

The crisis in Ukraine dominated the gathering, with an emergency meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission added to the agenda at the last moment.

Hagel said Washington was concerned about the latest developments, especially in Crimea, and was continuing "to talk to our Russian counterparts" about their intentions.

NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had no indication that Russia planned military intervention in Ukraine, after he too had warned Moscow against fuelling tensions.

Asked about the military exercise, he said: "The Russians informed us about this and made clear that this exercise has nothing to do with ongoing events in Ukraine."

But the military exercise "does not make things easier", he added.

The NATO chief called on all parties to do their best to calm the situation.

"We need steps that can cool down the whole situation and that's a responsibility for all parties involved," he said.

NATO defence ministers on Wednesday agreed a statement which said a sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine was essential to security in Europe.

Rasmussen said after that statement that "Ukraine is the most important security issue in Europe today."

The latest developments have stoked concern about Ukraine's future and the possible wider fallout from the weekend ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych after three months of anti-government protests.

- Moscow 'won't break treaties' -

Crimea is especially sensitive as the home base for Russia's Black Sea fleet, and Ukraine's new interim government warned the Russian navy to keep its troops in their bases.

"Any troop movements will be considered as military aggression," acting pro-Western president Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament.

Moscow for its part said it would abide by the treaties governing the use of Crimea by its fleet.

"We declare that in the current difficult situation the Russian Black Sea fleet is strictly adhering to said agreements," Russian agencies quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.

Ukraine's ambassador to NATO, Igor Dolgov, said Kiev welcomed the alliance's commitment to the country's territorial integrity.

Asked about Russia's military exercise and possible intervention, Dolgov said Ukraine expected "all countries to act in accord with the norms of international law.

"There is no need to expect us to ask for assistance from other countries," he added.

In 1997, NATO set up a joint commission with Ukraine to oversee relations, and in 2008 agreed that Kiev could eventually be considered for membership of the Cold War-era alliance.

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