JOHN STILLWELL/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince William and Kate headed to the Maldives for a romantic break ahead of their Australian and New Zealand tour next month, according to newspaper reports.
Kensington Palace has refused to confirm or deny the story. The palace never comments on the private activities of the Royal family.
They apparently arrived on a BA flight Thursday morning and, according to local sources, will spend a week on vacation in the Noonu atoll in the Maldives.
The Maldives has hosted Hollywood celebrities from George Clooney to Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss because of its glittering white sand beaches and privacy. It’s also a favored destination for Brits because of its outdoor water activities, spectacular snorkeling and direct flights from London.
William and Kate have spent a number of holidays in the Indian Ocean previously, including their honeymoon in the Seychelles after their wedding.
Whether it’s a vacation a deux is anyone’s guess. It’s unclear whether Prince George is on holiday with the new mother and father. Prince George will travel with his parents to New Zealand and Australia next month from April 17-25 on his first foreign tour. Prince William made a similar visit at 9 months of age with Princess Diana and Prince Charles 31 years ago.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- One of the Obama administration’s highest-ranking diplomats said Thursday that Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian crisis – militarily backing a secessionist movement in Crimea – does not appear to have bled over into its role as a negotiator in Syria’s bloody, three-year civil war. But the reality of how the conflicts play off each other is less clear.
“I believe Russia remains committed to the object here, which is the removal and destruction of all of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.
Responding to questions from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Burns confirmed reports that weapons removal could still meet its June deadline and that, so far, he has not seen evidence Moscow would allow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to change course.
“That’s an area where I believe Russia has a self-interest in trying to ensure that that happens,” Burns said. “It’s not a favor to the United States. It’s something that Russia has committed to and I hope we can accomplish that goal.”
He added the caveat that Moscow’s intentions are “hard to predict,” but, “as I said before, I think Russia, having made a very visible and public commitment to accomplishing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, I think, has a self-interest in trying to ensure that that happens.”
Not everyone agrees that Russia’s role in the Ukraine had no implications for Syria or vice versa. Burns may have said Russia continues to cooperate on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, but made no mention of Russia playing a constructive role in the peace talks to end the conflict that, by United Nations estimates, has killed more than 100,000 people. Indeed, the ambassador voiced ongoing frustration with Moscow’s reluctance to push Assad harder in the conflict, now a center for fighting among foreign Islamic extremist factions.
A growing number of Syria experts are pointing to what they see as a Russian trend in both places: putting its own interest ahead of peaceful solutions regardless of what the U.S. and international community wish to see as an outcome.
Edward Joseph, a Middle East expert at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, wrote that while Russia is embroiled in the Ukraine, this is the time for the Obama administration to test Putin’s real resolve on Syria.
“Even if the Obama administration is wedded to diplomacy with Russia, it might as well maximize whatever prospects there are (which may prove minimal) to exact Russian cooperation on Syria, simultaneously forcing Moscow to show its true cards,” said Joseph. “President Obama has already acknowledged that the diplomatic track is not working, so there is little risk for even a highly risk-averse White House in actively testing the Russians.”
There is also the Republican criticism that President Obama’s wavering on the “red line” on use of chemical weapons in Syria set a precedent that has led Russia to not take the president seriously.
“I think that [there is] the permissive environment that we have created through this reset, thinking that someone like Putin reacts to warmth and charm and reach-out, when what he really reacts to is weakness,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said at a hearing Thursday.
“I think he has seen that in our foreign policy efforts over the course of this last year,” Corker added. “I don’t think we can make a case that what happened in Crimea wouldn’t have happened, but I certainly don’t think he has felt that there would be much of a push-back from us.”
Former U.S. special representative on Syria, Ambassador Fred Hoff, said Wednesday that while his assessment wouldn’t go that far in placing blame, the U.S. approach to Syria is having an effect on the Ukraine crisis.
“Our approach to Syria has not discouraged Putin’s approach to the Ukraine,” Hoff said.
State Dept photo(ROME) -- Secretary of State John Kerry underscored the United States’ opposition to a referendum vote that the Crimean parliament approved Thursday on whether to separate from the rest of Ukraine, saying such a referendum would only be constitutional if the entire country were allowed to vote.
“Crimea is part of Ukraine. Crimea is Ukraine,” Kerry said during a statement delivered in Rome. “And we support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the government of Ukraine needs to be involved in any kind of decision with respect to any part of Ukraine.”
Kerry added that the United States would “absolutely” consider doing more to punish Russia, on top of the visa bans and sanctions announced Thursday, if the nation did not take steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.
“While we reserve the right to take steps beyond what we've announced today, our preference is to get back to a normality and get back to a place where the rights of the people will be respected,” he said, addressing reporters after a day spent shuttling between group and bilateral meetings.
While the European Union, which met Thursday in Brussels, announced some steps to punish Russia but no economic sanctions, Kerry said the E.U. had been “extremely cooperative” in working with the United States on the Ukraine crisis.
Kerry also noted that he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov again Thursday and said of his relationship with his Russian counterpart, “there are moments when we may be able to laugh at something, and there are moments when you may disagree, and disagree strongly.”
Torvosaurus gurneyi may have been the largest European predator in the late Jurassic. (Sergey Krasovskiy)(LONDON) -- A recently discovered dinosaur species may have Europe crowning a new king of the carnivores. Scientists at Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal recently published a paper describing Torvosaurus gurneyi, the biggest predator to stomp around the continent 150 million years ago. The bones of the dinosaur were discovered in the Lourinha Formation in western Portugal.
Christophe Hendrickx, the main author of the paper, described the new dinosaur as similar in shape to the famous Tyrannosaurus rex, though with a few key differences. "The T. rex had tiny arms with two fingers, while the arms here are definitely larger and also had these huge claws," he told ABC News. "The teeth of the T. rex are more banana-shaped, while these are narrower, more blade-shaped."
As to the size of the dinosaur, Hendrickx estimates that it was 10 meters long and weighed 4 to 5 tons, based on the few bones he and his colleagues were able to recover. "One bone from the upper jaw is huge, about 60 centimeters in length," he said. "A lot of information can be extracted from a bone that size." His observations are published in the journal PLoS One.
A predator of that size comes as a surprise, given Europe's geography at the time. "Europe was an archipelago, a bunch of small islands," said Hendrickx. "Most of the dinosaurs that have been discovered in Europe have been small."
When choosing the name of the species, Hendrickx elected to name it after James Gurney, the illustrator behind the Dinotopia book series. "I wanted to honor the guy who was clever and excellent in all his work," he said.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two young boys stand in front of a column of adult fighters clad in all black, one boy attempting to look as serious as his baby-face will allow, the other absentmindedly fiddling with the black flag of jihad he holds in front of him.
The first boy begins an earnest half-chant, half-song in Arabic as a man toting a machine gun and draped in bullets stands just off to the boy’s left. When the boy is finished, both children and the men standing behind them yell, “Allahu Akbar!”
The striking images come from a video recently posted online that purports to show a training camp in Syria named after al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front. While the video provides few confirmable details, a U.S. counter-terrorism official told ABC News similar videos have appeared before and there is little reason to doubt its authenticity.
In another portion of the video, the children stand in the middle of an open training ground and watch as recruits dive through hoops of fire, the man with the machine gun close by. The children are not shown holding weapons.
The counter-terrorism official said children have appeared in other videos made by “terrorist groups” as well, but as of yet, the groups “do not seem to have used children operationally.”
However, in November, Human Rights Watch reported that some rebel groups have used children “as young as 14″ to transport supplies and act as lookouts.
A United Nations report from late January, stated, “Armed opposition groups have been responsible for the recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations, including using terror tactics, in civilian-populated areas, leading to civilian casualties, including children.”
Boys as young as 12 years old, the report said, have been “trained, armed and used as combatants or to man checkpoints.” The report said no information about the Syrian government’s use of children in the conflict was available.
Alet Pretorius/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Oscar Pistorius' emotional -- sometimes even theatrical -- reactions to grisly witness testimony show a man who appears to be deeply disturbed about the night he claims to have accidentally shot and killed his girlfriend.
As his premeditated murder trial has gotten underway this week in Pretoria, South Africa, the Paralympic Blade Runner has sobbed, covered his ears and hung his head as witness after witness has testified about the night Reeva Steenkamp died.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will decide the athlete's guilt or innocence, will likely be looking at Pistorius' reactions, Jules Epstein, a law professor at Delaware's Widener University and former criminal defense attorney, told ABC News.
"If there is any sense at all that he is faking it, an experienced judge who picks that up will have trouble ignoring it," Epstein said.
The athlete shook slightly and sobbed Thursday as Johan Stipp, a radiologist, testified that he went to Pistorius' house after hearing shots and screams on Valentine's night last year. He was one of the first people to arrive.
Stipp said he noticed a wound in Steenkamp's right thigh, in her upper arm and to the right side of the head, with brain tissue around the skull.
"She had no pulse in the neck, she had no peripheral pulse. She had no breathing movements that she made," Stipp said.
He also added that Pistorius looked "sincere" after the shooting and said he had mistakenly shot Steenkamp because he believed she was a burglar.
Epstein said Stipp's testimony and Pistorius' reaction could help support the athlete's story.
"In terms of the immediate minutes after the event, it should be pretty powerful evidence that this was an accident," he said.
It was an especially emotional day for Pistorius, who held rosary beads in court to mark the anniversary of his mother's death.
Earlier this week, Pistorius had covered his ears as his attorney challenged a witness, at one point arguing that Steenkamp could not have screamed after Pistorius fired a first shot through a bathroom door because that bullet had likely struck her in the head and caused serious brain damage.
Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux made the claim as he tried to poke holes into the testimony of a witness who said she heard a woman scream after a first shot. That scream was followed by several more shots in quick succession, Pistorius neighbor Michelle Burger had told the court.
Marcio Silva/Thinkstock(SIMFEROPOL, Crimea) -- Lawmakers in Crimea voted on Thursday for the mostly Russian enclave to become part of Russia and moved up to March 16 a referendum to decide the matter.
Ukraine’s interim government and Supreme Court have rejected talk of a Crimean referendum to determine its status, calling it unconstitutional. Russia says it will decide how to go forward after the referendum happens.
The referendum will ask Crimeans two questions: whether they want to be part of Russia or whether they’d like to adopt the 1992 Crimean Constitution, which would give Crimea more autonomy under Ukraine.
“We’re not working out what to do if Crimea joins the Russian Federation because we believe it’s unconstitutional,” Ukrainian interim Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta said.
Crimea’s new prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, has rejected the Kiev government, saying ousted President Viktor Yanukovich is the country’s rightful president.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked two days ago about Russia annexing Crimea, he told reporters: “Only the people who live in a certain territory have the right to decide their own future.”
In other news, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said pro-Russian forces sank a boat at the opening to Donuzlav Lake north of Yevpatoria on Wednesday, bottling up Ukrainian warships in the lake. It is not clear how many military ships the Ukrainians might have had in the lake and ministry spokesman Maxim Prowta declined to say.
Prowta said that just before midnight Wednesday, the forces filled an old ship with water and it is now partially submerged.
The Defense Ministry said it will be expensive and time consuming to remove the sunken ship.
Russian officials have repeatedly denied that the professional, heavily-armed forces that have taken control of Crimea are Russian, calling them Crimean “self-defense forces.”
“We do not have any power over them, they do not listen to our orders,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.
Lavrov met in Paris with Secretary of State John Kerry and their European counterparts Wednesday, but did not appear to make any progress in resolving the Ukrainian crisis.
Lavrov did not meet with the acting Ukrainian foreign minister. Moscow doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the interim government, calling Yanukovich’s ouster a coup.
Lavrov and Kerry are expected to meet again in Rome Thursday.
Forty observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrived in Crimea Thursday.
“The situation might seem quiet, almost normal, if you go to the streets,” said OSCE envoy Tim Guildimann in Kiev. “However it’s extremely tense and I would consider it a miracle that bloodshed [has been] avoided so far given the political and even military circumstances on the ground.”
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Harry announced Thursday morning that he’s creating a worldwide event for injured service men and women in London. He got the idea after attending the Colorado Warrior games with British service members in the U.S. last year.
Harry told an audience at the Copper box arena in East London at the former Olympic park that it was “such a good idea by the Americans that it had to be stolen.”
Harry has trekked to the Arctic with wounded heroes through his foundation Walking with the Wounded and recently completed a race on foot and skis to the South Pole with British, U.S. and allied service members.
“I am extremely proud to be bringing an event like this to the U.K. for the first time and believe it can have a long-lasting impact on the well-being of those who have served their nations so bravely,” Prince Harry said.
Invictus games officials said the competition would hopefully include the wounded, injured and sick service men and women, both serving and veterans, from 13 nations around the world. The games will feature competition in eight sports from Sept. 10-14 in London including archery, wheelchair basketball, road cycling, indoor rowing, wheelchair rugby, swimming and sitting volleyball.
Prince Harry told the crowd: “I have witnessed first-hand how the power of sport can positively impact the lives of wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women in their journey of recovery.”
Prince Harry, also known as Captain Harry Wales, has served in Afghanistan and has seen the injuries serving members of the military are facing. Harry first served as a forward air controller in Helmand province and was most recently flying Apaches at camp bastion in Southern Afghanistan.
“The Invictus Games will focus on what they can achieve post-injury and celebrate their fighting spirit through an inclusive sporting competition that recognizes the sacrifice they have made,” he said.
Pool-Libya Prisons Communication Unit/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- The son of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has been extradited from safe haven in Niger to a prison in Libya, the Libyan government said Thursday, according to international reports.
Before he was forced to flee from his home country during a popular uprising in 2011, Saadi Gadhafi was described in a 2009 State Department cable as a “ne’er-do-well” who had a history of “unseemly behavior and public scuffles with authorities in Europe and elsewhere.” He also tried his hand at professional soccer in both Libya and Italy, but wasn’t able to make it in the more competitive Italian level.
As the Libyan uprising intensified in February 2011, ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour spoke with Saadi, who said he worried he wouldn’t be able to go on safaris for a while and predicted that the “earthquake” in Libya was just the beginning.
“An earthquake. It’s a fever. It’s going to spread everywhere. No one can -- will stop it,” he said then. “This is my personal opinion. And the chaos will be everywhere… They think it’s about freedom. Everybody loves freedom… But it’s more powerful, this earthquake. No one can control it.”
Niger accepted Saadi into the country in August 2011, reportedly on a humanitarian basis, along with other minor Libyan officials.
Weeks later, Saadi was accused by the Mexican government of planning to secretly slip across the Atlantic to set up shop in the North American country. The Mexican government said their intelligence agents disrupted the plot, but later an attorney for Saadi “vigorously denied” there was ever a plan to sneak to Mexico.
MatthewBrosseau/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- At least five members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) were killed on Thursday during an operation carried out by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in eastern Afghanistan.
The airstrike by coalition forces also left eight ANA soldiers injured, according to Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defence Ministry.
In a statement, ISAF called the incident in the Charkh district of Logar Province an accident and said an investigation is underway to determine what caused it.
"Our condolences go out to the families of the ANA soldiers who lost their lives and were wounded," ISAF said. "We value the strong relationship with our Afghan partners, and we will determine what actions will be taken to ensure incidents like this do not happen again."
Gianluca Rasile/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Liz Wahl, a news anchor based in Washington, D.C., for Russia’s state-owned Russia Today, announced on the air Wednesday that she could no longer continue to work for the TV station due to what she suggested was RT’s slanted reporting of the incursion into the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
Wahl, whose parents fled the Soviet occupation of Hungary, told viewers during her newscast, “I'm proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth.”
She charged RT with “whitewashing” Moscow’s action in Ukraine, which follows the Kremlin’s assertions that so-called “self-defense” forces are behind the occupation of Crimea, not Russian forces.
The on-air resignation, which was effective at the conclusion of Wahl’s newscast, was likely spurred by Wahl’s now former colleague, Abby Martin, who said during her own program, “I can’t say enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs. What Russia did is wrong.”
Martin also refused RT’s offer to send her to Crimea to get a first-hand look at the official Russian position of the crisis.
Later Wednesday, Wahl told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that “RT is not about the truth. It's about promoting a Putinist agenda. It's also about bashing America."
For its part, RT called Wahl’s on-air resignation “a self-promotional stunt” but nonetheless wished her “the best of luck on her chosen path.”
Bulent Doruk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The masked men in military uniform spotted all over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula are not Russian military forces but “well-trained militia forces,” Russian officials have claimed to America’s top military officer.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey aren’t buying the claim, telling a congressional panel Wednesday that they are confident the masked men are Russian troops.
“It’s pretty clear that they’re Russian troops,” Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“My judgment is they are soldiers,” said Dempsey.
Earlier in the day, Dempsey added, he had spoken by phone with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who denied that the military men spotted throughout Crimea were Russian military forces.
He said Gerasimov told him “that they were not regular forces; they were well-trained militia forces responding to threats to ethnic Russians in the Crimea.”
Dempsey told the committee that he feels they are in fact Russian military forces.
“My military judgment is that these are soldiers who have been taken out of their traditional uniforms, repurposed for placement in Crimea as a militia force,” said Dempsey. ”But my judgment is, they are soldiers.”
However, Dempsey said, there is not concrete evidence to support his belief that they are Russian military forces in unmarked uniforms.
“We don’t have any evidence as yet,” he said. “I think evidence could likely become available over time.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., complained to Hagel that U.S. intelligence had sustained what he called a “massive failure” for not predicting that Russian President Vladimir Putin intended to intervene militarily in Crimea.
“Mr. Putin was not going to see Sevastopol go into the hands of a government that was not his client, and that’s just a fact, ” said McCain.
Hagel said the Obama administration was not caught unaware.
“We were well aware of the threats,” Hagel said, citing NATO meetings in Brussels he attended last week and his recent conversations with Ukraine’s previous defense ministers.
Either way, Hagel said, American officials don’t place much trust in President Putin’s claims about Crimea. Hagel said he agreed with Secretary of State John Kerry that “we don’t accept anything that President Putin said as fact about why they had to protect the so-called ethnic minority in Crimea, and the other reasons that the Russians have laid out as to why they took the action they did."
Dempsey told the panel that he could not be certain where the Russian military forces inside the Crimea had come from, though the U.S. has been tracking Russian military exercises east of Ukraine’s borders.
U.S. officials have also been unable to cite with precision exactly how many Russian forces entered Crimea.
One official said that he has seen estimates ranging from between two to ten thousand additional forces had been sent to Crimea. The official said it has been difficult to get a clear picture of what has been going on inside the region.
Another official said that the number of Russian military forces already stationed inside Crimea before the crisis developed last week was 15,000.
State Dept photo(PARIS) -- After an exhaustive day of talks with his European counterparts on resolving tensions in Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry had little to show for it, but struck an optimistic tone.
“I’d rather be where we are today, than where we were yesterday,” he said, adding that he “hopes” Wednesday’s discussions with foreign ministers from France, the U.K., Ukraine and Russia will lead to a peaceful solution.
Kerry said he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would go back and consult with their respective bosses, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has flatly denied the presence of additional Russian troops in Crimea.
But Kerry didn’t spare Russia from tough talk, saying, “Russia made a choice. We have clearly stated we believe it is the wrong choice.”
Kerry also urged Russia to welcome international human rights monitors into Crimea — but Russia has made it difficult for unarmed inspectors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to gain access to the region.
Kerry said it was important for the European Union, Ukraine and Russia to resolve tensions by “coming together as a community of nations” — although he did not announce any new measures that the EU and United States might collaborate on.
The EU has so far refrained from imposing comprehensive sanctions on Russia, in part because European countries depend heavily on Russia as a trade partner.
Kerry said he would continue his conversation Thursday with Lavrov in Rome.
Royal Danish Air Force(LONDON) -- Just when you thought that pilot’s “selfie” in the cockpit of his F-16 cockpit at the exact moment he was firing a missile was cool, guess what -- it’s actually an entire video.
The man hiding underneath the mysterious helmet has now been revealed as Royal Danish Air Force pilot Thomas Kristensen, whom the Danes regard as “one of the most experienced F-16 pilots in the RDAF, having flown thousands of hours, including missions over ex-Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya.”
That is sure to ease the minds of those worried about his close proximity to the fiery air-to-air missile flying right next to him.
The “best selfie ever,” as some have described it online, is simply a well-timed screenshot of this even-more-mesmerizing video originally posted by The Royal Danish Air Force in October 2012.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe (NEW YORK) -- A television crew documented a tense confrontation between a U.N. envoy in Crimea and a group of armed and menacing men who chanted pro-Russia slogans.
The men first blocked the car carrying United Nations envoy Robert Serry in Ukraine, and initial reports stated Serry had been “abducted” or “kidnapped” by armed men during a Wednesday visit to the embattled Crimea region.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson confirmed in a call to reporters in New York that Serry was “threatened” in Crimea, but Eliasson denied reports he was kidnapped.
Serry agreed to cut his trip short, go to the airport and leave Crimea.
Serry was in Crimea as part of a U.N. envoy sent to assess the crisis in Ukraine. A U.N. spokesperson said in a statement that Serry will be taking a late flight out of Simferopol and will shortly return to Kiev to continue his mission after it was cut short.