Markets shrug off Crimea vote
PARIS — Global financial markets on Monday ignored the anticipated Russian annexation of Crimea, as stocks rose strongly on Wall Street and in Europe, and currencies and energy futures traded calmly.
Almost 97 percent of voters in Crimea, a historically Russian-speaking area of Ukraine, on Sunday backed union with Russia, despite warnings from the United States and European Union that a referendum would lead to sanctions against top Russian officials.
The adoption of sanctions on “about 20 people” announced Monday by EU foreign ministers “are already priced in by the markets,” Mujtaba Rahman, Europe director for Eurasia Group, wrote in a research note. “The market is now in a holding pattern, looking at whether we get further incursions by Russia into Ukraine proper. It’s all about Putin and his next chess move.”
In afternoon trading, the Euro Stoxx 50 index, a barometer of eurozone blue chips, had risen 1.2 percent, while the FTSE 100 index in London had gained 0.9 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the Dow Jones industrial average were up about 1 percent by midday, after a government report showed factory production had risen in February. Russia’s Micex index was up 2.5 percent, and the dollar was trading at 36.33 rubles, down 0.8 percent.
Investors are closely watching for indications that Russia’s oligarch class is moving its billions of dollars in savings — money the country’s most wealthy have in recent years invested in things like real estate in London, Paris and New York, as well as in financial assets in Western Europe and the United States. The calm market conditions Monday suggested that there was no fire sale taking place.
Vladimir Bragin, head of research at Alfa Capital in Moscow, said it appeared that the central bank had spent about $500 million Monday to support the ruble, after large-scale market intervention last week.
European energy markets were not overly concerned about the possibility of interruptions of natural gas flows from Russia to Europe. Trevor Sikorski, an analyst at the London-based research firm Energy Aspects, said traders were reassured by the presence of large amounts of stored gas in Europe because of the warm winter.
—David Jolly, The New York Times
Arrests of rights activists in Sri Lanka raise fears of a crackdown
NEW DELHI — Fears of a broad crackdown against rights activists in Sri Lanka have been heightened after the Sri Lankan police recently arrested two prominent human rights advocates and a woman who has made a public campaign of finding her missing son.
The arrests took place just as the U.N. Human Rights Council considers starting an inquiry into possible war crimes committed by government forces and separatists during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war.
Ruki Fernando, one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent human rights activists, and the Rev. Praveen Mahesan, a Roman Catholic priest and the former director of the Jaffna-based Center for Peace and Reconciliation, were detained at around 10 p.m. Sunday by Sri Lanka’s Terrorist Investigation Department in Kilinochchi, a former rebel stronghold.
The Sri Lankan police said the two activists were being held under the country’s laws. “They have been arrested on charges of creating communal disharmony and inciting racial hatred,” said Ajith Rohana, a police spokesman. He said the two would be brought to Colombo, the capital, for further interrogation.
On Friday, the government arrested Jeyakumari Balendran, an advocate for efforts to find missing people, on charges of harboring an armed man. Her son, a child conscript to rebel forces, is still missing after he reportedly surrendered to government forces in 2009 and then was pictured in a government publication about rebel rehabilitation. Balendran’s 13-year-old daughter was taken into custody Friday and has since been given to child probation officers, the police said.
—Gardiner Harris and Dharisha Bastians, The New York Times
Judge accepts general’s plea deal in sexual-assault case
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A military judge accepted guilty pleas Monday in the sexual assault case of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair in a deal that allowed him to admit lesser charges in exchange for the dismissal of far more serious charges.
The hearing Monday at Fort Bragg was the latest development in the prosecution of Sinclair in the military’s most closely watched sexual assault case. In exchange for the pleas on the lesser charges, prosecutors dismissed more serious counts against Sinclair, including that he twice forced his former mistress, an Army captain, into oral sex and threatened to kill her and her family.
Once Sinclair’s sentence is decided, possibly later this week, the problem-fraught two-year case will finally draw to a close.
The deal caps the surprisingly rapid and, for the military, embarrassing collapse of what once seemed a powerful case — an unraveling that began after Army prosecutors concluded that their chief witness, the captain, who had been the general’s lover for three years, might have lied under oath at a pretrial hearing in January.
The guilty pleas will also end the decorated 27-year career of Sinclair, once a fast-rising star. The general, who could have faced life in prison if convicted on the sexual assault charges, will almost certainly receive a far lighter sentence, but will be required to leave the military.
The deal could still set up a showdown. Defense lawyers said military prosecutors might call the captain — as well as her parents, who are from Nebraska — as witnesses at a sentencing hearing this week in an effort to persuade the judge to impose a tougher punishment on Sinclair.
But that would allow the general’s defense team, led by a former federal prosecutor, to cross-examine the 34-year-old woman, a military intelligence officer, with what they assert are numerous instances of contradictions or deceptions discovered during a year of trial preparation.
Sinclair, 51 and married with two children, was deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and of American forces in southern Afghanistan when he was recalled in 2012. Until then, he was seen within the military as an officer who could progress to division commander or higher.
—Richard A. Oppel Jr, The New York Times