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Lavrov warns U.S. against ‘playing with fire’ in Syria

Feb. 19 (UPI) — Russia’s foreign minister on Monday warned the United States against “playing with fire” in Syria.

Sergey Lavrov cautioned U.S. officials to reduce provocations in the civil war-torn nation, saying the United States’ actions there have fractured the country.

Addressing a conference of the Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow policy advisory group, Lavrov said Syria’s sovereignty and territorial rights are under attack by U.S. troops and funds that arm opposition groups.

“It seems that our American counterparts’ pledges that their sole goal in Syria is the war on [the Islamic State] and preserving the territorial integrity need to be confirmed with specific actions,” Lavrov said. “I once again call on our American colleagues not to play with fire and measure their steps proceeding not from immediate needs of today’s political environment, but rather from long-term interests of the Syrian people.”

Lavrov accused the United States of using the Kurdish Democratic Union political party to divide Syria — particularly in Afrin, a Syrian zone of U.S. influence in which Turkish troops are fighting. The Syrian Arab News Agency, said Monday that opposition forces will soon arrive in the area to combat a month-long Turkish offensive in the area.

“[The United States] involved the units of the Kurdish Democratic Union party in their position to undermine Syria’s territorial integrity, in fact, which led to an escalation of tensions with Turkey,” Lavrov said, adding that the United States should stop “playing very dangerous games, which will lead to the disintegration of the Syrian state.”

The Russian warning came as Turkey is receiving criticism for classifying Kurdish fighters as terrorists.

“We are not against Kurds in Turkey, we are not against Kurds in Iran, in Iraq and Syria.,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavasoglu said at a security conference in Germany. “We are against … all the terrorist organizations.”

While the Kurdish ethnic population can be found in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, the Turkish government regards Kurdish fighters as militants. U.S. support for the fighters has strained relations between Ankara and Washington, to the point that both countries agreed last week to concentrate on efforts on restoring a normalization of ties.

After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ankara last week, Cavusoglu announced that the two countries “reached an understanding” to normalize diplomatic efforts.

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Kremlin: Indictment shows no evidence of Russian meddling

Feb. 19 (UPI) — The Kremlin on Monday dismissed the indictments handed down by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week, saying the charges show no proof Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the charges against 13 individuals and three companies are groundless and do not include any proof of meddling.

“We still insist that this evidence has no grounds and we don’t consider it overwhelming, we don’t regard it as fair and cannot agree with it,” Peskov told reporters on Monday.

Peskov added that Russia “has neither meddled, nor does it have a practice of interfering in domestic affairs of other states.”

“First, we haven’t seen any significant evidence so far that someone has meddled in America’s domestic affairs,” he said. “Second, the matter in question pertains to Russian citizens, but we have heard Washington accusing the Russian state, the Kremlin and the Russian government of being complicit.

“There have been no indications whatsoever that the Russian state could have been involved in this.”

The Department of Justice announced the charges Friday.

The indictment says Russian propagandists conspired in an effort to favor then-Republican candidate Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The charges are part of a months-long investigation into the matter at the Justice Department.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.

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Chicken delivery snag closes most KFC restaurants in Britain

Feb. 19 (UPI) — The majority of KFC restaurants in Britain remained closed on Monday due to a chicken shortage caused by a new delivery contract, the company said.

The closures began during the weekend and by Monday, two-thirds of KFC locations remained closed. A company statement said, in part, “We’ve brought a new delivery partner onboard but they’ve had a couple teething problems.” The statement listed 254 locations still open.

Another KFC statement acknowledged that “The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants.”

The problem arose after the Louisville-based company switched delivery services from Bidvest Logistics to DHL, which said that “operational issues” caused incomplete or delayed deliveries.”

“We are working with KFC and our partners to rectify the situation as a priority and apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused,” a DHL spokeswoman said.

DHL announced in November that it was chosen to manage the supply and distribution and packaging of KFC products, with British company Quick Service Logistics.

Signs posted in windows of many KFC locations read, “Sorry, we’re closed. We deliver our chickens fresh into our restaurants, but we’ve had a few hiccups with the delivery today. We wouldn’t want to be open without offering our full menu, but we’ll be back at the fryers as soon as we can.”

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Indonesia’s volcanic Mt. Sinabung erupts, coats four-mile area with ash

Feb. 19 (UPI) — Indonesia’s volcanic Mount Sinabung erupted on Monday, sending ash and smoke about 16,000 feet into the air.

No injuries were reported, although nearby villages were coated in ash and officials hurried to dispense face masks to residents. Tourists and residents were asked to stay at least 4.3 miles from the volcano, and those with respiratory issues were advised to remain indoors.

Mount Sinabung, on the island of Sumatra, erupted in 2010 for the first time in 400 years and has been regarded since as an active volcano. It erupted again in 2013. An eruption the following year killed 16 people, and another in 2016 killed seven.

Monday’s eruption lasted for nearly five minutes.

Rain is expected in the area on Tuesday and Wednesday, which can combine with ash to make slippery travel conditions and increase the possibility of roof collapses and the volcanic version of mudslides, Accuweather.com reported on Monday. Wet ash also is capable of conducting electricity, which can lead to power failures.

The ash cloud could impact airplane flights around northern Sumatra, to southern Thailand until Tuesday, when the cloud is expected to dissipate. The Australia-based Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Center set its aviation alert level to red after the eruption, warning pilots to avoid the area.