As talks falter, Moscow finds brokering Syria peace trickier than waging war

ASTANA:  With its show of military force, Russia changed the tide of the Syrian civil war. It is finding the next phase — brokering an end to the fighting — a tougher proposition.
A round of Syria peace talks sponsored by Russia ended on Thursday with no joint communique, usually the minimum outcome of any diplomatic negotiation, and saw opposing Syrian groups exchanging angry tirades at each other and the brokers.
With no concrete progress to report, media representatives at the talks venue in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan, were so hungry for a scrap of news that at one point a crowd formed around an Arabic speaker who they thought was a participant in the talks. He turned out to be another journalist.

Western diplomats, who say Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign of air strikes has worsened the conflict, have, in private, reacted to Russia’s tribulations as a peacemaker with variations on the phrase: “We told you so.”
Russia proposed a series of negotiations in the Kazakh capital Astana late last year with the expectation that, as the predominant outside power in Syria following its military intervention, it could break a deadlock that had defied the repeated efforts of the big Western powers and U.N. mediators.
Moscow’s peace drive started hopefully, with the first Astana meeting in January. The Syrian rebels and government came together for the first time in 9 months, and agreement was reached to consolidate a shaky ceasefire.
But by the second round this week, things had gone downhill. The Syrian rebels debated until the eleventh hour about whether to attend at all, finally sending a smaller delegation which arrived in the Kazakh capital a day late.

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Impeachment trial ruling expected early March

The Constitutional Court set Feb. 24 as the final date of the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye, Thursday.

Acting court President Lee Jung-mi said the judges would hear closing arguments from both the National Assembly prosecutorial panel and defense attorneys representing Park.

"Both sides are to submit written arguments on Feb. 23 and prepare for closing arguments the next day," Lee said.

The court decision is expected around March 10, given that it takes up to 14 days for deliberation. The schedule for an early presidential election and other necessary political events will follow afterward if the impeachment is upheld.

Park's defense attorneys vehemently opposed the court's plan, saying it puts them under a severe time constraint.

Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong arrested on bribery charges

Samsung Electronic Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was put behind bars as a Seoul court issued a warrant early Friday morning on bribery charges involving the influence-peddling scandal that has rocked South Korea and led to impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

Judge Han Jung-seok of the Seoul Central District Court issued the warrant at 5:37 a.m., saying there were "sufficient grounds" for his arrest. Lee has become the first leader in Samsung's 79-year history to be detained on criminal charges. Prosecutors can detain him for up to 20 days before formally indicting him.

"Considering newly raised allegations and additionally collected evidence, the need for confinement is recognized," Han said.

Lee avoided arrest last month when the court dismissed the prosecutors' request citing the lack of evidence.

The judge dismissed prosecutors' request to arrest Park Sang-jin, a president at Samsung Electronics overseeing external relations, saying that it was difficult to justify Park's arrest given his position and role within the company.

The claims against Lee revolve around a controversial merger between the electronics giant's construction arm, Samsung C&T, and an affiliate firm, Cheil Industries in 2015. The merger was seen as critical for Lee to consolidate his leadership in the nation's biggest business empire. The special prosecutor team has claimed Samsung paid bribes totaling 43 billion won ($37.8 million) to two foundations set up by Park's longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, in return for political support for the deal.

Samsung has denied that it has offered bribes or sought any wrongful favors from the President.

Samsung Group faces its biggest crisis in its history with the arrest of its chief.

Right after its chief was detained, Samsung issued a one-line statement, saying: "We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings."

Lee is currently vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics. But since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, he is the de facto boss of the entire Samsung Group conglomerate.