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NEWSFLASH: Need-to-Know Stories 3/17 – 3/21


This week, there may once again be a breakthrough in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, with search and rescue crews hurrying to locate two possible pieces of debris spotted by satellite. Russia continues to turn a cold shoulder to the U.S. and its allies, confirming Friday that Crimea has become a part of the Russian Federation after President Vladimir Putin annexed the ex-Ukrainian region. Finally, Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps passed away, prompting strong reactions from those who honored and those who opposed him.

Welcome back to NEWSFLASH, giving you the week’s biggest stories!

Australian Satellite Spots Possible MH370 Debris

Australian rescue authorities pinpointed two objects via satellite that could reveal Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370’s fate.

The objects were spotted floating far southwest of Western Australia, in the southern Indian Ocean. Satellite images dated March 16 show two objects that could be debris from an aircraft, though no officials were able to confirm nor deny the claim.

Four military planes were sent to the area to look for wreckage, and Norway diverted a merchant ship to the site to aid search efforts. Bad weather stalled Thursday’s attempts, but no debris was spotted when the hunt for MH370 resumed Friday.

Authorities have been careful to say that the objects could lead to flight MH370, as previous “clues” proved to be wrong. In the past two weeks, all claims of debris sighting, oil slicks and more were ruled out, after which the FBI entered the fray to examine a plane simulator found in one of the pilots’ homes.

The international community remains baffled at MH370’s disappearance. The commercial aircraft vanished with 239 passengers on board, prompting suspicions of hijacking, sabotage and terrorist actions. No additional theory has been proposed, but there is growing consensus that the plane was intentionally diverted from its original path to Beijing.

Sanctions Imposed on Russia as Putin Annexes Crimea

Crimea officially became a part of Russia early Friday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed bills that completed the region’s annexation.

The signature came merely two hours after Russia's Upper House passed the bills during a parliamentary session.

A referendum took place in Crimea Sunday to determine the region’s inclusion into the Russian federation. The final results indicated that an unprecedented 97 percent of referendum voters favored joining Russia as opposed to staying with Ukraine.

The U.S. and various European countries imposed sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes for members of Putin’s inner circle, leading up to the annexation. Visa and MasterCard also halted their services for U.S.-sanctioned Russian banks. However, Russian Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseev announced that the move will have no immediate or major effects on the Russian economy.

Speculation that Putin would hit back with “mirror sanctions” targeting the U.S. were dismissed after the Russian president opposed the idea.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has signed a trade pact with the European Union to display solidarity with the European body.

Westboro Baptist Church Founder Fred Phelps Dies of Natural Causes

Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died of natural causes Wednesday, leaving behind a controversial legacy that has divided Americans.

Phelps, 84, founded the Topeka, Kansas, church in 1955. From there, the Westboro Baptist Church grew into a national leader that promoted anti-gay laws and initiatives, aggressively driving its cause at every turn. According to the church itself, its members have picketed more than 53,000 events, ranging from Lady Gaga concerts to military funerals, to spread their message. The church's protests continuously incite national outrage, with many questioning the moral and ethical integrity behind the church’s conduct.

Phelps was often known as “the most hated man in America,” a label that he seemingly loved.

Members of the church criticized the media for seemingly rejoicing Phelps’ death.

"God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world,” says a statement released by the church on Thursday.

Westboro Baptist Church members will most likely push forward with the church's message despite Phelps’ death.

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