Egyptian Court Dissolves Parliament Days Before Election
Protests have erupted in Egypt after the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve the newly elected parliament and decreed former regime leaders can hold political office. The decision to annul the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament effectively places legislative power in the hands of the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which has managed Egypt’s transition since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood has slammed the decision, calling it a "coup." The court also rubber-stamped the candidacy of Mubarak’s former prime minister and current presidential hopeful, Ahmed Shafik, just two days before he’s supposed to square off against Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi.
Syria: New Reports of Sexual Abuse, Carnage as Gov’t Shells Rebel Areas
In news from Syria, violence and shelling by Syrian troops have been reported across the country as the government attempts to reclaim areas held by rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. The attacks come a day after U.N. monitors described widespread carnage in the village of Al Heffa in northwestern Syria, which had been under siege by government forces. Monitors who toured the town found it was largely deserted, with buildings torched and the stench of dead bodies still in the air. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is reporting Syrian government forces have used extensive sexual violence to torture men, women and boys detained during the uprising. The group reports soldiers and pro-government militias have sexually abused women and girls as young as 12 while sweeping through residential areas and raiding homes.
Death Toll for U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Hits 2,000
The U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan has reached the milestone of 2,000 dead U.S. servicemembers in the nearly 12-year war. The number of Afghans killed during that same period is unknown but far higher.
Bahrain Medics Convicted for Treating Protesters Speak Out
Bahraini medics spoke out on Thursday one day after an appeals court upheld their convictions for treating demonstrators during anti-government protests. Nine medics received sentences ranging from one month to five years, while nine others had their cases dismissed. Two of the medics, doctors Ghassan Dhaif and Ali al-Ekri, said their convictions were baseless.
Ghassan Dhaif: "The only crime that we have done is treating the wounded people. This sentence is very harsh. We consider it inappropriate, and it does not suit medical personnel who have been in practice for the last 23 years."
Ali al-Ekri: "I did suppress and march and rally against the, you know, ex-minister, al-Hamar, who was sacked in a week time by the king himself. That was my only crime, if they consider it. I have five years. It’s quite clear that this is a political verdict."
The trial of the medics was seen as a key test of the U.S.-backed Bahraini monarchy’s avowed commitment to political reform. In response to the verdict, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Michael Posner, said the U.S. is "deeply disappointed" by the convictions. The Obama administration resumed military shipments to Bahrain last month after a half-year pause.
U.N., Aid Groups Call for End of Gaza Blockade
More than 50 international aid groups and U.N. agencies have issued a joint appeal for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The signatories include Amnesty International, Save the Children, the World Health Organization, Oxfam, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and five other U.N. bodies. Issuing the appeal on Thursday, U.N. and aid officials said Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza have poisoned its water supply.
Filippo Grandi: "It has been said many times, but today is an important day in which to repeat it, the blockade is illegal according to international law."
Charles Da Salvia: "Now, today, 95 percent of the coastal aquifer, 95 percent, the sole source of fresh water available for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, is not safe to drink."
Thursday’s appeal came on the fifth anniversary of the blockade, when Israel sought to punish Gaza after Hamas preempted a U.S.-backed coup to subvert the results of 2006 Palestinian elections.
Report: Private Companies Play Major Role in U.S. Spying in Africa
The Washington Post has revealed private U.S. contractors have been using spy planes to secretly search for Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony since at least 2009. Hired by the U.S. military, the contractors have flown unmarked spy planes over large swaths of Africa, ostensibly targeting al-Qaeda and other militants. The planes are equipped with high-tech sensors and cameras that can film people from 10 miles away. Kony, who heads the Lord’s Resistance Army, received new attention this year after an online video condemning him went viral.
Judge Dismisses Suit by Guatemalans Intentionally Exposed to STDs by U.S. Researchers
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of Guatemalans who were unknowingly exposed to syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases by U.S. researchers in the 1940s. Under the experiments, U.S. medical officials intentionally infected more than 2,000 Guatemalan sex workers, prisoners, soldiers and mental patients to study the effects of penicillin. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said federal laws bar suits for harm caused abroad. The Obama administration had argued for the case’s dismissal, saying sovereign immunity protects federal health officials from litigation stemming from the experiments.
Chávez: Venezuela Building Drones with Iran's Aid
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has disclosed his government has begun producing surveillance drones after reports emerged U.S. prosecutors are examining Venezuela’s drone program. In a televised speech, Chávez said the country has built three drones with help from Iran but plans to use them only for defensive purposes.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: "We are also building a factory of unmanned drones. Of course we are doing it, and we have all the right to do so. Probably we wouldn’t have the right to do it if we were a colony. We are a free and independent country."
Protester Attempts Citizen’s Arrest of Britain’s Tony Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair found himself on the receiving end of an attempted citizen’s arrest in Hong Kong on Thursday as he took the stage to deliver an address. Blair had just been introduced to the crowd when activist Tom Grundy called for his arrest for helping the U.S. invade Iraq in 2003.
Tom Grundy: "I’m conducting a citizen’s arrest for crimes against peace under the Hong Kong Power 101 law. You misled the British people. You caused the deaths of at least 100,000 people. Hong Kong police are obliged to support your arrest."
Moderator: "Excuse me. I think we are having a lecture today. A lot of people have come here to listen. Excuse me, a lot of people have come."
Grundy: "The Iraq war defied the Nuremberg principles, the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Convention, and a pending International Court Rome Statute."
Tony Blair: "OK, you’ve made your point. Now why don’t you let me get on and make mine. OK, thank you very much. Go on."
Grundy: "You can’t talk about faith when you set back religious tolerance decades."
Moderator: "Thank you. I think you’ve made your point. Thank you very much. I can wait with him for the police."
Blair: "Sorry, you have to go, I’m afraid. So, well, you made your point. There it is. And that’s democracy for you."
Moderator: "I’m sure you’re used to this all the time."
Blair: "Actually, I am used to it."
Grundy: "You should be. You’re a war criminal!"
Texas Billionaire Handed 110-Year Sentence for Ponzi Scheme
The Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford has been sentenced to 110 years in prison for running a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded victims of around $8 billion. Stanford was found guilty of using his Antigua-based bank to defraud investors by selling them phony certificates of deposit. It was the biggest known case of investment fraud since the Ponzi scheme run by New York financier Bernie Madoff. After the sentencing on Thursday, two of Stanford’s victims spoke out.
Angela Shaw: "He refuses to accept blame. I think, you know, in a lot of ways, he’s shown sociopathic behavior. I mean, his world is about Allen Stanford, and it’s not about all of these people who lost their savings. These were just numbers to him."
Jaime Escalona: "I called Stanford. I told him, 'You deserve what you get. You are a dirty, rotten scoundrel.' And that’s what he is, exactly. No remorse at all for the lives of victims all over the world."
Defying Assembly, Virginia Judges Appoint Openly Gay Prosecutor to Bench
Virginia’s Circuit Court has appointed an openly gay prosecutor to the bench just one month after state lawmakers rejected his judicial nomination. Tracy Thorne-Begland, a former Navy officer and fighter pilot, failed to gain the necessary majority in May after Republican opponents said he would push an "activist agenda." Thorne-Begland was the only candidate among more than three dozen judicial nominees to be rejected. Two decades ago, Thorne-Begland publicly disclosed his sexual orientation in a challenge to the military’s ban on openly LGBT servicemembers. Republicans accused him of "homosexual advocacy" and said his sexual orientation would render him unable to be impartial. His appointment on Thursday is only temporary until Virginia lawmakers begin their next session.
Trayvon Martin's Father Issues Appeal for Review of "Stand Your Ground" Laws
The father of the slain black teenager Trayvon Martin has issued a Father’s Day appeal for a nationwide review of "Stand Your Ground," the purported "self-defense" law that critics say enabled his son’s murder. In a video circulated on the internet, Tracy Martin urged supporters to pressure their local governor on similar laws in their state.
Tracy Martin: "This Father’s Day will be the first without my son, Trayvon. I’ll say a prayer for all the dads across America who share this grief with me. Last year, 30,000 fathers lost a son or a daughter from senseless gun violence. Dads, we have to come together to protect our children. I’m asking you to consider sharing this message with the governor of your state that has a similar Stand Your Ground law. Ask them to review these dangerous laws. If we do, next year thousands more dads will have a happy Father’s Day."
Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, issued a similar Mother’s Day appeal last month.