Syrian government forces are continuing their bombardment of the city of Aleppo ahead of a widely expected all-out assault to uproot rebel fighters. Hundreds of troops are said to have massed on the city’s outskirts as Syrian gunships pound several neighborhoods. Rebel forces meanwhile have launched attacks on army checkpoints around the city. A number of people were reported dead in clashes on Thursday, but the exact amount is impossible to verify. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the United States fears a new massacre in Aleppo will occur.
Victoria Nuland: "This is the concern, that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that’s what the regime appears to be lining up for. Aleppo has again, as you said, been bombarded by Syrian fighter jets in the latest desperate effort of the Assad regime to hold onto control, and there are credible reports of columns of tanks prepared to attack the city."
A new study is warning intense summer thunderstorms are posing a major threat to the ozone layer. Scientists at Harvard University found strong thunderstorms are sending water deep into the stratosphere, setting off ozone-depleting reactions with chemicals that remain from the now-banned cooling gases known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. The study warns that the ozone layer could suffer more damage should global warming unleash ongoing intense storms. Ozone is key to survival on earth, protecting people, animal and crops from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The study is said to be one of the first to draw a deep link between ozone loss and climate change. On Thursday, a fierce storm tore through areas of the northeastern United States, knocking out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses.
World countries face a deadline of today to finalize the text of a treaty that would mark the first-ever global agreement regulating the arms trade. On Thursday, hopes were raised that a deal is near after a new draft was leaked closing a number of loopholes. But the outcome of the talks remains as uncertain as countries, including the United States, have demanded a number of exemptions. The United States is by far the world’s largest producer, importer and exporter of armaments. Opponents including the U.S.-based National Rifle Association have lobbied against the treaty, and a bipartisan group of 51 U.S. senators has signed on to a pledge vowing to oppose it, should it usher in tough regulation. In a protest outside the United Nations in New York City, activists set up a mock graveyard to symbolize the victims of gun violence worldwide. Verity Coyle of Amnesty International and David Grimason, who lost his son to a shooting attack, took part.
Verity Coyle: "One person every minute is killed by arms. I’ve met lots of the families of people who have suffered that terrible loss. As you can see behind us, thousands of people die every day. This is a reality that could be changed."
David Grimason: "A treaty that doesn’t include all conventional weapons and all ammunition is — to me, will just be pointless. At the moment, you’ve got kind of unscrupulous governments that are willing to sell arms to any nation, not really caring about how they’re going to be used."
One of the 12 slain shooting victims in last week’s Aurora massacre was laid to rest on Thursday at a public funeral. An unidentified friend remembered Micayla Medek, a community college student who was 23 years old when she was shot dead.
Unidentified friend: "I’ve known Micayla since I was 11. We grew up together, made some of the most amazing memories that I will never forget and I will always cherish. Oftentimes during the summers, we spent weeks at each other’s houses, just back and forth, back and forth. I would just show up, and she was just there with open arms waiting for me."
The University of Colorado, meanwhile, has denied a report that a package sent by shooting suspect James Holmes detailing plans for the massacre sat unopened in a campus mailroom before the shooting occurred. The school says the package was received the Monday after the attack and promptly reported to police.
In Mexico, thousands of protesters have blocked the headquarters of the county’s leading television network, Televisa, to accuse it of biased coverage in the recent presidential elections. PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto defeated Andrés Manuel López Obrador earlier this month in a vote critics say was marred by fraud and tainted media coverage in favor of Peña Nieto’s campaign. López Obrador has challenged the election results in court. Televisa has even been accused of receiving payments from Peña Nieto’s supporters to skew its coverage. On Thursday, a massive crowd gathered outside the network’s studio, chanting "Tell the Truth."
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is drawing controversy in Britain, the first stop of his three-nation tour abroad. Britons heavily criticized Romney on Thursday after he questioned their country’s preparedness to host the Olympic Games. Romney was speaking to NBC’s Brian Williams.
Mitt Romney: "There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials. That, obviously, is not something which is encouraging, because in the Games, there are three parts that make Games successful. Number one, of course, are the athletes. That’s what overwhelmingly the Games are about. Number two are the volunteers, and they’ll have great volunteers here. But number three are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin."
Other Romney gaffes in Britain have included publicly disclosing a meeting with the head of the secretive British intelligence agency, the MI6, and calling British Labour Party opposition leader Ed Miliband "Mr. Leader." In response to Romney’s comments on the Olympics, British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country has adequately prepared for its host duties.
British Prime Minister David Cameron: "Well, look, we are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. I mean, of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."
The Olympic Games’ opening ceremonies are being held today. On Thursday, victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy took part in a "Special Olympics" in India to protest the chemical giant Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the London event. On December 3, 1984, around 40 metric tons of toxic gases leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. The Indian government said soon afterward that around 3,500 people died, but campaigners estimate the total number of dead due to the leakage at 25,000, with many people still suffering. Years after the leak, Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide. An organizer of the Bhopal Special Olympics called Dow’s involvement with the London Olympics an outrage.
Rachna Dhingra: "Children (of families) who have been poisoned by Union Carbide and Dow Chemical are taking part in an event called 'Bhopal Special Olympics' — it’s a day before the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games — to tell David Cameron and to Sebastian Coe that Dow Chemical needs to be kicked out of the Olympic Games, and also to the International Olympic Committee, who have signed a 10-year contract with Dow Chemical ’til 2020. We are doing are own games to tell them that their sponsorship will not be tolerated."
The longest-ever Palestinian hunger striker has ended his fast after 103 days in exchange for Israel’s pledge to release him five months early. Akram Rikhawi, who reportedly suffers from asthma and diabetes, began his hunger strike in mid-April to demand his release on medical grounds. He had been sentenced to nine years for transporting suicide bombers and was due to be released next June, but he will now be freed in January.
The Israeli government has asked its Supreme Court to approve the destruction of eight Palestinian hamlets in the South Hebron Hills so the Israeli military can use the area for training. The shepherds who live in the area were previously forced to evacuate by Israel but were later returned to their homes by a court order. Palestinian advocates say the move is part of a larger push to oust Palestinians from certain parts of the West Bank.
Back in the United States, experts are predicting a significant jump in the nation’s official poverty rate ahead of census figures this fall. The Associated Press reports the poverty rate will likely increase from 15.1 percent to 15.7 percent, its highest level in half a century. The estimate translates to a figure of 47 million, or one in six Americans, living below the poverty line.
The former CEO of the banking giant Citigroup is drawing headlines for publicly calling for the breaking up of the nation’s largest banks and for restoring the separation of commercial and investment banking. Sandy Weill made the comments in an interview with CNBC.
Sanford Weill: "What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking, have banks be deposit takers, have banks make commercial loans and real estate loans, and have banks do something that’s not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that’s not going to be too big to fail."
Becky Quick: "That’s a pretty radical idea, though, the idea of breaking up the investment banks and the banks. Are you suggesting going back and really breaking these companies up?"
Sanford Weill: "That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. I want to see the United States be the leader. I mean, and I really believe in our country. And we’re not going to be a leader if we keep on trashing our institutions."
Video footage has emerged of a New York City police officer roughing up a young man after stopping and searching him on a subway platform. In the footage, the officer accosts the young man before slamming him to the ground. The officer then throws the young man to the ground a second time. Activists say the video demonstrates the targeting of people of color under the New York City Police Department’s controversial policy of "stop and frisk."
An audiotape has been released of the 911 emergency call that uncovered the New York City Police Department’s secret spying on Muslim neighborhoods inside New Jersey. The Associated Press revealed last year NYPD agents photographed every mosque in Newark and eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses as part of a wider anti-Muslim spying program across the Northeast. On the tape from June 2009, a building superintendent told a 911 dispatcher he had discovered a suspicious apartment as part of a routine check.
Caller: "Came across an apartment where there’s some suspicious activity."
Dispatcher: "What’s suspicious?"
Caller: "Suspicious in the sense that the apartment has about — has no furniture except two beds, has no clothing, has New York City Police Department radios."
Caller: "There’s computers in there."
Dispatcher: "There’s what?"
Caller: "There’s computer hardware, software, you know, just laying around. There’s pictures of terrorists. There’s pictures of our neighboring buildings that they have."
Dispatcher: "In New Brunswick?"
The phone call led the NYPD to admit to the FBI and New Jersey police that the spying operation was taking place. The tape was finally released after the NYPD fought to block its disclosure.