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The United Nations is warning the ongoing violence in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives in just over a week. Fighting is continuing in half the country’s 10 states between government forces and soldiers loyal to the country’s ousted former vice president. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee. On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council approved a measure to nearly double the number of peacekeepers to around 15,000. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pleaded for an end to the violence.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "This is a political crisis which requires a peaceful political solution. In this season of peace, I urge the leaders of South Sudan to act for peace, stop the violence, start the dialogue, save your proud and newly independent country. There is no time to lose."
There have been reports of at least three mass graves in the fighting so far, including one where 34 bodies were found.
A series of bombings in Iraq has left at least 42 people dead and dozens more wounded. The Christmas Day attacks mostly targeted Christian areas. The New York Times reports the United States has rushed a new shipment of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to help the Iraqi government fight al-Qaeda militants. The CIA is also helping Iraqi forces target militant camps with aerial strikes.
The military government in Egypt has escalated its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, formally branding it a terrorist organization. The move was billed as a response to a suicide attack on a police station that killed 14 people earlier this week. But the Muslim Brotherhood has condemned the bombing and a Sinai-based militant group has claimed responsibility. Under the new designation, Brotherhood members and supporters can be immediately charged with belonging to a terrorist group.
Israel is reportedly preparing to announce a new round of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Anonymous Israeli officials say they expect to confirm up to 2,000 new homes to coincide with the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners next week. The news comes amidst new violence in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants killed an Israeli man working on the border wall with Gaza, prompting an Israeli strike that killed a three-year-old Palestinian girl.
Eighteen Haitians have died after their boat capsized near the Turks and Caicos Islands. The victims were among 50 migrants packed onto a sailboat that left Haiti in the hopes of reaching a foreign port. At least 30 Haitian migrants died in a capsizing off the Bahamas last month.
In Chile , eight former army officials have been convicted of murdering political opponents during the first months of the rule of General Augusto Pinochet. Close to 100 dissidents were killed in an operation known as the "Caravan of Death" after the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power. The ex-officials have been sentenced to terms of up to 15 years.
Russia has formally dropped charges against the Arctic 30 after granting them amnesty last week. The group of 28 activists and two journalists were jailed for two months for trying to stop Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. With the charges removed, they can now leave Russia after securing exit visas. Peter Willcox, the captain of the Arctic Sunrise, said his group refuses to apologize for opposing Arctic drilling.
Peter Willcox: "It has established that we have accepted amnesty. And that’s what we did. We accepted the amnesty. We don’t admit any guilt or feel we have anything to be blamed for. Greenpeace still has an issue with Gazprom drilling for oil in the Arctic. Scientists tell us that we have completely enough oil to push climate change past the place where we can live on the planet. We don’t need to drill for new oil, and we certainly don’t need to drill for it in the Arctic. So, we will be objecting to any oil drilling, and we will be objecting especially to drilling in the Arctic. We think it’s stupid."
The Arctic 30 were among an estimated 22,000 people granted amnesty last week, including two members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot. The move is widely believed to mark an attempt at bolstering Russia’s image ahead of its hosting of the Winter Olympics in just over a month.
A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling barring prisoners held in a U.S.-run Afghan jail from challenging their confinement. A three-judge panel says prisoners at Bagram Air Base do not have habeas corpus rights because Afghanistan is still a war zone for the United States. The ruling impacts hundreds of prisoners, including men who were captured in other countries and then transported to Afghanistan. Three of the plaintiffs in the case were captured outside of Afghanistan — in Thailand, Iraq and Pakistan.
Pope Francis delivered his first Christmas mass as head of the Catholic Church with a call for peace and protection of the environment. Francis told a crowd of 70,000 at St. Peter’s Basilica to pray for peace in conflict-ridden areas, including Syria and South Sudan. He also preached outreach to atheists and called for protection of the environment from "greed and rapacity."
Pope Francis: "Lord of heaven and earth, look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity. Help and protect all the victims of natural disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines, gravely affected by the recent typhoon."
The daughter of New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has revealed a longtime struggle with clinical depression and substance abuse. Chiara de Blasio said she has come forward to encourage people in need to seek help.
Chiara de Blasio: "Getting sober is always a positive thing. And it’s not easy. By no means is it easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s so worth it. I wanted to speak out because people are suffering from this disease and dying from this disease every day, and we really can’t do anything as a society to help those people until we start talking about it. And nobody can do sobriety on their own."
Bill de Blasio takes office on January 1.
The U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden has released a new video statement urging concerned citizens to unite against unfettered surveillance. In a Christmas Day address, Snowden said mass spying is undermining basic rights to privacy.
Edward Snowden: "Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do. Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go. Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be. The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together, we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying. For everyone out there listening, thank you and Merry Christmas."