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The United Nations General Assembly has voted to reject Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The resolution was proposed by Ukraine and backed by the United States and European Union. Ukraine’s acting minister for foreign affairs, Andrii Deshchytsia, spoke before the vote.
Andrii Deshchytsia: "Over the last months, we have witnessed the most flagrant violations of international law since the inception of the United Nations. After two weeks of military occupation, an integral part of Ukraine has been forcibly annexed by a state that had previously committed itself to guarantee the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of my country."
The resolution declares this month’s referendum for secession in Crimea invalid. But Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said the people of Crimea had made the choice to join Russia.
Vitaly Churkin: "Mr. President, on March 21, an event occurred which is of truly historic significance, following the referendum in the Crimea, during which the overwhelming majority of the Crimean population voted in favor of being with Russia. Following that, there was a reunification of Crimea and the Russian Federation. We call on everyone to respect that voluntary choice, just as Russia has done."
Ukraine plans to hold elections on May 25 following the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Thursday she intends to run.
U.S. lawmakers in both the House and Senate have voted nearly unanimously to pass a $1 billion aid package for Ukraine. Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress could take further steps if needed.
Sen. Bob Menendez: "We will continue to engage in whatever we think would be helpful to position the United States in a way that exerts leadership with our European allies, gives President Putin a real sense that there are real consequences for any further actions, and also says to other global actors in the world: ’Don’t think about it, because it’s not going to be worth your time.’"
The U.S. aid package adds to $18 billion in loans to Ukraine from the International Monetary Fund in exchange for austerity reforms.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee has issued a wide-ranging report criticizing the human rights record of the United States. The report assessed U.S. compliance with a key human rights treaty and found it lacking in more than two dozen areas. Issues of concern included the Obama administration’s drone program, National Security Agency spying, the death penalty, detention of homeless people and immigrants, life sentences imposed on juveniles, racial profiling and police brutality. The committee called for closing Guantánamo, releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the George W. Bush administration’s torture and rendition program, and prosecuting those involved in torturing prisoners.
Four people have been killed after three bombs went off in a market area in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Today’s attack follows a wave of bombings that killed more than 30 people in Baghdad on Thursday. Meanwhile, the U.N. envoy to Iraq says about 400,000 people have been displaced so far this year by violence in western Iraq, including the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
President Obama announced Thursday insurance enrollment under his signature healthcare law has reached six million people. Signups have spiked in the lead-up to Monday’s deadline. The administration issued an extension until mid-April for those who apply but are not able to complete enrollment by March 31.
President Obama was in Italy Thursday where he met with Pope Francis for the first time. During his visit, protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome to criticize Obama’s policies. Among them was Piero Bernocchi, leader of the Cobas trade union.
Piero Bernocchi: "Obama has not changed the U.S. government policies, be it for the wars they engage in, nor the divisions the U.S. creates in several countries to be then able to intervene, or be it for the economic accords like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will be destructive for the environment and the social conditions in this country. Therefore we are here to say that he is not a welcome guest."
The death toll from a mudslide northeast of Seattle, Washington, stands at 25 with 90 still missing. Officials have warned the toll could rise "substantially" today or tomorrow pending reports from the medical examiner’s office.
BP has more than doubled its estimate for the size of its oil spill in Lake Michigan, which supplies drinking water to millions of people. The company now says up to 39 barrels or about 1,600 gallons of oil spilled from an Indiana refinery that processes tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada.
The U.S. Air Force has fired nine commanders entrusted with the oversight of nuclear weapons amid a cheating scandal at a base in Montana. A 10th official, who was the senior officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base, is also resigning follow reports of widespread cheating on exams.
A law firm hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says Christie had no prior knowledge of lane closings on the George Washington Bridge that were carried out in an apparent act of political retaliation. According to the report, the Port Authority official who oversaw the closings, David Wildstein, said he told Christie about them while they were in progress. But attorney Randy Mastro said Christie did not recall that conversation.
Randy Mastro: "We found that Gov. Christie had no knowledge beforehand of this George Washington Bridge realignment idea and that he played no role whatsoever in that decision or the implementation of it. We further found no evidence that anyone in the governor’s office, besides Bridget Kelly, knew of this idea in advance or played any role in the decision or the implementation of it."
The report cost taxpayers more than $1 million. Attorneys were unable to interview key figures at the center of the scandal, including David Wildstein and Bridget Anne Kelly, the former Christie aide who approved the closings.
A federal appeals court has upheld anti-choice restrictions that have shuttered a third of abortion clinics in Texas. Providers challenged the provisions on constitutional grounds, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them. Following the law’s passage, there are no abortion providers left in the Rio Grande Valley, the poorest part of Texas. When another provision requiring hospital-style building standards comes into effect in September, the statewide total could drop to six. This week, Planned Parenthood announced it would open a new clinic in San Antonio, Texas, that meets the building standards.
Texas has executed its fourth prisoner this year. Anthony Doyle was pronounced dead 25 minutes after being injected with pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy. His execution came hours after a state judge ordered prison officials to disclose the name of the state’s new supplier of pentobarbital to attorneys for two prisoners set for execution next month. The ruling came a day after an Oklahoma judge struck down that state’s law hiding information about execution drugs. An Amnesty International report Thursday ranked the United States fifth worldwide in the number of executions it carries out, after China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to open a probe into possible war crimes committed in Sri Lanka during the final phase of a military assault to crush Tamil separatists. Both sides are accused of carrying out serious abuses during the 26-year conflict, which ended in 2009. The council’s high commissioner, Navi Pillay, requested the inquiry into both the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels, or LTTE.
Navi Pillay: "Almost five years since the end of the conflict, it is important for the Human Rights Council to recall the magnitude and gravity of the violations alleged to have been committed at that time by the government and by the LTTE (Tigers of Tamil Eelam) which left thousands of civilians killed, injured or missing. Failure to address the grief and trauma among victims and survivors undermines confidence in the state and reconciliation."
In New York City, Domino’s workers have won nearly $450,000 in restitution after being paid below the minimum wage and denied overtime. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he reached the deal with the owners of 23 Domino’s stores. It follows a similar victory by McDonald’s employees, bringing the total amount of stolen wages regained by fast-food workers in New York City to nearly $1 million in two weeks. The Fast Food Forward campaign says more than 80 percent of New York City’s fast-food workers report wage theft. In related news, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has signed a bill raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour starting in 2017.
A U.S. Army veteran imprisoned at an immigration detention facility in Tacoma, Washington, says he has been placed in solitary confinement after calling for a work stoppage among prisoners. The Northwest Detention Center is owned by the for-profit GEO Group. Hassall Moses says he tried to type up a letter calling for fellow prisoners to protest by halting work, but the letter was intercepted, and he was placed in solitary confinement. Moses spoke in an audio recording made by an attorney.
Hassall Moses: "Basically, this facility is run by detainees. And if we everybody stopped working, then we could negotiate like the pay raise, because right now everybody’s working for a dollar. You know, we can negotiate. We could talk about the quality of the food, the living conditions."
Immigrants at the prison are in their third week of a hunger strike for better conditions and an end to record deportations.