U.S. Suspends Military Ties with Russia as Ukraine Standoff Continues
The United States has suspended all military ties with Russia and is preparing possible sanctions on top Russian officials amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Over the weekend, Russian troops seized parts of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula following the ouster of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Speaking earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Yanukovych is Ukraine’s only legitimate leader.
President Vladimir Putin: "The definition of what has happened in Kiev, and in Ukraine as a whole, the definition could be the only one: It is an unconstitutional coup and a military seizure of power. Nobody is arguing with that. Who is arguing with that?"
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations said Russia had deployed 16,000 troops in the Crimean Peninsula and had called for Ukrainian forces to surrender. Putin said Russia would use military force only as a "last resort" in the event of "lawlessness" and would take action only to protect the Ukrainian people. On Monday, President Obama said the United States is considering a range of steps against Russia.
President Obama: "I think the strong condemnation that it’s received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia is on the wrong side of history on this. We are strongly supportive of the interim Ukrainian government. John Kerry is going to be traveling to Kiev to indicate our support for the Ukrainian people, to offer very specific and concrete packages of economic aid, because one of the things we’re concerned about is stabilizing the economy, even in the midst of this crisis."
Kerry is meeting with interim leaders in Ukraine today. Earlier today, the Ukrainian Parliament approved a deal to receive $839 million in loans from the European Union, while Russia’s state gas company, Gazprom, said it would cancel its discount for Ukraine.
Yemen: At Least 3 Killed by U.S. Drone Strike
A U.S. drone strike has reportedly killed at least three people in Yemen’s Marib province near the town of Shebwan. Tribal sources said a drone hit the vehicle of a suspected al-Qaeda fighter, killing him and two other occupants. Two civilians tending sheep nearby were reportedly wounded. Reuters reported there was a second drone strike in Yemen, saying at least four people had been killed in the two strikes. Last week, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to condemn the drone strikes, passing a resolution that calls for member states to ban extrajudicial killings. The vote was 534 to 49.
U.S. Peace Activist Medea Benjamin Detained, Abused in Egypt
U.S. peace activist Medea Benjamin says she was detained at Cairo’s airport by Egyptian police who broke her arm and held her without explanation. Benjamin had intended to meet up with international delegates before traveling to Gaza for a women’s conference. But she said she was detained upon arrival and held overnight before being deported to Turkey where she is now seeking medical treatment. Her detention came as Egypt banned all activities of the Palestinian group Hamas. We’ll hear directly from Benjamin later in the broadcast.
Report: Nearly 14,000 Afghan Forces Died in U.S.-Led War
New data from the Afghan government shows Afghan forces have borne the brunt of the U.S.-led invasion, with nearly 14,000 Afghan soldiers and police killed in the war, a far higher toll than previously known. Most of the deaths happened in the past three years as the United States transferred more authority to the Afghans. More than 16,000 Afghan forces were wounded. The Afghan death toll is four times higher than that of the U.S.-led coalition, which has seen more than 3,400 soldiers killed, about 2,300 of them Americans. The report follows Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s statement to The Washington Post that "Afghans died in a war that’s not ours."
President Hamid Karzai: "If you go to President Obama’s speeches, he repeatedly says that he is here for the sake of American interests, for the safety of America and for the security of America, and that they’re here in Afghanistan helping Afghanistan in order to help America; therefore, it’s not for us."
President Karzai has so far refused to sign a deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, leading Obama to threaten a total withdrawal.
Iraq: More Than 700 Confirmed Dead in February
Iraq is also continuing to see increased levels of violence. The United Nations confirmed more than 700 people died in Iraq in February alone, most of them civilians, a higher toll than the same month last year. The total does not include nearly 300 deaths reported in Anbar province where security forces are fighting rebels.
U.N. Proposes 12,000-Member Peacekeeping Force for Central African Republic
The United Nations has proposed a nearly 12,000-member peacekeeping force for Central African Republic where sectarian conflict has raised fears of a possible genocide. At least 2,000 people have died and more than 700,000 have been displaced since December amid fighting between Muslim rebels and Christian vigilantes. The European Union is preparing to deploy hundreds of soldiers to join thousands of African and French troops already on the ground.
Knife Attack Suspects Arrested in China
Authorities in China say all eight suspects who attacked a train station armed with knives have either been arrested or killed. Four alleged assailants were shot by police after the attack in Kunming, which killed 29 people and wounded many more. Another four suspects have been arrested. The government has blamed separatist members of China’s Uyghur minority.
Mozambique: 300,000 Facing Famine
In the southeastern African country of Mozambique, officials are warning more than 300,000 people are facing famine this year. Agriculture Minister José Pacheco said the conditions stem from factors including plagues of insects, floods and drought.
Netanyahu, Obama Meet at White House
President Obama met with his close ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House on Monday. Obama said he assured Netanyahu of his "absolute commitment" to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and also urged him to embrace a U.S.-brokered peace process with the Palestinians. Netanyahu took a firm stance.
President Benjamin Netanyahu: "The only peace that will endure is a peace that we can defend. And we’ve learned from our history, Jewish history, but I think from general history, that the best way to guarantee peace is to be strong. And that’s what the people of Israel expect me to do, to stand strong against criticism, against pressure, stand strong to secure the future of the one and only Jewish state."
Report: Israeli Settlements in West Bank Doubled Last Year
President Obama’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came as Israeli government figures showed Israel initiated more than twice as many West Bank settlement homes last year than it did the previous year. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics said construction began on more than 2,500 settlement housing units in 2013, compared to just more than 1,100 the year before. Last year’s number is the highest in a decade. In the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, Palestinian residents and local officials say Israel has demolished hundreds of homes.
Ali Ka’abneh, Jordan Valley resident: "The Israeli occupation forces came here on the 29th. They came in the morning, of course, while we were sleeping, at 6:30 with their bulldozers and their soldiers. They gave us 10 minutes to leave the buildings we lived in, and then they demolished them all at once, without any warning at all."
Arif Daraghmeh, head of Al-Maleh Council: "The occupation has demolished more than 500 structures in the past year alone in this area, and now the Israeli army and occupation is carrying out all these policies in order to pressure the people and drive them out. They have demolished these tents and driven out the inhabitants, and they plan to have exercises in this area and to build more settlements and military camps."
Contractor for Israel's West Bank Barrier Wins U.S.-Mexico Border Contract
An Israeli contractor that provides surveillance systems along Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank has won a $145 million contract to provide similar technology along the U.S.-Mexico border. Bloomberg reports the contract with Elbit Systems could reach $1 billion if an immigration bill passes.
Report: U.S. Border Agents Stepped in Front of Cars to Justify Shootings
U.S. border agents are facing new scrutiny for killing migrants, with 21 civilian deaths reported since 2010. The Los Angeles Times obtained a report by law enforcement experts that criticized the Border Patrol’s "lack of diligence" in investigations and found agents deliberately stepped into the paths of cars, apparently to justify shooting the drivers. U.S. Customs and Border Protection tried to suppress the report, omitting key findings when it was released to members of Congress. In its response to the report, the government rejected its two central recommendations: stopping agents from shooting at cars unless someone inside is trying to kill them, and blocking them from firing at people who are throwing things that cannot cause serious injury. Last week, McClatchy reported that in January a border agent shot and killed a migrant in Arizona who appeared to be on his knees. The agent claimed the victim lunged for his gun.
Mexico: Hospitals Accused of Turning Away Indigenous Women in Labor
Mexico’s Human Rights Commission is investigating possible medical negligence over the care of indigenous women giving birth in the southern state of Oaxaca. In one case, an indigenous woman died from an infection after scissors were left in her uterus. A second woman was refused care at a hospital and gave birth in a nearby bathroom. A wave of reports about indigenous women being turned way from hospitals has highlighted discrimination in Mexico’s medical system. McClatchy reports women have given birth on the lawns or steps of hospitals at least seven times since the middle of last year.
Chile: Daughter of Ousted President Allende to Lead Senate
In Chile, the daughter of ousted President Salvador Allende is poised to become the first female leader of the Senate. Senator Isabel Allende will take up the post next week after she was selected by lawmakers from the party of President-elect Michelle Bachelet. Allende’s father also led the Senate before he was elected president in 1970. He was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup on September 11, 1973. He died in the presidential palace on that day.
Supreme Court Considers Role of IQ Tests in Death Penalty Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a key death penalty case concerning the execution of prisoners with mental disabilities. Freddie Lee Hall, a convicted murderer, who professionals say is mentally disabled, is challenging Florida’s strict use of an IQ test to determine whether he lives or dies. The Supreme Court banned the execution of mentally disabled prisoners in 2002 but allows states to determine who meets that definition. Florida is among the states where prisoners who score a 70 or higher on an IQ test can be executed, despite other evidence of disabilities. Hall has scored above 70, but multiple medical professionals say he is disabled, and an earlier judge ruled he "had been mentally retarded his entire life." During arguments Monday, a majority of Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical of Florida’s rigid use of the IQ test.
In Rare Interruption, Supreme Court Urged to Uphold Campaign Spending Caps
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a key campaign finance case that has been dubbed "the next Citizens United." The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, is named for Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican donor who wants the court to throw out the aggregate limits on what an individual can donate in a single election cycle. Critics say striking down the caps would do for individuals what the Citizens United case did for corporations, opening the floodgates for unlimited spending. In a rare action last week, a campaign finance activist interrupted proceedings inside the Supreme Court chamber. Kai Newkirk of 99Rise spoke out in what is reportedly the only known video of the Supreme Court in session.
Kai Newkirk: "I rise on behalf of the vast majority of the American people who believe that money is not speech, corporations are not people, and our democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder. Overturn Citizens United. Keep the cap in McCutcheon. The people demand democracy."
A number of groups, including Public Citizen, are planning to hold more than 100 actions across the country on the day the McCutchen ruling is issued.
78 Groups Urge Scrutiny of Wall Street Cash in Local Housing Markets
A group of 78 organizations are asking federal regulators to address problems caused by private equity firms buying up local housing markets. The group says the bulk sale of foreclosed homes and an influx of Wall Street money are displacing renters, pricing out first-time homebuyers and laying the grounds for another mortgage crisis. They say the drive for higher profits coupled with a lack of oversight is particularly hurting low-income borrowers and people of color.
U.S. Allows Sale of Generic Morning-After Pills Without Age Limits
Young people in the United States will now have an easier time purchasing emergency contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The Obama administration says it will allow generic brands of the morning-after pill to be purchased over the counter without age restrictions. Previously, only the more expensive brand-name Plan B One-Step was available without a prescription to people of all ages.