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The United Nations Security Council has approved the deployment of a 12,000-member peacekeeping force to the Central African Republic, where violence between Christians and Muslims has sparked fears of genocide. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in months of fighting. Christian militias have been carrying out revenge killings following abuses by Muslim Séléka rebels who seized power in a coup last March. On Thursday, the country’s foreign minister praised the U.N.’s resolution to intervene.
Toussaint Kongo-Doudou: "We have the challenge of political reconciliation. So, as I mentioned in my speech, it’s not up to the international community to solve our problem. The U.N. or the international community will never solve a problem for any country in the world. But the U.N. will create the necessary framework where all the nationals, all the citizens of the Central African Republic will sit, discuss, talk to each other, in order to find a lasting solution to the crisis in the Central African Republic."
In the latest violence Tuesday, at least 30 people were killed when a Christian militia attacked a rebel-held town in a rural area north of the capital Bangui.
Tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine are continuing to rise. NATO has released satellite images showing Russian fighter jets and tanks near the Ukrainian border, where it says as many as 40,000 Russian troops have massed. Russia, meanwhile, has warned it could cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine if the government does not pay its debts, a move that could impact the gas supply to Europe. Speaking before a Senate panel Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, said the United States has launched a "truth-telling campaign" on Ukraine.
Victoria Nuland: "One cannot match the kind of money and effort in a closed society that Russia is putting into this, but we can certainly help our friends and partners debunk lies, get the straight story out. So we have redirected a great amount of public diplomacy funds to mounting our own truth-telling campaign."
Nuland was caught on tape earlier this year favoring certain officials to lead the new Ukrainian government, before President Viktor Yanukoych was ousted in a coup. Her apparent favorite, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is now interim prime minister. Yatsenyuk is in Yanukovych’s hometown of Donetsk today in a bid to ease tensions with pro-Russian demonstrators who have occupied a government building.
In Taiwan, police moved to expel protesters who have been occupying Parliament for more than three weeks in opposition to a new trade pact with China. Hundreds of protesters left on Thursday after the head of Parliament agreed to key demands. But hundreds more had remained overnight. Known as the Sunflower Movement, and carrying sunflowers as a symbol of hope, the students entered Parliament on March 18 to oppose the trade deal, which they say would benefit wealthy corporations while threatening democracy in Taiwan. Despite spates of violence and police attempts to oust them, they remained in place until this week. They now say they will take their movement to the broader society.
The United States has refused to give German Chancellor Angela Merkel access to her National Security Agency file or answer questions from Germany about U.S. surveillance. That information was revealed when a German Parliament member queried the German government about steps it had taken after reports the NSA spied on Merkel’s phone calls. The NSA has reportedly instituted a blanket policy of withholding records from people who want to know if the agency has spied on them.
President Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, is resigning after a five-year tenure. Sebelius came under intense criticism following the technical problems that plagued the launch of the healthcare law. On Thursday, Sebelius said about 7.5 million people have now signed up for insurance through the new private marketplaces. Today Obama is nominating Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius.
House Republicans are continuing their battle against Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the agency’s alleged targeting of political groups. An IRS unit used keywords to single out certain political groups, most of which were right-wing. On Thursday, a House committee voted to hold Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify at two panel hearings. A day earlier, another House panel voted to ask the Justice Department to consider criminal charges against Lerner.
Obama paid tribute to the civil rights movement and President Lyndon Johnson Thursday during an event at the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. Obama hailed the passage of social programs like Medicare as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted last year by the Supreme Court. The event marked 50 years since Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.
President Obama: "I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts, because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts, because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts, because I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us."
Outside the library, immigrant rights activists chained themselves to a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to protest the Obama administration’s record deportation of immigrants, two-thirds of whom have committed minor infractions, like traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.
The Justice Department has issued a report on what it called "systemic deficiencies" pervading the Albuquerque Police Department, where officers have shot and killed at least 23 people since 2010. Most recently, the department faced scrutiny for the killing of James Boyd, a homeless man who appeared to be surrendering before police opened fire. The report calls for 44 changes to policies and training, including better procedures for handling the mentally ill. The findings were outlined by Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
Jocelyn Samuels: "Our investigation looked at officer-involved shootings that resulted in fatalities between 2009 and 2012 and found that a majority of them were unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We found that officers used deadly force against people who did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious harm to the officers or to others, and against people who posed a threat only to themselves. In fact, we found that sometimes it was the conduct of the officers themselves that heightened the danger and escalated the need to use force."
The report also details abuses involving tasers, or stun guns, noting police once tased a 75-year-old man who refused to leave a bus station; tased and repeatedly kicked a developmentally disabled man who was unable to talk; tased a 16-year-old boy who refused to lie on a floor covered in broken glass; and tased a man who had poured gasoline on himself, thereby setting him on fire.
General Motors has placed two engineers on paid leave amid a widening scandal over an ignition switch defect linked to at least 13 and potentially hundreds of deaths. GM also added another repair to its recall of 2.6 million cars with faulty ignition switches. The cars will also require new ignition lock cylinders due to a flaw allowing keys to be removed while engines are still running. GM says it has received several hundred complaints about "keys coming out of ignitions."
A federal judge has accepted a guilty plea from the hedge fund SAC Capital, sealing a $1.2 billion criminal settlement for insider trading. In total, the firm has agreed to pay $1.8 billion to settle civil and criminal probes, marking what the Justice Department called the largest insider trading settlement in history. Eight former SAC employees have been convicted or pleaded guilty to criminal charges, but that list does not include founder and CEO Steven Cohen, who has not been criminally charged. Cohen’s firm, renamed Point72 Asset Management, will now oversee his $9 billion personal fortune.
Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the two journalists who broke the story about Edward Snowden’s leaks on National Security Agency surveillance, are returning to the United States today for the first time since their reports were released. They are attending a ceremony in New York today to receive the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting. Greenwald told The Huffington Post he wants to return because "certain factions in the U.S. government have deliberately intensified the threatening climate for journalists," and "it’s just the principle that I shouldn’t allow those tactics to stop me from returning to my own country." Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained for nine hours at London’s Heathrow Airport last year under an anti-terrorism law. Poitras, an award-winning filmmaker who reports on U.S. wars and surveillance, has also been detained dozens of times in the past when re-entering the United States.