Talks aimed at easing the crisis in Ukraine have produced an agreement calling for pro-Russian groups to surrender government buildings in the eastern part of the country. The United States, Russia, Ukraine and European Union all backed the deal, which calls for the groups to disarm and vacate occupied areas. But the deal appears unlikely to ease tensions between the United States and Russia as Russian troops remain massed along Ukraine’s border. Speaking Thursday, President Obama warned the United States could take more steps if Russia does not back down.
President Obama: "Our strong preference would be for Mr. Putin to follow through on what is a glimmer of hope coming out of these Geneva talks. But we’re not going to count on it until we see it. And in the meantime, we’re going to prepare what our other options are."
Ukraine has offered amnesty to pro-Russian separatists as long as they are not suspected of serious crimes. But those occupying the government building in the city of Donetsk are so far refusing to leave.
Masked men in Donetsk reportedly handed out fliers to Jewish people this week calling for them to register and pay a fee of $50. While the leaflets purported to be from a pro-Russian leader, the group has denied any involvement. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the fliers.
Secretary of State John Kerry: "In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it’s grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable."
The pro-Russian separatists have denounced the fliers as a provocation, and the supposed order has not been enforced.
Iran is ahead of schedule on diluting its supply of nuclear material under an agreement with the United States and other world powers. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has reduced its stock of highly enriched uranium by nearly 75 percent. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said the United States has taken steps to release $450 million in frozen Iranian funds.
Marie Harf: "To remind people, to this point all sides have kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan of Action. As Iran remains in line with its commitments under the JPOA, the United States and its P5+1 partners and the European Union will continue to uphold our commitments, as well."
In South Sudan, at least 20 people were killed when gunmen attacked a United Nations base where thousands of civilians were sheltering. A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack.
Stéphane Dujarric: "This attack on a location where civilians are being protected by the United Nations is a serious escalation. The secretary-general reminds all parties that any attack on United Nations peacekeepers is unacceptable and constitutes a war crime."
On Wednesday, Ban Ki-moon warned up to a million people are facing famine in South Sudan unless immediate action is taken by the international community.
A former defense minister of El Salvador is facing deportation from the United States for his role in atrocities during the 1980s, including the murder of Archbishop Óscar Romero and the massacre of more than 1,000 people in El Mozote. Judge Michael Horn found General José Guillermo García helped hide the involvement of soldiers in the 1980 killing of four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador. Judge Horn said García "fostered, and allowed to thrive, an institutional atmosphere in which the Salvadoran armed forces preyed upon defenseless civilians under the guise of fighting a war against communist subversives." At the time, the United States was heavily backing the Salvadoran military. García received political asylum in the United States in 1990. The judge’s decision was issued in February, but released to The New York Times last week.
Immigrants and their supporters from across New England blocked the entrance to a jail used to detain immigrants in Boston Thursday to protest the Obama administration’s record deportations, which have reached an estimated two million. Nineteen people were arrested while more than 150 others rallied to support them. The protesters want Massachusetts lawmakers to approve a bill limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities under the Secure Communities program. But speakers like Andrés del Castillo targeted President Obama.
Andrés del Castillo: "You are tearing us apart! You are allowing us, like in my family, not to testify to the fact that we suffer domestic violence, not to testify to the fact that we suffer so many different abuses! Why? Because we’re afraid to call police! Why? Because the police will send us to these people! Because the police will send our moms and our dads to jail! ... I also want to say, I direct that message directly to the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama! That is to you, as a son of an immigrant! As a son of someone else that comes from a different land, you should know better than any that we deserve rights, that we deserve dignity, and you should be recognizing our families!"
Family members of immigrants in detention or facing deportation have launched a hunger strike outside the White House as part of the #Not1More [deportation] campaign. Speaking Thursday, Obama placed the blame on House Republicans for blocking comprehensive immigration reform.
President Obama: "I know there are Republicans in the House, as there are Republicans in the Senate, who know this is the right thing to do. I also know it’s hard politics for Republicans, because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this. But what I also know is that there are families all across the country who are experiencing great hardship and pain because this is not getting resolved."
The military tribunal for five men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks has been adjourned until June following reports the FBI tried to infiltrate the defense team. The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, acknowledged an apparent FBI investigation on Thursday. Defense attorneys say the FBI recruited a contractor on their team as a secret informant. Agents apparently approached the contractor as part of a probe into how journalists obtained a document written by one of the defendants, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The youngest person ever to be prosecuted on terrorism charges in the United States has been sentenced to five years in prison for his role in an online conspiracy to kill a Swedish artist. Mohammad Hassan Khalid was just 15 years old and living in Maryland when he began chatting online with a woman known as Jihad Jane, who is now serving a 10-year sentence for her role in the plot. Khalid’s attorneys had argued for leniency, saying his age and other factors made him vulnerable.
Residents in the town of Marionville, Missouri, are calling for the resignation of their mayor after he made statements supporting the anti-Semitic views of Frazier Glenn Miller, the white supremacist charged with killing three people at two Jewish community sites in Kansas last weekend. Mayor Daniel Clevenger, who was just elected on Tuesday, came under fire after speaking to a local TV station about Miller.
Daniel Clevenger: "He was always nice and friendly and respectful of elder people. You know, he respected his elders greatly, as long as they were the same color as him. ... I kind of agreed with him on some things, but I don’t like to express that too much."
A new report exposes critical flaws in the handling of a rape case involving star Florida State University football player Jameis Winston. In December, the local prosecutor said he lacked evidence to charge Winston. About a week later, Winston won the Heisman Trophy. Now The New York Times reports "there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university." Police closed the case without interviewing Winston, obtaining his DNA, or following "obvious leads" to identify witnesses, including one who videotaped the alleged assault. The university also failed to take action, allowing Winston to keep playing football. The mishandling appears to extend to other cases at FSU, and the report comes as students across the country demand their schools take action to hold students who commit sexual assault accountable. This week Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri announced what she called an "unprecedented" survey sent to 350 colleges and universities to collect information on how they handle sexual assault.
The radio journalist Robert Knight has died. Over the years, Knight co-founded the investigative news series "Contragate," later known as "Undercurrents," and hosted "Five O’Clock Shadow" and "Earthwatch" on New York City’s Pacifica radio station WBAI. He won the George Polk Award for his radio reporting on the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama.