Boko Haram Offers Prisoner Swap for Kidnapped Girls

The Boko Haram has released a video showing the first images of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls since their abduction nearly one month ago. Close to half of the nearly 300 girls are seen on the tape, chanting what appears to be a verse from the Qur’an. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is also shown and appears to offer the girls’ freedom in exchange for the Nigerian government’s release of all the group’s prisoners. Three of the girls are interviewed, saying they have not been harmed and have been converted to Islam.

Nigerian President: Girls Still in Nigeria

The Nigerian military says it has deployed 10 search teams in the remote northeastern part of the country, where the girls were seized. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says he does not believe reports the girls have been taken to neighboring Cameroon.

President Goodluck Jonathan: "The attackers are in a part of the Borno state described as Sambisa Forest, a forest area. And we are working with also the experts that will use the remote sensing to see that wherever they are, we will see. So the best we can say is that they are within the Sambisa area. Yes, I agree there are stories that, oh, they have moved them outside the country, and if they move that number of girls into Cameroon, people will see, so I believe they are still within Nigeria."

Amnesty: Nigerian Gov’t Knew of Imminent Attack on Girls’ School

The Nigerian government has faced criticism for a delayed response to the girls’ kidnapping. Both the U.S. and British governments are now accusing President Goodluck Jonathan of being slow to accept their offers of assistance. Meanwhile, Amnesty International also says the government failed to act on warnings of the Boko Haram’s plans to attack the girls’ school. Amnesty’s Adotei Akwei spoke at a news conference in Washington.

Adotei Akwei: "Amnesty International today confirmed that the Nigerian authorities actually were aware that an attack was imminent on the school at least four hours before it happened. And this is the result of multiple interviews in different locations, people speaking on condition of anonymity within the Nigerian military."

Protests for Girls’ Return Continue Worldwide

Over the weekend, protests continued in Nigeria for the girls’ return. The Nigerian musician Tiwa Savage joined a march on Saturday in Lagos.

Tiwa Savage: "We’re Nigerians, and this has happened to our sisters, our daughters, you know, our nieces. And I think we’ve left it too long to even speak up to this magnitude. So I think it’s important for every single person in any little way that we can help. Whether it’s rallying, posting, signing the petitions, nothing is too small in this matter."

Solidarity rallies with the "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign continued around the world over the weekend. Rosemary Mealy was among the demonstrators to march in New York City.

Rosemary Mealy: "We’re here as women of color to support this. But we’re also here demanding that the governments who are involved in the whole issue of supporting globalization and trafficking of girls and women, they have to step to the plate. This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Pro-Russian Groups Claim Victory in Fraught Referendum

Pro-Russian groups have claimed a landslide victory for a hastily organized referendum on self-rule in two parts of eastern Ukraine. The vote was held in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk less than two months after residents in Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The Russian government says it respects the results of the referendum, but has not indicated any plans to annex eastern Ukraine like it annexed Crimea. The referendum was held under chaotic circumstances with irregular voting conditions and violence between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian forces.

U.S. Operatives Kill 2 in Yemen; Drone Strike Kills 5

The State Department says U.S. operatives in Yemen have killed two people in a failed kidnap attempt. A Special Operations commander and a CIA officer were apparently getting haircuts in the capital Sanaa last month when two armed militants tried to take them into captivity. It is unclear what the American operatives were doing in Yemen, but they’ve since left the country. A spate of violence continued Sunday when a suicide bomber killed at least 10 Yemeni soldiers in a southern city. The attack was in apparent retaliation for a massive Yemeni campaign that has killed dozens of alleged al-Qaeda fighters in recent weeks. Earlier today, an apparent U.S. drone strike killed at least five alleged militants in eastern Yemen.

Obama Unveils New Renewable Energy Measures

President Obama delivered a speech in California on Friday touting new efforts on energy efficiency and solar power. Obama unveiled executive actions boosting spending on renewable energy and announced a series of commitments from private and public groups.

President Obama: "Two years ago, I ordered $2 billion in energy upgrades to federal buildings. Today, I’m ordering an additional $2 billion in upgrades over the next three years. And these upgrades will create tens of thousands of construction jobs and save taxpayers billions of dollars. The Department of Energy is putting a new efficiency standard — set of efficiency standards in place that could save businesses billions of dollars in energy costs and cut carbon pollution, and it’s the equivalent of taking about 80 million cars off the road."

Protests Oppose Wal-Mart as Venue for Obama Energy Speech

Obama chose to unveil his energy initiatives at the retail giant Wal-Mart, the country’s largest employer and a target of frequent criticism for its treatment of workers. Obama’s venue choice drew a protest from hundreds of people outside, including Wal-Mart workers seeking higher wages.

Dominic Ware: "He’s ignoring the fact that there’s workers that are starving and being mistreated day in and day out. And we wish that he was here speaking out on those issues. So, since that’s not the topic of discussion, we’re going to make it the topic of discussion."

Charmaine Givens-Thomas: "I have to depend on everything, every resource out there. I have to depend on food pantries. I have to go to government assistance to get my utilities paid. And I work for Wal-Mart, and been there almost nine years."

According to government figures, Wal-Mart gets just 3 percent of its electricity from wind and solar. In a statement, a coalition of more than 30 environmental, civil rights and labor groups criticized Obama for speaking at Wal-Mart, saying: "It’s hard to understand why President Obama … has decided to visit a company known for paying low wages and doing little to address its poor environmental record."

NYPD Recruiting Muslim Informants in City Jails

The New York City Police Department is running a program that recruits jailed Muslim immigrants to act as informants. According to The New York Times, a unit known as the "Citywide Debriefing Team" confronts mostly Muslim suspects after they are arrested for minor infractions. The immigrants have been asked to spy on cafes, restaurants and mosques as part of counterterrorism operations. Some have reported feeling intimidated by the encounters. The debriefing team appears to be formally separate from the controversial NYPD spying unit targeting Muslims disbanded just last month.

Sen. Paul Breaks with GOP on Voter ID Laws

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has called on fellow Republicans to drop an aggressive focus on voter ID laws, saying the party is alienating African Americans. Speaking after a meeting with black leaders in Memphis, Paul said: "Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing. I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people." Paul is the most prominent Republican to criticize the party’s push for voter ID laws, which opponents say disenfranchise people of color. Paul’s views on civil rights stirred a controversy as a candidate in 2010 when he publicly opposed enforcing the Civil Rights Act on private businesses.

Arkansas Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down

Several same-sex couples received their marriage licenses in Arkansas this weekend after a judge overturned the state’s marriage equality ban. Judge Chris Piazza’s ruling Friday made Arkansas the latest state to have its gay marriage ban struck down in court, following Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma so far this year. As in other states, the Arkansas attorney general says he plans to appeal, meaning the ban could be reinstated. Most county clerks’ offices that were open refused to grant the marriage licenses on Saturday, but over a dozen couples were processed at the county clerk in Eureka Springs. Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton were the first couple to obtain a license.

Jennifer Rambo: "We’re here today in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We’re here to get married. Pulaski County circuit judge lifted the ban for same-sex marriage, so we traveled down here today to —"

Kristen Seaton: "Exercise our right."

Hagel Backs Review of Transgender Ban in Military

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has voiced support for reviewing the military’s ban on transgender servicemembers. In an interview with ABC News, Hagel was asked if transgender people should be allowed to serve openly following the repeal of the ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers in 2010. Hagel did not endorse a repeal but said the ban should be reviewed.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "I do think it continually should be reviewed. I’m open to that, by the way. I’m open to those assessments, because — again, I go back to the bottom line: Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity, if they fit the qualifications and can do it. This is an area that we’ve not defined enough."

A recent commission co-chaired by former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders found there is "no compelling medical rationale" for banning transgender individuals from military service.

Michael Sam Becomes NFL’s 1st Openly Gay Player

College football star Michael Sam has made history as the National Football League’s first openly gay player. The St. Louis Rams picked Sam this weekend in the final round of the NFL draft, months after he came out publicly. Sam was a first-team, All-American and the Southeastern Conference’s defensive player for the year as a lineman for the University of Missouri. Sam broke into tears as he took the call informing him of his draft selection. The sports network ESPN showed footage of him kissing his boyfriend in celebration.


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