Nigeria has apparently ruled out talks of a prisoner swap with the Boko Haram to free the more than 260 schoolgirls held captive for over a month. A Nigerian minister had opened the door to freeing the girls in return for releasing the group’s prisoners. But on Wednesday, British Minister Mark Simmonds said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has precluded negotiations.
Mark Simmonds: "The president made very clear to me that he wasn’t prepared to negotiate with Boko Haram for the exchange of the abducted girls and prisoners. But what he also made very clear to me is that he wanted his government to continue a dialogue to make sure that a solution could be found and that security and stability could return to northern Nigeria for the medium and the long term."
The news comes as the Boko Haram has carried out a new attack near the school in Chibok where the girls were seized, killing four Nigerian soldiers. A group of villagers meanwhile have reportedly killed and detained scores of alleged Boko Haram fighters in an ambush.
The death toll from the mining disaster in western Turkey has reached at least 282, the worst-ever mining accident in Turkish history. The number could rise with hundreds still missing. Turkish unions are holding a one-day strike today in protest of what they call lax government oversight. The International Labor Organization says Turkey has the world’s third-highest rate of worker deaths.
The United Nations is warning South Sudan is on the brink of famine and genocide unless warring factions end their fighting. Thousands have been killed and more than one million people have fled their homes since clashes broke out in December. After a visit to South Sudan last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate truce.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Ladies and gentleman, I was extremely alarmed by what I saw and heard during my brief visit to South Sudan. The threat of massive famine is clear and present danger. If the conflict continues, half of South Sudan’s 12 million people will be run out of their homes, starving or dead by the end of this year. To avoid famine, we are calling for 30 days of tranquility, and I have also called for a tribunal to ensure accountability for the crimes committed by both sides."
South Sudan was due to hold presidential elections next year, but they have now been postponed as part of reconciliation efforts.
An Al Jazeera journalist on hunger strike against his imprisonment in Egypt has reportedly been moved to solitary confinement in a maximum security prison. Abdullah Elshamy has been held without charge for close to nine months and on hunger strike since January 23. In a video taken before his transfer to solitary, a frail-looking Elshamy said he has been denied medical treatment.
Abdullah Elshamy: "I record this video after I have reached 106 days of my hunger strike to hold the Egyptian government, the Egyptian judiciary and the general prosecutor my responsibility, if anything ever happens to me. I have requested several medical checkups from independent sources, and yet this help has not been provided."
Thousands of fast-food workers are staging a one-day strike today in least 150 cities across the country. Workers are demanding the right to organize and calling for a doubling of their wages from the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. Organizers with Fast Food Forward say workers in more than 30 countries around the world are also joining the day of action.
Thousands of people have been evacuated in southern California amid raging wildfires. A local emergency has been declared in San Diego County, which is enduring 100-degree weather and dry winds. Around 10 fires have burned an estimated 15,000 acres so far.
Same-sex marriages will begin in Idaho on Friday after a federal judge denied a state request for an injunction. Judge Candy Dale ruled this week the Idaho ban violates couples’ equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment. Idaho had wanted the ruling on hold pending its appeal. But on Wednesday, Dale said she sees no reason to halt the marriages because she expects the appeal to fail. The Idaho ruling was the latest in a series of marriage equality rulings sweeping the country, with seven state bans struck down this year. Same-sex marriage bans are now facing court challenges in 31 of the 33 states that enforce them.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling that struck down the state’s strict voter ID law. The law requires voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot. A state judge had ruled the law violates the Arkansas Constitution, but the state’s highest court now says the judge did not have the authority to make that decision. The measure was enacted last year after the Republican-led Legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.
North Dakota has appealed a federal court ruling that overturned the state’s anti-abortion law, the harshest in the country. The measure banned abortion once a fetal or embryonic heartbeat can be detected, which happens at about six weeks of pregnancy when many women do not know they are pregnant. It was slated to take effect in August. Meanwhile, the Louisiana State Senate has passed a sweeping anti-choice bill similar to the one that has shuttered a third of abortion clinics in Texas. The bill would require abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, a step that is often impossible, in part because the providers admit so few patients to hospitals. Critics say the Louisiana measure would close three of the state’s five abortion clinics.
An undocumented Mexican immigrant set for deportation has taken refuge in an Arizona church. Daniel Neyoy Ruiz was ordered to report for deportation earlier this week. He instead took sanctuary in a Tucson church that once helped take in Central American refugees in the 1980s. Ruiz has lived in the United States for 14 years and has a U.S.-born teenage son. He said: "I’ll do anything it takes to stay with my family." His action comes as President Obama is expected to unveil revisions to his deportation policy in the coming weeks.
A Mexican is suing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for holding him in solitary confinement and mistreating him for five months. Mississippi police arrested Fernando Figueroa-Barajas in September on a traffic violation. Figueroa says ICE agents shackled three parts of his body and beat him until he bled profusely from the face. After realizing the severity of his injuries, Figueroa said agents wrongly placed him on suicide watch, allowing them to hold him for five months.
The Pentagon says it will try to transfer jailed Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison in order to grant her request for hormone therapy. Manning announced her transition to living as a woman last year following her sentencing for leaking government files to WikiLeaks. It is the first time the Pentagon has granted such a request.
In New York, activists have interrupted a speech by the New York state health commissioner to demand Medicaid coverage for transgender healthcare. A 1998 regulation bars transgender people in New York from accessing hormone therapy and other forms of care through Medicaid. On Wednesday, members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project took over the stage at a health conference during a keynote address by Commissioner Howard Zucker. They displayed a banner with the hash tag "#TranshealthcareNOW." Member Reina Gossett spoke from the stage for several minutes.
Reina Gossett: "We’re here to say that right now the New York State Department of Health has a regulation that specifically excludes transgender people from accessing healthcare under Medicaid. Commissioner Howard Zucker has the power to change that. Please join us in demanding that Commissioner Zucker and the Department of Health end discrimination against transgender people in the great state of New York."
In a possible victory for transgender rights at the federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to announce an end to Medicare’s blanket ban on sex reassignment surgery.
In media news, The New York Times has ousted its top editor, the first-ever woman to hold the position. Executive Editor Jill Abramson was replaced in a surprise move from publisher Arthur Sulzberger. The New Yorker reports Abramson had recently complained about earning less pay than her male predecessor, Bill Keller. She had also voiced concerns about business decisions and advertising interfering with the newsroom. Abramson has been replaced by Managing Editor Dean Baquet, who becomes the first African American to take up the post. While working at the Los Angeles Times, Baquet was accused of quashing a story on the involvement of phone companies in the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. Baquet received complaints from top U.S. intelligence officials at the time, but says that played no role in his decision.
The French photojournalist Camille Lepage has died while covering the conflict in Central African Republic. Lepage’s body was found murdered after French troops stopped a vehicle driven by Christian militants. Friends and colleagues say Lepage was dedicated to documenting Africa’s overlooked conflicts. She was 26 years old.