The militant Islamist group al-Shabab has announced its ban on foreign aid groups remains in place in Somali areas under its control. Al-Shabab reversed the longstanding ban earlier this month as the crisis in Somalia escalated into what the United Nations has now declared to be a famine threatening millions of people. The ban had grounded efforts to reach residents of drought-stricken areas across southern Somalia. Al-Shabab has also dismissed U.N. claims of a famine in Somalia as “100 percent false.” Touring southern Somalia on Thursday, World Food Programme executive director Josette Sheeran appealed for more aid.
Josette Sheeran: “They need fortified supplemental foods in massive quantities throughout the areas where they have been unable to be reached. So, mostly in southern Somalia we’re seeing a weakened population, and we have to focus on this. We have called on all global supply lines to supply these fortified foods. We need the contributions and the supply chain to not end.”
President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner are said to be close to a $3 trillion deficit-reduction package as part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling before an Aug. 2 deadline. The deal reportedly calls for lowering personal and corporate income tax rates, while eliminating or reducing an array of popular tax breaks. Some Democratic lawmakers expressed outrage on Thursday because the Obama-Boehner agreement appears to violate pledges to not cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, as well as Obama’s promise not to make deep cuts in programs for the poor without extracting tax concessions from the rich.
The Pentagon is expected to announce today it is prepared to implement the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy barring openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the U.S. military. President Obama signed the repeal into law last year but had deferred its implementation until military leaders gave their approval.
Greece has reached a deal with fellow eurozone members and international lenders for a second bailout package worth more than $156 billion. The Greek government received an initial $146 billion in an austerity agreement that triggered massive protests. European Commission president José Manuel Barroso praised the deal.
José Manuel Barroso: “We needed a credible package. We have a credible package. It deals with both the concerns of the markets and of citizens. It responds also to the concerns of all member states of the euro area. It is a package that every government has signed up to. For the first time, the crisis, politics and markets are coming together. Now I expect every one of them to go out and defend and implement, with determination, this package.”
Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi has ruled out talks with rebels amidst ongoing clashes. In remarks broadcast to a crowd of thousands of supporters, Gaddafi said there will be no negotiations with rebel forces until “Judgment Day.” Gaddafi’s troops are locked in fierce clashes with rebels east of the capital Tripoli, with rebels claiming to have captured a top pro-Gaddafi commander. NATO, meanwhile, is being accused of killing civilians in the city of Zlitan. On Thursday, foreign journalists were shown civilian sites allegedly hit by NATO bombs. A wounded Libyan man said a family of civilians was killed when NATO bombed their home.
Resident: “It was a civilian site. The whole family passed away. They didn’t die after the first air strike but died after the second one. It was a two-story building.”
Syrian troops continue a crackdown on the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Forces under the command of Assad’s brother have reportedly surrounded the Damascus suburb of Harasta, sealing off all entrances. Meanwhile in the central city of Homs, Syrian forces have reportedly shelled civilian areas and conducted a number of raids. Government forces have reportedly killed some 40 people in Homs this week. Amnesty International is warning the Assad regime may be torturing dozens of detained oppositions protesters outside the capital city of Damascus. The detainees were reportedly captured in a government raid last weekend.
The ruling military council in Egypt has sworn in a new cabinet amidst ongoing protests demanding a faster transition from the era of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The new cabinet has at least 10 new faces, but 13 top officials have stayed on.
News International head James Murdoch is being accused of misleading British lawmakers in testimony this week on the phone scandal engulfing the Murdoch media empire. Murdoch told a parliamentary committee he was unaware of widespread evidence phone hacking at the News International-owned News of the World when he approved a costly settlement in an individual case. But on Thursday, two former News International executives said they had expressly told Murdoch of an email that would undermine the company’s claims that phone hacking was only committed by one rogue reporter. British lawmakers say they plan to ask Murdoch to explain the differing accounts. In a separate development, a former News of the World private investigator at the heart of the scandal addressed rumors News International is refusing to pay his legal fees. The prospect of News International withholding support has fueled speculation that the investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, could identify company executives involved in the phone hacking. Mulcaire refused to answer questions about his plans.
Glenn Mulcaire: “Well, as you can appreciate, we’re in the middle of a number of inquiries at the moment, and it’s a very fluid and developing situation. And like I said, the developments have been different from day to day, and I have no further comment to make at this stage. However, this may change. Thank you very much.”
The British government has lost a bid to throw out a lawsuit over the repression of the Kenyan struggle for independence against colonial rule. On Thursday, a British court ruled a group of veterans of Kenya’s resistance movement can proceed with a lawsuit seeking compensation for human rights abuses during the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952 to 1960. More than 100,000 Kenyans are believed to have been killed in the British crackdown. Mau Mau veteran Gitu wa Kahengeri celebrated the ruling.
Gitu wa Kahengeri: “We are very, very happy with the ruling of the court in London today on our case. For a very long time now, we have remained steadfast in our pursuit for justice, for torture that we suffered under the British government. With today’s ruling, we are very happy that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
The computer hacker group known as Anonymous has released a trove of data it says was taken from computers belonging to NATO. In a defiant message, Anonymous called the move retaliation for a series of raids targeting alleged members earlier this week. Fourteen of the suspects were arrested for their alleged links to a December attack on the online payment site, PayPal. Anonymous took credit for the breach in response to PayPal’s suspension of accounts that donated money to the whistleblower website, WikiLeaks.
NASA has discontinued its space shuttle program after 30 years. The Atlantis space shuttle landed on Thursday at Kennedy Space Center for the last time. Bob Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center, said efforts would now focus on NASA’s space station.
Bob Cabana: “We’ve got to focus on going beyond earth now. We’ve learned how to work in low earth orbit. We’ve got a lot more to learn about deep space and about long-duration space flight. We’ve got a space station there as a result of this shuttle. I think that’s got to be one of the shuttle’s crowning achievements, that world-class laboratory that we have up there. Now we’ve got to utilize it.”