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Heavy artillery fire has been rocking the Syrian city Homs in what is being described as one of the fiercest assaults on the city in the 11-month uprising. The opposition Syrian National Council says at least 50 people have been killed so far today. Meanwhile, Syrian army deserters have destroyed a military control post in northeastern Syria killing three officers. Nineteen soldiers were captured. The attacks come just days after Russia and China vetoed a United Nations resolution urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly criticized Russia and China for vetoing the resolution.
Hillary Clinton: "What happened yesterday at the United Nations was a travesty. Those countries that refused to support the Arab League plan bear full responsibility for protecting the brutal regime in Damascus."
China defended its veto, saying Western intervention in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq showed the error of forced regime change. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United Nations should not be taking sides in what has become a civil war.
Sergei Lavrov: "The problem is that the peaceful protesters have our full support, but they are more and more being used by the armed groups who create trouble. And this trouble is acquiring quite dangerous proportions. They attack not only police stations, they attack not only army troops when they move, not only barracks, they attacked state institutions, and they also intimidate people, telling them not to come to work, so that hospitals and shops do not open and a humanitarian crisis is artificially created."
The breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure has reversed its decision to cut off grants for Planned Parenthood following public outcry. Komen had provided Planned Parenthood $700,000 last year to provide education and breast care for low-income women. Huffington Post reports internal Komen emails show the main force behind Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood was Karen Handel, Komen’s vice president for public policy. Handel is a staunchly anti-abortion Republican who once served as secretary of state in Georgia. She also ran for governor in Georgia on an anti-Planned Parenthood platform. It has also been revealed that Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for George W. Bush, secretly helped Komen deal with the crisis.
In campaign news, the focus of the Republican race has turned to Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri ahead of Tuesday’s primary and caucuses. On Saturday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the caucus in Nevada.
Mitt Romney: "Thanks, you guys! Wow! What a great showing! Thank you, Nevada! You know, this is not the first time you gave me your vote of confidence, and this time I’m going to take it to the White House."
Mitt Romney received just more than 50 percent of the vote, slightly less than what he won in 2008. Romney won 13 of Nevada’s 16 counties, two fewer than he won in 2008. Turnout was very low in Nevada. Republican party officials had predicted caucus turnout could hit 60,000, but only about 34,000 voters took part, 10,000 fewer than in 2008. Following his second-place finish, Newt Gingrich vowed to stay in the race and amplified his personal criticism of Romney.
Newt Gingrich: "If you can’t tell the truth as a candidate for president, how can the country possibly expect you to lead as president? And I, frankly, was stunned. I make no bones about this. In the second Florida debate, I had nothing to say, because I had never before seen a person who I thought of as a serious candidate for president be that fundamentally dishonest. And it was blatant, and it was deliberate, and he knew he was doing it."
Ron Paul placed third in Nevada, and Rick Santorum placed fourth.
The Huffington Post reports the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch recently held a three-day retreat in California to raise money to help defeat President Obama. Attendees at the retreat pledged to give $100 million. Charles Koch pledged $40 million, while David Koch pledged $20 million.
U.S. military prosecutors have announced accused Army whistleblower Bradley Manning will face a full court-martial. He faces 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. He is accused of downloading thousands of classified files that later appeared on the WikiLeaks website.
An Army whistleblower who has served in the military since 1985 has come public to warn that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is failing and the American public is being misled. Lt. Col. Daniel Davis says his recent trips to Afghanistan "bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground." In an article published in the Armed Forces Journal, Davis writes: "How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?" Davis goes on to say that local Afghan governments are unable to provide the basic needs of the people and that insurgents control virtually all parts of Afghanistan beyond eyeshot of a U.S. base.
Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he expects a transition from combat to training to begin by the middle of 2013. But now Pentagon officials are admitting plans are afoot to expand the role of U.S. special operations forces inside Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, these forces could remain in the country well after the NATO mission ends in late 2014. Meanwhile, the United Nations has revealed 2011 was the deadliest year of the war for civilians in Afghanistan. Just more than 3,000 civilians were killed — up 8 percent over 2010. Georgette Gagnon is director for human rights for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan.
Georgette Gagnon: "2011 marked the fifth year in a row in which we’ve documented an increase in civilian deaths and injuries. 11,864 civilians in total have died in this conflict in the last five years, since 2007."
The United Nations estimates the Taliban and other insurgent groups were responsible for 77 percent of the civilian deaths in 2011. U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces killed at least 410 civilians last year.
President Obama said Sunday the United States is working in "lockstep" with Israel to deal with Iran’s disputed nuclear program. In an interview with NBC, Obama said he does not think that Israel has made a decision yet to attack Iran.
Matt Lauer of NBC: "Has Israel promised you that they would give you advanced warning to any such attacks, should they give you that warning?"
President Obama: "You know, I won’t go into the details of our conversations. I will say that we have closer military and intelligence consultation between our two countries than we ever have. And my number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel, and we are going to make sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this, hopefully diplomatically."
Antiwar groups held rallies on Saturday in about 80 cities across the United States protesting a possible strike on Iran. The slogan of the day was "No war, no sanctions, no assassinations, and no intervention." Iranian-American activist Ali Reza took part in the protest in Los Angeles.
Ali Reza: "In my opinion, America has one and only one goal in that region: to control the, basically, oil of the region, to put—to control—even by extension, to control China and India as two great emerging power. So therefore, I think this particular scenario, political scenario, whether be it sanction and be it war, is exactly for the same reason." (Video courtesy of Global Voices for Justice)
Columbia University Professor Hamid Dabashi took part in the New York rally at Times Square.
Hamid Dabashi: "We are here today to protest against the possibility of war, yet another war in the Middle East, this time against Iran. When I say 'possibility,' there are many reasons to believe the war has already started. There are severe, crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iran, for which ordinary Iranians are suffering. It is now February, reminiscent of February 2003, when hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were out demonstrating against the war in Iraq, and yet again, we are, almost 10 years later, fearful for a war in Iran. We are here asking for peace—namely, no war; justice, namely, in Iran; and democracy for Iran."
In economic news, the nation’s official unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in January, its lowest level in three years. The Labor Department said 243,000 jobs were added in the month. President Obama spoke soon after the jobs figures were released.
President Obama: "So I want to send a clear message to Congress: Do not slow down the recovery that we’re on. Don’t muck it up. Keep it moving in the right direction."
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed suit against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo for deceptive and fraudulent use of a private database known as the Mortgage Electronic Registration System. Schneiderman said, "The mortgage industry created MERS to allow financial institutions to evade county recording fees, avoid the need to publicly record mortgage transfers and facilitate the rapid sale and securitization of mortgages en masse."
At least 11 Occupy D.C. protesters were arrested Saturday just blocks from the White House as the U.S. Park Police evicted activists who had been sleeping in McPherson Square since October 1. On Sunday, police also cleared a second encampment at Freedom Plaza. Occupy D.C. protester Todd Fine criticized the police action.
Todd Fine: "It’s a bit absurd. And I would say that you know the country is pretty far gone when the Park Police look like a branch of the military."
Meanwhile, police in Texas have evicted Occupy Austin protesters who had been camping outside City Hall since October. Police have also recently shut down Occupy encampments in Honolulu and Miami.
Egypt’s military-led government has announced it will put 19 Americans and two dozen others on trial over the foreign funding of non-governmental organizations. Many of the Americans work for three groups that receive government funding: the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House. Egypt’s IRI office is headed by Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The IRI and NDI have long been accused of meddling in foreign affairs. Ahead of the 2004 coup in Haiti, the IRI held trainings in the Dominican Republic and Miami for Haitians who later took part in the coup that ousted the president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
In New York City, a Yemeni activist was arrested Sunday for attempting to throw his shoe at Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The activist was taking part in a protest when Saleh emerged from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where he has been staying. The protest was organized by the Yemeni American Coalition for Change, a group that has criticized the Obama administration’s decision to allow Saleh to enter the United States.
In Russia, as many as 120,000 protesters braved cold weather and marched against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin one month ahead of the presidential election. Ilya Yashin is a leading Russian opposition activist.
Ilya Yashin: "The essence of our demands is simple: let’s do away with absolute supremacy, right? Glory to the republic, right? Give the people back the elections, right?"
Three Tibetans in southwestern China have set themselves ablaze in protest against Chinese rule. One person died at the scene, while the other two were seriously injured. At least 19 Tibetans have self-immolated throughout the past 11 months calling for freedom for Tibet.
At least one person has died in Panama after police tried to break up a protest by indigenous groups against the recent approval of mines and reservoirs in their region. For days, the indigenous groups have blockaded the Pan-American Highway. At least one indigenous activist died, and another 39 were injured on Sunday. Indigenous leader Rogelio Montezuma said the protests will continue.
Rogelio Montezuma: "We can paralyze the entire country. We’ve been saying it since Monday. They haven’t wanted to believe us, and we’re showing them now. We don’t want them to say that since the (national) assembly isn’t meeting, we have to wait until Monday."
The Iraqi-American doctor, Rafil Dhafir, has been re-sentenced to 22 years in prison. Dhafir was arrested in 2003 in part for sending humanitarian aid to Iraq in violation of the U.S. sanctions.
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