Heavy fighting has been reported in the Syrian capital of Damascus as armed rebels battled Syrian security forces. Opposition activists described today’s fighting as the most violent gun battles in Damascus since the start of the year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The fighting comes just two days after a double car bombing killed at least 27 people in the heart of the city. Kofi Annan, special joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, warned about the Syrian crisis escalating.
Kofi Annan: “I think we need to handle the situation in Syria very, very carefully. Yes, we tend to focus on Syria, but any miscalculation that leads to major escalation will have impact in the region, which will be extremely difficult to manage. Some people have a tendency to compare it with Libya or the situation, but I believe Syria will be much more complex.”
The U.S. military has identified the Army staff sergeant suspected of gunning down 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children. Robert Bales is a 38-year-old man who enlisted in the military after the Sept. 11 attacks. He is a father of two who served three tours in Iraq. He is being held in solitary confinement in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai raised doubts that Bales could have carried out the massacre alone.
Hamid Karzai: “On the question of the account of the one person supposedly who has done this, the story of the village elders and the affectees is entirely different. They believe it is not possible for one person to do that. In his family [pointing to one of family members] in four rooms people were killed, children and women were killed, and then they were all brought together in one room and then put on fire. That, one man cannot do.”
Afghan protesters are continuing to call for Bales to be tried in Afghanistan.
Jamal Khan: “We don’t want the laws practiced by the Americans and other foreigners. We have our Koran and our Islamic law, and the U.S. perpetrator must be put on trial according to our laws.”
In news from Afghanistan, a pair of human rights groups have accused the United States of recently sending at least 11 prisoners to an Afghan prison in Kandahar, despite torture allegations at the facility. In October, the United Nations said prisoners were systematically tortured during interrogations at the prison.
Here in New York, Occupy Wall Street protesters attempted to reclaim Zuccotti Park, which they named Liberty Square, on Saturday six months after the first Occupy protest occurred. After hundreds gathered peacefully, police used force to clear the park on Saturday night.
Occupy Wall Street Protester: “The police then began to use the barricades, holding it chest high, pushing people back, beating them back out of the park, off of the sidewalks, and then pushed them back across the street onto this sidewalk, pushing people down in the process, hitting them in the face.”
At least 73 Occupy protesters were arrested.
In election news, the Republican candidates are campaigning in Illinois today ahead of tomorrow’s primary. On Sunday, Mitt Romney easily won the Puerto Rico Republican presidential primary.
Amnesty International has accused NATO of failing to investigate the killing of dozens of civilians during its air campaign in Libya last year. Amnesty also called on NATO to provide reparations to the people affected. Donatella Rovera of Amnesty said, “Victims and relatives of those killed by NATO air strikes remain in the dark about what happened and who was responsible.” A year ago today, U.S. and British forces fired more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles marking the beginning of seven months of NATO air strikes.
The Yemeni government revealed Sunday more than 2,000 people have been killed since anti-government protests began a year ago. The dead include 120 children. The figure is much higher than human rights groups estimated. Meanwhile, a U.S. man named Joel Shrum has been shot dead in the Yemeni city of Taiz. The International Training Development Centre in Taiz said Shrum was an American development worker living in Yemen with his wife and two children since 2010.
In news from the Occupied Territories, Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi has entered her 33rd day on a hunger strike to protest her detention by the Israeli government. She is being held without charge or trial. Shalabi can reportedly no longer stand and has very low blood pressure.
Ran Cohen, executive director at Physicians for Human Rights, Israel: “The situation is of course deteriorating. According to our physician, she is suffering from muscle atrophy wasting as well as weakness, and she is losing consciousness periodically and so on.”
In news from France, a gunman on a scooter opened fire on a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse earlier today. Three children and a teacher were killed.
Police in Sanford, Florida, have released a series of 911 tapes from the night an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was shot to death by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain. The case has caused widespread allegations of racial targeting. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was visiting his father at a gated community on February 26 when he walked out to a nearby convenience store to buy Skittles and Arizona iced tea. On his way back, he was spotted by the shooter, George Zimmerman, who had been patrolling the neighborhood after a series of break-ins. In one 911 call, Zimmerman can be heard pursuing Martin. This is a clip from Zimmerman’s 911 call.
George Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
Dispatcher: “OK. And this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?”
Zimmerman: “He looks black.”
Dispatcher: “Did you see what he was wearing?”
Zimmerman: “Yeah, a dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes.”
Dispatcher: “Are you following him?”
Dipatcher: “OK, we don’t need you to do that.”
The Miami Herald reports Zimmerman had taken it upon himself to patrol the neighborhood and had called police 46 times since January 2011 to report suspicious activity or other incidents. Police have refused to arrest Zimmerman, saying they can find no evidence to contradict the claim he acted in self-defense. But frantic screaming can be heard in the background of another 911 tape, leading the family to believe Trayvon Martin pleaded for help before he was shot. The police have said they believe it was Zimmerman calling for help. Listen closely.
Dispatcher: “OK. And is it a male or female?”
Caller: “It sounds like a male.”
Dispatcher: “And you don’t know why?”
Caller: “I don’t know why. I think they’re yelling 'help,' but I don’t know. Just send someone quick.”
Dispatcher: “OK. Does he look hurt to you?”
Caller: “I can’t see him. I don’t want to go out there. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Dispatcher: “Do you think he’s yelling 'help'?”
Dispatcher: “All right, what is your [gunshot heard] number?”
Caller: “Just, there’s gunshots.”
Florida college students are scheduled to hold a protest today outside the Seminole County criminal courts to call for Zimmerman’s arrest. Trayvon Martin’s parents are calling for the FBI to investigate the killing.
In news from Wisconsin, the Republicans have lost control of the state senate following the surprise resignation of Sen. Pam Galloway. Galloway was one of four Republican senators facing a recall in June. The Wisconsin State Senate is now evenly split 16-to-16.
In education news, more than 20,000 public school teachers in California received pink slips last week indicating they may not have a job in the fall. More than half of the layoffs could occur in Los Angeles.
A Brazilian court has barred 17 employees from oil giant Chevron and the rig operator Transocean from leaving the country as Brazilian officials prepare to file criminal charges in connection with a recent deepwater oil spill. Some 110,000 gallons of oil leaked off the shore of Rio de Janeiro in November. Last week, Brazil announced more oil was leaking from cracks on the ocean floor near the offshore Chevron well.
The actor George Clooney was among more than a dozen people arrested Friday protesting the treatment of people in Sudan outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington. Protesters attempted to draw attention to accusations the Sudanese government is blocking aid from the Southern Kordofan region near the border with South Sudan. Clooney’s father and NAACP President Benjamin Jealous were also arrested. Clooney called for the government to stop killing its people.
George Clooney: “Well, thank you all for coming today. We’re here really to ask two very simple questions. The first question is something immediate. And immediately we need humanitarian aid to be allowed into the Sudan before it becomes the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Immediately. The second thing we are here to ask — it’s a very simple thing — is for the government in Khartoum to stop randomly killing its own innocent men, women and children. Stop raping them, and stop starving them. That’s all we ask.”
East Timor’s President José Ramos-Horta has conceded defeat Monday after the country held its second presidential election as a free nation. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was challenged in the election by 11 opponents. A runoff between Ramos-Horta’s top two challengers will be held in April. Opposition leader Francisco Guterres and former guerrilla leader Taur Matan Ruak were ahead after at least 70 percent of the votes were counted.
An Indonesian court has sentenced five indigenous leaders in West Papua to three years in prison after being found guilty of treason for advocating independence from Indonesia.
The maker of the Internet film “Kony 2012” that calls for the arrest of Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony was detained by police and hospitalized in California on Friday. Jason Russell was picked up by police in San Diego after neighbors reported him running naked in the streets pounding his fists on the sidewalk and shouting incoherently.
The creator of the “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” has admitted parts of his monologue about conditions at Chinese factories used by computer giant Apple was fabricated. Mike Daisey made the admission after the radio show, “This American Life,” retracted an episode featuring Daisey saying it had contained “numerous fabrications.” While the horrid factory conditions in China are not in question, Daisey admitted that he did not see and interview all the people he claimed to in his monologue. In recent months, Daisey appeared on numerous news programs, including Democracy Now!