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International envoy Kofi Annan has announced Syria has accepted a U.N. peace proposal calling for a ceasefire, but the Syrian opposition has dismissed the initiative, saying it will allow the government to continue its repression. The plan includes a ceasefire by Syrian forces and a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured. Despite the announcement, there has been no immediate end to the bloodshed. Fighting has spread into North Lebanon, where Syrian troops reportedly destroyed farm buildings and clashed with Syrian rebels who had taken refuge there.
Kofi Annan: “Time is of the essence. This cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely. And as I have told the parties on the ground, they cannot resist the transformational winds that are blowing. They have to accept that reforms have to come, change has to come, and that is the only way to deal with the situation.”
A new opinion poll shows support for the war in Afghanistan has dropped sharply over the past four months. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 69 percent of respondents thought the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan. The poll found that 68 percent of people thought the fighting was going “somewhat badly” or “very badly,” compared with 42 percent just four months ago.
On Monday, a U.S. soldier was killed by a local Afghan police officer, and two British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan soldier. Gen. John Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said such killings will likely continue.
Gen. John Allen: “We experienced these in Iraq, we experienced them in Vietnam. And on any occasion where you’re dealing with an insurgency and where you’re also growing an indigenous force, which ultimately will be the principal opposition to that insurgency, the enemy’s going to do all that they can to disrupt both the counterinsurgency operations, but also disrupt the integrity of the indigenous forces that developed.”
The Supreme Court is entering day two of its historic review of President Obama’s healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act. On Monday, the justices took up a procedural tax-law question about the timing of lawsuits and suggested by their questions that they could decide the merits of the case. Today the justices will hear arguments on whether Congress had the power to require most people in the United States to buy medical insurance.
About 10,000 people marched in Sanford, Florida, Monday calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot dead Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American last month. The march occurred on a day filled with several developments in the case. The Orlando Sentinel is reporting Zimmerman told police that he shot Martin after the teenager punched him in the nose and began beating him. The altercation occurred after a 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow the teenager, whom he deemed to be suspicious. In another development, the Sentinel has revealed Martin was visiting his father’s fiancée in Sanford after he had been suspended from school in Miami because traces of marijuana were found in his book bag. Benjamin Crump is an attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family.
Benjamin Crump: “Whatever Trayvon Martin was suspended for had absolutely no bearing on what happened on the night of February 26. We told you previously, when you asked questions, that he wasn’t suspended for anything violent, and he wasn’t suspended for anything criminal. And if he and his friends experimented with marijuana, that is still completely irrelevant to George Zimmerman killing their son on the night of February 26.”
Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, spoke at a meeting in Sanford, Florida, on Monday.
Tracy Martin: “I would just like to say that, even in death — and Trayvon is gone. He will not be returning to us. Even in death, they are still disrespecting my son, and I feel that that’s a shame.”
Sybrina Fulton: “The only comment that I have right now is that they’ve killed my son, and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.”
At a summit in Seoul, South Korea, world leaders pledged today to secure all vulnerable nuclear material by 2014 and to boost security to keep the ingredients for nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Analysts estimate there are at least 4.4 million pounds of stockpiled weapons-grade nuclear material left over from decommissioned bombs and atomic-fuel plants — enough to make at least 100,000 new nuclear weapons.
The United States and Australia are discussing plans for a major increase in military ties as the Pentagon continues to focus attention on Southeast Asia. The expansion could see U.S. drones taking off from a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean as well as increased U.S. naval access to Australian ports. The talks follow an agreement to deploy up to 2,500 U.S. marines to Darwin, Australia. The United States is also finalizing a deal to station four warships in Singapore as part of its overall attempts to expand in the region.
Israel has severed contacts with the United Nations Human Rights Council after the body launched an international investigation into Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The decision means that the fact-finding team the United Nations planned to send to the West Bank will not be allowed to enter the territory or Israel. Yigal Palmor is a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Yigal Palmor: “With its disproportionate obsession about Israel, by passing a totally unthinkable number of condemnations on Israel — and Israel only, or almost only — the Human Rights Council has made all cooperation with it completely useless. They have made the situation as it is now, and we have therefore decided to sever our working ties with this body until further notice.”
Ghassan Khatib, a spokesperson for the Palestinian government, criticized Israel’s decision.
Ghassan Khatib: “This is a new indicator and another piece of evidence that Israel does not respect international law or organizations. Therefore, this position should form a challenge to the international community and should drive them to hold Israel responsible, not just verbally, but also in practical terms, in a manner that will force Israel to stop violating the rights of the Palestinian people.”
In other news from the region, the imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti has called on the Palestinian public to launch widespread resistance against Israel. In a message written from an Israeli jail, Barghouti said: “The Palestinian Authority must stop all coordination with Israel — economic and security — and work toward Palestinian reconciliation.” Barghouti, who was arrested by Israeli commandos in Ramallah in 2002, was one of the initiators of the Second Intifada.
The Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi has entered the 41st day of her hunger strike inside an Israeli prison where she is being held without charge. On Monday, her mother accused Israeli officials of waiting for her daughter to die.
Badia Shalabi: “The Israeli court gave her the same administrative detention, nothing new. It is the same thing. They don’t have anything except for delays and delays. Until when will they continue to delay? They cannot delay when a girl has been on hunger strike for 40 days. Until when will they delay? Until she is dead? Are they waiting for her to die? We don’t want this.”
Pope Benedict is scheduled to fly to the Cuban capital of Havana today, a day after celebrating mass in the Cuban city of Santiago.
Pope Benedict: “One of the important fruits of that visit was the inauguration of a new phase in the relationship in Cuba between church and state, in a new spirit of cooperation and trust, even if many areas remain in which greater progress can and ought to be made, especially as regards the indispensable public contribution that religion is called to make in the life of society.”
The Pope is expected to preside over mass in Havana on Wednesday as part of the first papal visit to Cuba in 14 years. Opposition activists say dozens of dissidents were detained before the Pope’s visit.
Amnesty International has revealed the number of executions carried out around the world jumped last year, largely due to a surge in use of the death penalty in the Middle East. Amnesty said at least 676 people were executed in 20 countries. Only four countries carried out more executions than the United States. Salil Shetty is secretary general of Amnesty International.
Salil Shetty: “The problem is that we have a handful of countries who have consistently been the — have had the largest number of executions, and that persists, and some of them have actually increased at an alarming rate. And China and Iran are sort of just simply off the charts. They are the two biggest. But then you have North Korea, you have Saudi Arabia, and unfortunately you have the United States in that group, strangely enough.”
Activists in New Mexico are increasing calls for a Justice Department investigation after Albuquerque police shot and killed two men last week, bringing the total number of people killed by police there to 18 in just over two years. The city of 550,000 saw nine fatal shootings by police in 2010, compared to eight that year in New York City.
In other police news, an investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department has found a white police officer has been targeting Latino drivers for traffic stops. The finding marks the first time the department has determined one of its officers engaged in racial or ethnic profiling, despite hundreds of complaints each year.
The state of Michigan appears to be moving closer to appointing an emergency manager to take over the city of Detroit. On Monday, Detroit’s financial review team declared the city is under a financial emergency but did not recommend that an unelected emergency manager take over the reins of city government. The city and state now have 10 days to reach an agreement before deciding if an emergency manager is needed. Monday’s meeting was frequently disrupted by angry residents. As the meeting began, scores of residents began chanting “No takeover.”
Thirty-six students were arrested in Washington, D.C., Monday during a protest against student loan debt after they blocked the entrance to the headquarters of the nation’s largest student loan company, Sallie Mae.
Brazilian police are investigating the shooting deaths of three rural activists near a landless workers camp over the weekend. Officials said an investigation is underway to determine whether the shootings were linked to efforts by the activists to win rights to land that was also contested by the owners of a sugar mill. Watchdog groups have accused the landowners of paying hired gunmen to shoot the activists.