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A tsunami alert is in effect for the Indian Ocean following an earthquake off the coast of Aceh province in Indonesia. The 8.7-magnitude earthquake has set off a tsunami measuring 17 centimeters, prompting evacuations from coastal areas before it makes landfall. The quake struck around the same area as the December 2004 earthquake that set off a devastating tsunami that killed around 230,000 people.
Rick Santorum has withdrawn from the Republican presidential race, effectively wrapping up the nomination for Mitt Romney. Santorum emerged as Romney’s top challenger in the early round of primary contests, but has lost momentum over the past month as Romney built an apparently insurmountable lead. On Tuesday, Santorum conceded defeat.
Rick Santorum: “We made the decision to get in this race at our kitchen table, against all the odds. And we made a decision over the weekend that, while this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting.”
The remaining Republican presidential candidates are Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, though both lag even further behind Romney in the delegate count.
President Obama visited Florida on Tuesday to deliver a speech touting his administration’s record on the economy. Continuing with what is likely to be a central theme of his bid for re-election, Obama pushed support for the so-called “Buffett Rule” tax that would ensure the wealthiest Americans pay a higher rate than lower-income workers.
President Obama: “You might have heard of this, but Warren Buffett is paying a lower tax rate than his secretary. Now, that’s wrong. That’s not fair. And so we’ve got to choose which direction we want this country to go in. Do we want to keep giving those tax breaks to folks like me who don’t need them? Or give them to Warren Buffett? He definitely doesn’t need them. Or Bill Gates? He’s already said, 'I don't need them.’ Or do we want to keep investing in those things that keep our economy growing and keep us secure? That’s the choice.”
Activists in Syria are reporting new violence by government forces less than 24 hours before a U.N.-backed ceasefire is scheduled to take effect. The violence is reported to include shelling in areas of Homs still under rebel control, as well as intense shooting in the southern town of Maaraba. Groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad say more than 800 Syrians have been killed since Assad accepted the peace deal late last month, including 38 killed on Tuesday alone. U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan says he has received government assurances that Syria will respect the ceasefire, which is scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. on Thursday. Speaking after a meeting with Iranian officials in Tehran, Annan said Iran should be part of the diplomatic effort to mediate the Syria crisis.
Kofi Annan: “I’m leading a process of mediation, which is supported by the whole international community. And I think if we stick together, support this process, and work with the Syrians, we should be able to find a solution. And I am grateful for the support of Iran, given its special relations with Syria, and I believe Iran can be part of the solution.”
Annan spoke after warning Tuesday of a dramatic rise in the number of Syrian refugees fleeing into Turkey. The average number of refugees fleeing each day has risen from 96 to more than 700 in recent days. In a briefing to the U.N. Security Council, the top U.N. official in Baghdad said the conflict in Syria could have “spillover effects” in Iraq.
Martin Kobler: “Continued violence in Syria is fraught with risks that could have dangerous spillover effects on Iraq. It could affect the fragile balance of power and increase communal tensions in Iraq. In addition, the violence in Syria has already started to affect Iraqi refugees in Syria. The U.N. country team has therefore undertaken extensive contingency planning to mitigate possible occurrences.”
North Korea is preparing a new rocket launch that is widely suspected to be a ballistic missile test in disguise. The North Korean government says it is currently injecting fuel ahead of a launch as early as Thursday. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of an international response if North Korea proceeds.
Hillary Clinton: “We are consulting closely in capitals and at the United Nations in New York, and we will be pursuing appropriate action. But I would just underscore that if North Korea wants a peaceful, better future for their people, it should not conduct another launch that would be a direct threat to regional security.”
The United Nations is warning up to 1.5 million children under the age of five are on the brink of starvation in the drought-stricken Sahel region of West Africa. In an appeal for urgent aid, Dr. Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization said time is running out to avert a massive toll.
Dr. Margaret Chan: “We are talking about one to 1.5 million children under five whose life is hanging in the balance. But there is a window of opportunity. We need to ask ourselves, can we turn this peril into an opportunity? And the window of that opportunity is closing by the day.”
An LGBTQ rights advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of eight Nevada couples against the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The suit from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund says the state’s 2002 amendment banning same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The lead plaintiffs in the case, Beverly Sevcik and Mary Baranovich, are a couple in their seventies who have been together for more than 40 years.
George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed the unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, has lost his defense team. On Tuesday, Zimmerman attorney Craig Sonner said he is withdrawing from the case because he is been unable to reach his client.
Craig Sonner: “As of now, we are withdrawing as counsel for Mr. Zimmerman. We have lost contact with him. Up to this point, we’ve had contact every day. He has gone on his own. I’m not sure what he’s doing or who he’s talking to, but at this point we’re withdrawing as counsel.”
Although he’s been out of contact with his attorneys, Zimmerman has launched a public effort to defend himself, launching a website for his legal fund and reaching out to Fox News host Sean Hannity.
An eighth grade charter school teacher in Michigan has been fired from her job after helping her students organize a fundraiser for Trayvon Martin’s parents. Brooke Harris and her students drew up a plan that would see them donate one dollar each and wear a hoodie, as Martin had worn when he was shot dead. Harris was initially suspended and then later fired outright after visiting an after-school literacy fair to support her students’ fundraiser.
The fast food giant McDonald’s has become the latest corporation to publicly cut ties with the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC has come under fire for backing a number of controversial measures including voter identification laws and so-called “Stand Your Ground” gun legislation. Soda companies Coca-Cola and Pepsi as well as food giant Kraft had previously dropped their sponsorship of the group. Earlier this week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation withdrew from ALEC, citing recent criticism of its activities.
A former Arizona prosecutor known as the right-hand man to the notorious anti-immigrant Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been disbarred. Andrew Thomas of Maricopa County was stripped of his license on Tuesday for bringing charges against two county officials and a judge for political gain. An earlier court decision found Thomas brought the charges with the intent to embarrass people he considered political foes. In its ruling disbarring Thomas, a three-member Arizona court system ethics board said that it believes Sheriff Arpaio likely conspired with Thomas in bringing the charges.
The head of the Tucson school district’s embattled and acclaimed Mexican American Studies program has been fired from his job. Sean Arce was dismissed at a meeting of the school district member’s board last night amid vocal protests from dozens of supporters. The Tucson Mexican American Studies program was shut down earlier this year following an Arizona state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies.
The Major League Baseball team the Miami Marlins have suspended their manager for appearing to heap praise on former Cuban President Fidel Castro. The manager, Ozzie Guillen, had told an interviewer: “I love Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years but [he] is still here.” Guillen’s comments were said to have offended members of Miami’s right-wing Cuban exile community. He has since apologized and will be suspended for five games.