A long-range rocket fired by North Korea in defiance of international protest has failed before reaching orbit. The North Korean regime launched the rocket earlier today despite warnings it would face further diplomatic isolation. The rocket quickly broke into several pieces before falling into the sea. North Korea had said the launch was to test out a weather satellite, but Western nations saw it as a cover for trying out a long-range missile.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote today on whether to send an observer mission to Syria to monitor government compliance with the peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan. The ceasefire has come under doubt after activists said government troops had continued to deploy tanks, snipers and armed checkpoints in key areas. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least four people were shot dead in Syria on Thursday, including three people killed by snipers in the city of Homs. Scattered violence has been reported today, with clashes erupting between government troops and rebels near the Turkish border. Bassma Kodmani of the Syrian National Council said the government’s response to peaceful protests will be a key test.
Bassma Kodmani: “Snipers are deployed across the country in all the populated areas and the centers. There has been an increase, a big increase, in the number of checkpoints, and those checkpoints are heavily armed. The real test for us today is if people can go down and demonstrate peacefully, whether that will be possible. This is the real reality check.”
Diplomats from the U.S. and five other countries are in Turkey this weekend for key talks with Iranian officials on Iran’s nuclear activities. The talks are being held following the imposition of harsher international sanctions as well as continued threats of military attack from Israel or the United States. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will seek new assurances from Iran that it’s not pursuing a nuclear arsenal.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We are receiving signals that they are bringing ideas to the table. They assert that their program is purely peaceful. They point to a fatwa that the Supreme Leader has issued against the pursuit of nuclear weapons. We want them to demonstrate, clearly, in the actions they propose that they have truly abandoned any nuclear weapons ambition.”
Pakistan’s parliament has unanimously demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil. In a resolution adopted by all 440 members, the parliament called for an end to the drone attacks as well as a ban on all private military contractors and intelligence operatives working inside Pakistan. Pakistan has continued to tacitly allow drone strikes despite previous votes along similar lines. But on Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani vowed to implement the new measure “both in letter and spirit.”
The International Automobile Federation, or FIA, has confirmed it will proceed with the Formula One racing championship in Bahrain later this month despite calls for the event’s cancellation in solidarity with Bahraini protesters. The event was canceled last year as Bahrain launched a major crackdown on pro-democracy activists. The Obama administration is slowly paying more lip service to the plight of Bahraini protesters. This week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. has “continued concern” for the life of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, a jailed activist who has been on a hunger strike for more than two months. Last Sunday marked the 60th day of Alkhawaja’s hunger strike and the first anniversary of his arrest.
A massive crowd has gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest the inclusion of figures from the regime of Hosni Mubarak in the coming presidential elections. The protest comes one week after Mubarak’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced his entry into the race.
George Zimmerman appeared in court on Thursday one day after he was finally charged with the killing of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman briefly spoke in response to Judge Mark Herr.
Judge Mark Herr: “Mr. Zimmerman?”
George Zimmerman: “Yes, sir.”
Judge Mark Herr: “You’re appearing here for your first appearances, or first appearance, at this time for a charge of murder in the second degree, and you are represented by Mr. O’Mara. Is that true?”
George Zimmerman: “Yes, sir.”
Zimmerman faces a minimum of 25 years in prison. A bail hearing will likely be held next week, followed by Zimmerman’s formal arraignment on May 29.
Police in Chicago are preparing to deploy controversial sound cannons against protesters at the G8/NATO Summit next month. The so-called Long Range Acoustic Devices, or LRADs, emit painful and potentially harmful tones over long distances. The device was created for military use, but it was deployed against protesters for the first time at the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh. The American Civil Liberties Union later filed a lawsuit on behalf of a bystander, Karen Piper, who said she suffered permanent hearing loss, while the American Tinnitus Association said Pittsburgh protesters had been “acoustically assaulted.” They compared the sound pressure to what armed forces might face from an improvised explosive device. Massive numbers of protesters are expected in Chicago when the summit begins next month.
Nearly two dozen people have been arrested protesting the pending closure of a mental health clinic in Chicago. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered the closure of Woodlawn Mental Health Center and five other clinics in a bid to slash public spending. Supporters say the closures will adversely affect the thousands of people who rely on the clinics’ services. The protesters were detained overnight after barricading themselves inside Woodland as dozens of supporters gathered outside.
The Obama administration has canceled an executive order that would have banned workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people by federal contractors. There is currently no federal law in place to prevent employers from discriminating on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. The Obama administration decision has come under criticism from LGBTQ activists, who say people can now be fired simply for being gay or transgender.
The Justice Department has filed its first-ever indictment in a hate crimes case based on the victim’s sexual orientation. Two Kentucky men are accused of kidnapping Kevin Pennington and beating him to near death. The defendants are the first to be charged under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was enacted in 2009. Both Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. died as the result of violent hate crimes committed more than a decade ago.
The snack food giant Mars has become the latest corporation to publicly cut ties with the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC has come under sustained public protest for backing a number of controversial measures, including the so-called “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, which critics say enabled the killing of Trayvon Martin. Mars is the maker of Skittles, the candy that Travyon Martin was carrying when George Zimmerman shot him dead. Mars’ severance of its ties to ALEC follows that of other companies including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft.
Planned Parenthood is suing the state of Texas for barring them from a government-funded health program for low-income women simply because they also provide abortions. The suit alleges Texas has violated the group’s constitutional rights to free speech by banning contracts between the state health commission and entities that are affiliated with abortion providers. The program offers cancer and health screenings as well as birth control services to some 130,000 low-income women, about 40 percent of whom are served through Planned Parenthood. The Obama administration cut off federal funding for the Texas program because of the state ban.
The Justice Department has announced a $1 billion settlement with 41 Native American tribes for the mismanagement of land trusts by the federal government. The settlement will resolve dozens of longstanding claims.
A U.S. citizen and Boston area resident whose terrorism conviction sparked allegations of trampling free speech has been sentenced to 17-and-a-half years behind bars. Tarek Mehanna was found guilty last year of “conspiring to support” al-Qaeda and other terrorism charges. The FBI initially courted Mehanna to become an informant following his 2009 arrest, but he wound up being jailed in solitary confinement. The jury rejected the defense’s argument Mehanna was acting well within his First Amendment rights when he posted online that he supported Muslims resisting U.S. occupation. On Thursday, more than 300 supporters packed a federal courtroom in Massachusetts in support of Mehanna at his sentencing.