Government troops in Syria have broadened shelling attacks on opposition areas, casting more doubt on a U.N.-backed ceasefire brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan. The number of people killed in Syria has been rising steadily after a brief moment of quiet when the ceasefire took effect last Thursday. On Monday, at least 26 people were killed across the country, although one activist group put the death toll at 55. Activists say shelling by government tanks killed at least two people in the southern town of Busra al-Harir. At least five people were killed when the government shelled parts of the central city of Homs in an apparent push to claim the last remaining rebel strongholds there. A six-member advance team of U.N. observers arrived in Syria over the weekend, and more monitors are expected to arrive this week.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced today Australia will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan earlier than planned. Gillard said troops would begin pulling out this year, and most would be home by the end of 2013. Gillard made the announcement two days after militants waged an 18-hour attack on Kabul that left more than 50 people dead.
The Norwegian man who killed 77 people last year said that he would do the same thing again.
Anders Behring Breivik has pleaded not guilty and said he acted to defend his country against Muslims. In a prepared statement, Breivik said, “I have carried out the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the Second World War.” Many relatives of the victims of the massacre in Norway are attending the trial. Trond Blattmann lost his 17-year-old son.
Trond Blattmann: “I don’t think that looking in his eyes will give me any answer to anything, actually. He gave one answer himself, and that was when they showed this video of his crazy views of how his society should look like and how the world should look at him and what kind of a world he wants. That’s not the kind of world we want to see, and hopefully he don’t have a lot of supporters for his views, either political or ideology. I think this man is a mass murderer, and that’s what he’s going to be judged as.”
Senate Republicans blocked an effort by Democrats to advance the so-called Buffett rule to ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes. The proposed rule, named after billionaire Warren Buffett, would have imposed a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for households with adjusted gross incomes of at least $2 million.
The World Bank has named Jim Yong Kim as its next president, maintaining a seven-decade U.S. lock on the post. Kim is a global public-health expert and president of Dartmouth College. He co-founded Partners in Health with Dr. Paul Farmer. Kim will be the bank’s first leader drawn from the development world rather than politics or finance. For the first time ever, the U.S. nominee for the position faced opposition as candidates from Nigeria and Colombia challenged Kim’s nomination.
Some 1,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have reportedly begun an open-ended hunger strike. An additional 2,300 declared they would not eat for one day as Palestinians mark Prisoners’ Day. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports the hunger strikers are protesting against what they call “humiliating” measures in Israeli prisons, including strip searches of visiting family members and night searches of prison cells, as well as the jailing of many prisoners without trial. Several Palestinians are already on extended hunger strikes, including Tair Halala and Balal Diab who have not eaten for 48 days. Khader Adnan, a Palestinian who ended a 66-day hunger strike in February, is due to be released from prison today.
Three contenders for the Egyptian presidency have filed appeals after they were barred from running by the country’s election commission. In total, the election commission disqualified 10 presidential candidates, including Omar Suleiman, who was intelligence chief under ousted president, Hosni Mubarak. Suleiman and two other candidates have appealed the decision. The commission’s move came after a massive crowd gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to protest the inclusion of figures from the Mubarak regime in the presidential race. Elections are scheduled to begin on May 23.
A new report by Amnesty International criticizes the U.S.-backed Bahraini government for continuing to commit human rights violations against anti-government protesters. Suzanne Nossel is executive director of Amnesty International USA.
Suzanne Nossel: “It continues to hold large numbers of people in detention. It has imposed very harsh sentences on people without fair trials. There are 14 opposition leaders that remain in custody. There has been no high-level accountability for those abuses. So we see window dressing in the form of this independent investigation that gave an aura of seriousness on the part of the government in terms of living up to their human rights responsibilities, but really very little in the way of follow-through.”
Japan will go without nuclear power for the first time in decades after the last plant currently operating in the country is shut down early next month. Japan’s trade minister said two reactors that have been idling since the massive earthquake and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi facility would not be brought back online before the country’s last plant is shut down. Before the Fukushima crisis last year, nuclear power made up about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity demand, but all but one of the country’s 54 reactors are currently offline following safety concerns.
Nearly 7,000 American and Filipino troops have begun a major joint military exercise that will include combat drills near disputed South China Sea waters. The exercise comes as the United States expands its presence in the region. On Monday, dozens of Filipino student activists protested outside the U.S. embassy and called for all U.S. troops to leave the Philippines. U.S. and Filipino military officials claimed the military exercises were not meant to provoke China. This is Marine Brigadier General Frederick Padilla.
Brig. Gen. Frederick Padilla: “Well, this exercise, from our standpoint, is not linked to any particular situation. It is merely an opportunity for us to work on our relationship and be able to be ready. And again, this year, the scenario is a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief scenario. So that’s really what we’re focused on, is just building that bond, building the relationships, so we can respond better should there be a crisis that comes.”
Argentina has unveiled plans to nationalize the country’s largest oil company, YPF. In a major push to reclaim sovereignty over the country’s natural resources, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said Monday the government would seek a 51 percent share in the company. She accused the firm’s majority owner, the Spanish company Repsol, of failing to meet Argentina’s energy needs. The move has sparked an outcry from Repsol and the Spanish government.
Taur Matan Ruak has been elected president of East Timor, becoming the country’s third president since it won independence from Indonesia 10 years ago. Ruak was the last commander of East Timor’s National Liberation Army, Falintil, before independence.
The Federal Communications Commission is seeking a $25,000 fine from internet giant Google after the company “impeded” and “delayed” a probe of its data-collection practices. The FCC examined how Google secretly collected personal information, including emails and text messages, through its Street View location service. The $25,000 fine is the maximum penalty for failing to comply with an investigation. Google made nearly $3 billion last quarter, or $25,000 in profits every 68 seconds. Google has faced increased scrutiny in recent years over possible privacy violations. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission dropped its investigation of the Street View service after Google pledged to improve privacy protections.
In Occupy news, 14 Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested after they tried to disrupt a foreclosure auction inside a Bronx courthouse. The protesters were issued summonses for disorderly conduct for singing during the proceedings. Meanwhile, New York City police made several arrests last night near the New York Stock Exchange, where Occupy protesters have been sleeping on the sidewalks for the past week.
Columbia University has announced the winners of the 96th annual Pulitzer Prizes. Two online publications, the Huffington Post and Politico, each won Pulitzers for the first time. Other winners included the the Associated Press for its coverage of the New York City Police Department’s clandestine surveillance of Muslims and the New York Times for its coverage of how the wealthiest U.S. citizens and businesses exploited loopholes and avoided taxes. The late Manning Marable won the Pulitzer Prize for history for his book, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.”
Six environmentalists have been named winners of the 23rd Goldman Environmental Prize.
Alaskan-Inupiat activist Caroline Cannon won for her work to protect against drilling in the Arctic seas.
Caroline Cannon: “When I met with President Obama a couple years ago, he told me that he knew what it felt to be treated as a second-class citizen. He made a promise to work with the Inupiat people and to protect our way of lifestyle. That gave me hope. Now is the time to hold him to that promise.”
Kenyan activist Ikal Angelei won a Goldman Prize for her campaign to block the construction of one of East Africa’s most significant infrastructure projects, the GIBE-3 Dam, that could lead to the region’s Lake Turkana drying up.
Ikal Angelei: “The biggest challenge was working with a community who’s having—there are already a lot of problems, so access to food, access to healthcare, insecurity, lack of government support. It’s so hard when you’re talking about environmental rights and resource governance in a place where people are just thinking, 'Can I just get a meal today? Can I see today and, you know, wait and see what tomorrow brings.' So that was the hardest challenge. But working in an area where the communities were already in conflict over resources was really hard to bring them together and say, 'Listen, we understand the other issues, but as of now we have to speak as one voice.'”
The other winners were Ma Jun from China, Evgenia Chirikova from Russia, Edwin Gariguez of the Philippines, and Sofia Gatica from Argentina.