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The United States and allied countries are boosting their support for Syrian rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On Sunday, the Obama administration and at least 60 other governments agreed to pay the rebels $100 million in aid. The United States has also pledged to send communications equipment to help the rebel forces. The move marks the most direct U.S. intervention in an Arab Spring conflict since the United States took part in the NATO bombing of Libya last year. Speaking at the “Friends of Syria” conference in Turkey, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted the growing U.S. role in Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Today, we called for an immediate end to the killing in Syria, and we urged the joint special envoy, Kofi Annan, to set a timetable for next steps. The world will not waver. Assad must go, and the Syrian people must be free to choose their own path forward. But the United States is also going beyond humanitarian aid and providing support to the civilian opposition, including communications equipment that will help activists organize, evade attacks by the regime and connect to the outside world.”
Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has reportedly won her first bid for parliament after spending much of the past 20 years under house arrest and in detention. If confirmed, the vote could herald a new era for Burma following decades of military rule. After the initial results were announced, Suu Kyi addressed her supporters outside the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon.
Aung San Suu Kyi: “We hope that this will be the beginning of a new era, where there will be more emphasis on the role of the people in the everyday politics of our country. We also hope that we will be able to go further along the road towards national reconciliation. We will point out all the irregularities that took place, not in any spirit of vengeance or anger, but because we do not think that these should be overlooked. We do not think that such practices should be encouraged in any way. And so, it is only with the intention of making sure that things improve in future.”
Mali’s political crisis is deepening more than a week after dissident soldiers staged a military coup. Tuareg rebels have seized the ancient city of Timbuktu, a major prize in their long-running fight for autonomy in the north. The ruling military junta meanwhile is under pressure from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, facing a deadline of today to hand back power or face sanctions.
Thousands of people marched in two major rallies in Florida this weekend to call for justice in the killing of the unarmed African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin. On Saturday, demonstrators marched in Sanford, where they heard from speakers including the civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Rev. Al Sharpton: “We are not going back to the days when we were killed and nobody did nothing about it. There will be justice for Trayvon Martin.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson: “Zimmerman will go to trial. That does not stop racial profiling and rising violence in our country. The same people who finance this law, this horrible law which incentivizes vigilantism, Stand Your Ground, the same folks who finance voter suppression, if they take our votes and take our lives, we will not let them take our dignity.”
Another large rally was held the following day, on Sunday, in Miami. The attorneys for Trayvon Martin’s family say they have asked the Justice Department to probe reports that the Sanford Police Department overruled an investigator on the scene of Trayvon’s killing who recommended charging the shooter, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman remains free and has not been charged.
Evidence continues to emerge casting doubt on George Zimmerman’s claim that he acted in self-defense when shooting Trayvon Martin. A forensics expert has determined it was not Zimmerman’s voice crying for help on the 911 call placed by a neighbor right before Zimmerman shot Trayvon dead. Sanford police have said they believe the voice pleading for help was Zimmerman’s, but Trayvon’s parents say those cries came from their son.
911 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.”
911 Dispatcher: “Do you think he’s yelling 'help'?”
911 Dispatcher: All right, what is your [gunshot heard] number?
Caller: “Just, there’s gunshots.”
Now, Tom Owen, the chair emeritus of the American Board of Recorded Evidence, has said he has used voice identification software to rule with 99 percent certainty that the cries are not Zimmerman’s. Another expert interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel reached the same conclusion.
The mayor of White Plains, New York, has finally apologized to the family of a 68-year-old veteran fatally shot by police in his own home. Kenneth Chamberlain, an African-American former Marine, was killed after police responded to a false alert from his medical pendant. The officers broke down Chamberlain’s door, tasered him, and then shot him dead. That was on November 19th. On Friday, more than four months later, White Plains Mayor Tom Roach issued a statement offering “condolences” to Chamberlain’s family. The move came one day after Chamberlain’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., publicly criticized Roach and other city officials for staying silent about the case for so long. Chamberlain’s killing is expected to go before a grand jury in the coming weeks.
Occupy Wall Street activists in New York continue to stage protest actions as they seek to rejuvenate the movement after a winter lull. On Friday, demonstrators marched through Manhattan and converged on the New York Stock Exchange at the end of the business day.
Mark Bray, Occupy Wall Street: “The closing bell of the stock exchange symbolizes the prioritization of economics over politics in our society, the fact that our politicians are more beholden to these institutions than to the people they are supposed to represent. So, by holding the people’s gong, we’re having a symbolic representation of our response. We’re saying, 'No, the priority has to be family. The priority has to be workers, students, immigrants.' That needs to be the priority, and that’s why we’re out here.”
Friday’s protest was followed by a march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday to mark six months since hundreds were arrested carrying out the same action. The Occupy movement is planning a number of demonstrations this month heading toward the major day of action planned for May Day, May 1st.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given approval for two nuclear reactors in South Carolina. SCANA Corporation and Santee Cooper have been authorized to build the reactors at the Summer nuclear site in South Carolina’s Fairfield County. The project marks only the second time in the last 30 years that the NRC has approved new reactors. Earlier this year, the NRC also voted to allow Southern Company’s plan for two new reactors at the Vogtle plant in eastern Georgia. As was the case in the Vogtle bid, NRC chair Gregory Jaczko cast the board’s sole dissenting vote.
The vote by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve new reactors in South Carolina comes as experts have warned radiation levels at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant have reached fatally high levels. The radiation is so high that even specially designed robots used in the clean-up effort are not equipped to enter the plant.
A new investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union shows police tracking of cellphones without court-approved warrants is more widespread than previously known. According to the ACLU, just a fraction of more than 200 police departments that admitted to tracking cellphones acknowledged they have routinely obtained warrants to do so. The tracking is said to be so commonplace that cellular providers are providing police with manuals outlining the range of data they store and the pricing for police to obtain it.
Britain has announced a proposal that would allow one of its intelligence agencies to monitor all domestic phone calls, text messages and online activity under the rubric of counterterrorism. The measure would mark a drastic expansion of current rules that only allow monitoring of individuals linked to existing cases. The proposal is set to be formally unveiled next month.
An Iraqi-American woman beaten to death in an apparent hate crime near San Diego has been laid to rest in her native Iraq. Thirty-two-year-old Shaima Alawadi died last week just days after she was brutally attacked in her home. Alawadi was found lying in a pool of blood next to a note saying, “Go back to your country.” She was a mother of five children, ranging in age from eight to 17. Her daughter, Fatima al-Himidi, and her husband, Qassim Kadhim, were among the family members who accompanied her body back to Iraq for the funeral.
Fatima al-Himidi: “What I saw was a lot of blood. She was severely beaten at her eyes and brain. They threw a letter reading 'Go home, you terrorist.'”
Qassim Kadhim: “I moved to the new house four months ago. The owner of the house told me to watch out for some people here, asked me not to open the door. I asked why. He told me that some people talked in a bad way here and also threatened the Muslim family who lived in this house before.”
The Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi has been deported to the Gaza Strip to begin serving three years in forced exile. Shalabi ended her 43-day hunger strike last week protesting Israel’s administrative detention practices. She was recently hospitalized amid warnings her life was in grave danger. A native of the West Bank, Shalabi will be forced to spend the next three years in Gaza.
Hundreds of peace activists were arrested on Sunday while trying to break into the NATO headquarters in Brussels. The action was held to protest the occupation of Afghanistan ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago next month. Brussels police say 483 people were detained.
The Republican presidential primary continues with a vote Tuesday in Wisconsin. Front-runner Mitt Romney has won a number of endorsements from well-known party members in recent days, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and former President George H.W. Bush. On Sunday, Romney’s main challenger, Rick Santorum, vowed to stay in the race.
Rick Santorum: “I just think we have a lot of panic out there among the establishment, because the establishment has tried to convince the Republicans across this country and conservatives across this country that they need Mitt Romney shoved down their throat, and they’re trying everything they can. They’re not making the sale on the money, on the endorsements. They’re not making the sale on the policies and what he’s standing for, because he’s all over the map. So they have to make the case on inevitability. And I can tell you—you saw the poll come out this week that 60-plus percent of the people in the Republican party don’t want me to get out of this race because they want a conservative, and right now this is—the chance is Rick Santorum, and hopefully we’ll show that here in Wisconsin.”
The late banjo musician Earl Scruggs was laid to rest in Nashville on Sunday following his death last week at the age of 88. Scruggs was widely considered a musical legend who helped pioneer the bluegrass genre.
The former government official turned anti-nuclear activist Roger Molander has died at the age of 71. Molander left his White House post at the National Security Council in 1981 to form the group Ground Zero, which organized the historic anti-nuclear protest across the United States in April of the following year.