New fighting has erupted in Yemen as part of a government offensive on al-Qaeda militants in the country’s south. Seven people were killed earlier today when fighters attacked a town held by government troops. The clashes came hours after some 20 fighters and seven soldiers exchanged fire on the outskirts of Jaar. The ongoing fighting in Yemen comes amidst a major food crisis, with some five million people undernourished and 300,000 children facing life-threatening malnutrition.
Syrian rebels have issued a 48-hour deadline for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to comply with an international peace plan or face renewed fighting. The Free Syrian Army says it will give Assad’s forces until early Friday morning to adhere to the agreement brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan. Speaking in Turkey, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Syria is at risk of a full-scale civil war.
Ban Ki-moon: “The joint special envoy, Mr. Kofi Annan, has expressed his concerns that we may have reached a tipping point in Syria, that the massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war, a civil war from which the country would never recover. I demand that the government of Syria act on its commitment under the Annan peace plan.”
In the latest violence reported in Syria, U.N. observers say 13 bodies have been discovered in an eastern area with their hands tied behind their backs. Syrian forces continue to bomb the rebel-held area of Homs. At the United Nations, U.S. envoy Susan Rice said Syria faces unspecified consequences should it continue to flout the Annan peace plan.
Susan Rice: “Members of this council and members of the international community are left with the option only of having to consider whether they’re prepared to take actions outside of the Annan plan and the authority of this council. That scenario obviously is the one we all have sought to avoid through support for the Annan plan. The decision rests in the first instance with the Syrian government.”
The Assad regime has faced growing international pressure following the massacre of more than 100 people in Houla last week. On Wednesday, Turkey became the latest country to expel a Syrian diplomat, joining with 12 others. Also speaking at the United Nations, Syrian envoy Bashar Ja’afari denied government responsibility for the killings in Houla.
In Iraq, at least 13 people have died in a series of bombings in Baghdad. The deadliest attack occurred when a parked car exploded outside of a crowded restaurant, killing 10 people and wounding 25 others.
New figures show civilian deaths in Afghanistan are showing at least a temporary decline for the first time in five years. According to the United Nations, killings of civilians dropped 21 percent in the first four months of the year. Last year was the deadliest on record for civilians in the more than decade-long Afghan war.
Reports have emerged a Pakistani doctor sentenced to 33 years in prison after helping to track down Osama bin Laden was actually convicted of colluding with an Islamist warlord — not of aiding the CIA. The news comes after U.S. lawmakers voted to cut $33 million in aid to Pakistan in response to Shakil Afridi’s sentence. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had also condemned his conviction. Afridi had worked with the CIA to set up a fake vaccination program to help locate bin Laden. But a Pakistani court reportedly declined to examine Afridi’s CIA ties, instead focusing on his connection to a warlord whose fighters are battling the Pakistan army.
Hundreds of Tibetans have reportedly been detained opposing Chinese rule in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa. The protests broke out after two people set themselves on fire in protest of China earlier this week. It was said to be the first major act of protest against Chinese control in four years.
In election news, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is moving forward with a plan to purge thousands of people from the voting rolls in a state that could be a key battleground in the November election. While the move is ostensibly aimed at cracking down on non-citizens, critics say the process has relied on outdated information and swept up hundreds of eligible citizen voters. Already, citizens have begun receiving letters identifying them as possible non-citizens and requiring them to provide proof of citizenship in order to vote. An analysis by the Miami Herald found Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are most likely to be targeted in the purge.
The news of the Florida voter purge follows a wave of voter ID laws that have passed in multiple states as part of what some see as a bid to disenfranchise Democratic voters ahead of the election. On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder discussed the attack on voting rights in an address to African-American lawmakers and church leaders in Washington.
Eric Holder: “Despite our nation’s long tradition of extending voting rights to non-property owners and to women, to people of color, to Native Americans, and to younger Americans, today a growing number of our fellow citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions and problems that nearly five decades ago so many fought to address. In my travels across this country, I’ve heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens who, often for the first time in their lives, now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation’s most noble ideals and that some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang, again, in the balance.”
A new analysis has found most major companies that have publicly expressed concern about climate change have privately contradicted that stance by donating money to candidates opposed to environmentally friendly policies. The Union of Concerned Scientists found half of the 28 companies studied had misrepresented climate science in their public communications, despite taking public stances against global warming. Less than a third of the companies supported science-based climate policy through their donations, while the rest supported candidates opposed to such policies.
Nine couples in Illinois have filed suit to challenge the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The lawsuit was filed one year to the day after Illinois enacted civil unions for same-sex couples, but continued to deprive them of the full recognitions and protections of marriage.
The White House has apologized to Poland over language used by President Obama in honoring Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski earlier this week. Obama referred to a “Polish death camp” without noting Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama misspoke.
Jay Carney: “The President misspoke. He was referring to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland. And as we made clear, we regret the misstatement, and that simple misstatement should not at all detract from the clear intention to honor Mr. Karski and, beyond that, all those brave Polish citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny.”
Jan Karski, the Polish diplomat, visited the Warsaw Ghetto and got word out, came to the United States, visited U.S. officials, including the Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter, to talk about what he saw.
Thousands of people marched in cities across Canada Wednesday night in an act of solidarity with the Quebec student protests. Demonstrators banged pots and pans as they walked through the streets in a nod to the so-called “casserole” protests that have erupted in Quebec since the provincial government imposed an emergency law barring unauthorized demonstrations.
Video of an Illinois Republican legislator launching an angry tirade on the floor of the Illinois General Assembly is making the rounds on the internet. The lawmaker, Mike Bost, exploded in a speech denouncing what he called the excessive power of House leader Mike Madigan, a Democrat.
Mike Bost: “Again, total power in one person’s hands — not the American way! These damn bills that come out here all the damn time, come out here at the last second, and I’ve got to try to figure out how to vote for my people! How ashamed of — or you should be! You should be ashamed of yourselves! I’m sick of it! Every year! We give power to one person! It was not made that way in the Constitution! He was around when it was written! Now we give him — we passed rules that stop each one of us! Enough! I feel like somebody trying to be released from Egypt! Let my people go!”