Twelve have been killed and about 50 wounded in a mass shooting at a movie theater outside of Denver. A gunman wearing a gas mask and bulletproof vest set off what appeared to be a smoke bomb before opening fire. Police say the suspect is in custody and that he is believed to have acted alone. The attack came at a screening of the new Batman film in the Denver suburb of Aurora. A number of the wounded are in critical condition. It was the worst mass shooting in the United States since the killings of 32 people at Virginia Tech five years ago.
Syrian rebels continue to make gains on the regime of Bashar al-Assad, seizing a number of border crossings with neighboring Iraq and Turkey. Opposition fighters overrun government forces at two major crossings, including one controlling the vital trade route on the Damascus-to-Baghdad highway. Meanwhile, the Syrian government says the country’s intelligence chief, Hisham Ikhtiyar, has died from injuries sustained in Wednesday’s bombing of a high-level meeting in Damascus, making him the fourth Assad regime insider to die in the attack. Amidst the violence, the United Nations is warning one million Syrians are now believed to be internally displaced, double the previous estimate.
The fighting continues in Syria one day after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening new sanctions on the Syrian regime. Russia and China say they took action over demands for the inclusion of penalties under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which would leave open the possibility of military intervention. The measure would also have extended the U.N. observer mission in Syria for 45 days. Shortly after the veto, a spokesperson said U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is disappointed the measure failed to pass.
Ahmad Fawzi: “Well, the joint special envoy is disappointed, to say the least, that the Security Council could not unite and take the strong and concerted action that he had urged for and hoped for. And, as you know, the voice of the Security Council is much more powerful when its members act as one.”
Thursday’s action marked the third time Russia and China have vetoed a resolution on Syria in the past nine months. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, condemned the veto.
Susan Rice: “The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year. This is another dark day in Turtle Bay. One can only hope that one day, before too many thousands more die, that Russia and China will stop protecting Assad and allow this council to play its proper role at the center of the international response to the crisis in Syria.”
Russia has said it used the veto in a bid to prevent any future pretext for military force. Speaking at the United Nations, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin claimed the United States and its allies are seeking to target the Assad regime as part of a bid to weaken Iran.
Tens of thousands of people marched in cities across Spain on Thursday in the largest protests to date against massive spending cuts and tax increases pushed through to obtain a bailout for the country’s banks. Demonstrators took to the streets as Spanish lawmakers approved a new round of austerity measures in parliament, including a higher sales tax and cuts to the wages of public workers. Spanish union leader Ignacio Fernández Toxo said the new austerity measures threaten Spain’s future.
Ignacio Fernández Toxo: “This is a true aggression against the workers out of work, against the workers from the public sector, against the self-employed, against the professionals, against the middle class of the society who will go straight to poverty as a result of this plan. This is a plan of budget cuts that goes against Spain’s economy. In economic terms, it’s suicidal.”
In Madrid, Thursday’s protests ended in unrest when police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators at the close of a massive march.
A military judge has rejected a bid by attorneys for the alleged U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning to cite evidence showing the leak for which he is accused caused no damage to the United States. Manning’s attorneys had sought to present “damage assessment” reports that evaluated the impact of the publication of government diplomatic cables that Manning allegedly provided to WikiLeaks. Internal government reviews have found the leak caused minimal damage, contradicting prosecutors’ contention that Manning harmed national security and aided U.S. foes. But on Thursday, the judge overseeing Manning’s military trial rejected the effort, saying the impact of the leak is irrelevant to Manning’s case. The judge also rejected a defense request to present testimony from United Nations rapporteur Juan Méndez, who has said the U.S. government’s treatment of Manning may amount to torture.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered top Pentagon officials to monitor major U.S. news organizations for signs of leaked classified material. The order comes after recent media reports about U.S. cyber operations against Iran and the Obama administration’s policies for targeted drone attacks overseas. Panetta announced the monitoring on Thursday after discussing the leaks before a closed-door congressional hearing.
On the campaign trail, Republican candidate Mitt Romney is preparing to head overseas for a trip that will take him to Britain, Israel and Poland. Speaking in Florida on Thursday, President Obama said U.S. support for the Israeli government transcends the partisan divide.
President Obama: “And I want everybody here to know, under my administration, we haven’t just preserved the unbreakable bond with Israel, we have strengthened it. We have stood by Israel’s side in the face of criticism. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. I want you to know that that’s something that should transcend party. That’s not a Republican or a Democratic issue. That is an issue of how we work with one of our closest allies in the world that shares our values and believes in democracy.”
New figures show the number of claims for unemployment benefits rose by 34,000 last week, the biggest jump in over a year. The official unemployment rate remains at 8.2 percent, with 75,000 jobs being created on average per month, down from 226,000 during the year’s first quarter.
A class action lawsuit alleging widespread discrimination against Latinos by the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio opened Thursday in Arizona. Plaintiffs represented by civil rights groups are accusing Arpaio of violating the rights of Latinos by systematically targeting them for traffic stops and detention. Among evidence cited in court papers are Arpaio’s own statements about his “pure program” intended to “go after illegals, not the crime first.” One plaintiff is a Mexican tourist who was a passenger in a car pulled over by deputies, ostensibly for speeding. Though the white driver was neither arrested nor cited, the Mexican passenger was arrested despite having a valid visa and identification. Another lawsuit against Arpaio brought by the Department of Justice alleges his office also punished prisoners for speaking Spanish and neglected to investigate a massive number of sex crimes.
The Pentagon has announced it will allow U.S. servicemembers to wear their uniforms at a gay pride march for the first time. The permission was granted for Saturday’s Pride parade in San Diego, California. The Pentagon says the move does not mark a permanent shift in policy and will only apply in this one case.
A new report has found police in major U.S. cities are confiscating condoms from sex workers, putting them at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Human Rights Watch says police are harassing and threatening transgender women and sex workers, and even arresting them solely for carrying condoms. In at least three cities, prosecutors introduced condoms as evidence at trials. Some sex workers who were afraid to carry condoms reported having unprotected sex or using plastic bags as substitutes. The report also notes widespread profiling and other abuses by police, including reports police in Los Angeles and New York City demanded sex in exchange for dropping charges and coerced women into sex while they were detained.
U.S. restrictions are preventing many people most affected by HIV/AIDS from attending the International AIDS Conference scheduled to begin in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. The United States categorically bans sex workers and drug users from entering the country unless they can obtain a waiver. Sex workers and their allies are protesting their exclusion by holding a separate conference called the Sex Worker Freedom Festival in Kolkata, India. Speaking ahead of the India conference, Andrew Hunter of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects said the United States is discriminating against sex workers.
Andrew Hunter: “[The U.S.] are the largest funder for HIV services and providing anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines to people with HIV, yet they are completely hypocritical when it comes to the involvement of sex workers in — not only in the International AIDS Conference, but the role of sex workers in controlling the HIV epidemic globally. So, we are not allowed to go to their conference, but we’re also not allowed to get their money for HIV prevention programming.”
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