Syrian rebels are claiming to be in control of more than half of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, after days of clashes with government troops. The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has offered competing claims, saying it has forced opposition fighters to retreat from key areas. The fighting in Aleppo has driven tens of thousands from their homes. At the United Nations, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Refugees said Aleppo residents are trapped between dangerous fighting and perilous conditions should they try to flee.
Melissa Fleming: “We are particularly concerned about the continuous raging armed violence that is now taking place in Syria’s most populous city, Aleppo, where we are witnessing and our partners are witnessing that thousands of frightened residents are seeking shelter in schools, mosques, public buildings. These are the people who haven’t fled the city, haven’t had the means or feel that it’s too dangerous to make that journey. We are getting indications that the journey is wrought with armed gangs, road blocks, blocking the way.”
Exiled Syrian activists have announced a new opposition group seeking to form a transitional government. The Council for the Syrian Revolution marks a challenge to the larger Syrian National Council, which was formed nearly a year ago.
At least 19 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in Iraq on Tuesday when two car bombs exploded in Baghdad. The bombings were followed by a suicide attack on a police station in an attempt to free al-Qaeda-linked prisoners. Iraq is coming off one of its deadliest months since the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, with at least 237 people killed and 603 wounded.
A new government audit has found the United States has wasted millions of dollars in poorly run reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. A report from the U.S. inspector general for Afghanistan says a “significant portion” of the $400 million in infrastructure spending for Afghanistan last year may be wasted “due to weaknesses in planning, coordination and execution.” The squandered projects include U.S.-funded bases for the Afghan border police, many of which have already been left abandoned. In one case, Afghan officers left the base because it had no water supply. The report says Afghan projects will require years of increased funding, warning: “The U.S. risks wasting billions of dollars if U.S.-funded development programs cannot be sustained, either by the Afghan government or by continued donor support.”
The United States has imposed a new round of sanctions targeting Iran. On Tuesday, the White House said it would punish more foreign banks that help sell Iranian oil and would also extend penalties for those who buy Iranian petrochemicals. Speaking on a visit to Egypt, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta denied a recent report that the Obama administration has shared contingency plans for a military strike on Iran with the Israeli government.
Leon Panetta: “We continue to work together in the effort to ensure that Iran does not reach that point of developing a nuclear weapon. As with regards to any specific plans, you know, we — I think it’s the wrong characterization to say that we’re going to be discussing potential attack plans. What we are discussing are various contingencies and how we would respond.”
A federal judge has dealt a blow to the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate the controversial practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled the Environmental Protection Agency had exceeded its powers and infringed on the authority of state regulators when it strengthened guidelines for the industry’s practice of dumping mining waste into Appalachian waterways. The decision came after a coal mining industry coalition, along with West Virginia and Kentucky, sued the EPA.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has unveiled a proposal to ban assault weapons in his state. On Tuesday, Quinn used his amendatory veto power to propose banning the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and attachments. Quinn is the first U.S. governor to formally put forward an assault weapons ban since the shooting massacre in Aurora, Colorado, last month.
The former chair of the Republican Party in Florida has claimed top party officials openly discussed suppressing the state’s African-American vote. In a lengthy deposition submitted for his ongoing corruption case, Jim Greer says of a December 2009 meeting: “I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.” He continues: “They talked about not letting blacks vote … and minority outreach programs were not fit for the Republican Party.” His comments come amidst Florida’s standoff with the Justice Department and civil rights groups over a voter purge that critics say particularly targets people of color. In recent weeks, at least two top Republican state lawmakers — state Senator Glenn Grothman in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai — have predicted that restrictive voter ID laws will help Republican candidate Mitt Romney win their states in November.
Supporters of California’s same-sex marriage ban have asked the Supreme Court to reverse a federal appeals court decision that declared the ban unconstitutional. California outlawed same-sex marriage in 2008 when voters passed the ban known as Proposition 8. A three-judge panel struck down the measure earlier this year, ruling that Prop 8 “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.” The request to the Supreme Court means the four-year battle over Prop 8 will likely be resolved this year.
In Texas, Tea Party-backed candidate Ted Cruz has defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff vote for the Republican Senate nomination. Cruz had once been considered a long-shot candidate but surged in the polls to beat out Dewhurst, who had won the backing of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Congressional leaders have reached a bipartisan deal on a budget to fund the government through March of next year. The more than $1 trillion proposal averts a budget showdown before the November elections.
The Democratic National Committee has announced San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro will give the keynote address at the party’s September convention. Castro will be the first Latino to keynote the DNC.
India has restored electric power across the country after a massive outage that affected nearly half its population of 1.2 billion. More than a dozen states with about 670 million people were left without power on Tuesday. It was the worst energy crisis to hit India in more than a decade.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has handed down what advocates are calling a milestone victory for indigenous peoples. The court has sided with Ecuador’s Sarayaku indigenous community in a long-running dispute with the Ecuadorean government and a foreign oil firm. In its ruling, the court found Ecuador ignored the Sarayakus’ rights by failing to consult with them before approving a massive energy project on their ancestral land. In a statement, Amnesty International said the ruling will have “far-reaching effects” across the Western Hemisphere, adding: “It makes it crystal clear that states bear a responsibility to carry out special consultation processes before engaging in development projects affecting Indigenous Peoples and their rights.”
In Russia, three members of a feminist punk band are on trial this week and could face up to seven years in prison for staging a church protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In February, five members of the group Pussy Riot rushed before the altar in one of Russia’s main Orthodox cathedrals wearing dresses, tights and brightly colored balaclavas. They danced, genuflected and prayed to the Virgin Mary to expel Putin, who is now serving a third stint as Russia’s president. The three, all in their twenties, have been in jail for five months and could face up to seven years on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.” Two of the women have small children. In a rally outside the courtroom, a supporter of the band called for their immediate release.
Vitaly Zalomov: “This is not a trial. This is revenge. You see, the authorities have reached a point where they don’t abide by the law themselves. For a misdemeanor, let’s face it, people are thrown into jail. And they’ve been holding them there, young mothers, for half a year already.”
The trial comes amid fears of an increasing crackdown on dissent in Russia. On Tuesday, Russian investigators charged anti-corruption blogger and activist Alexei Navalny with embezzlement, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.