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The government of Ecuador has granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The decision comes two months after Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning for alleged sexual misconduct. Britain has vowed to move ahead with extraditing Assange. On Wednesday, Britain threatened to raid the embassy if Quito did not hand Assange over. The threat drew a rebuke from Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño.
Ricardo Patiño: “Today we’ve received from the United Kingdom a clear and written threat that they could storm our embassy in London if Ecuador refuses to hand in Julian Assange. We want to make it absolutely clear that we are not a British colony, and that the times of colonialism are over.”
Britain had previously told Ecuador that giving Assange asylum would not change a thing and that it might still revoke the diplomatic status of Quito’s embassy in London to allow the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder.
Dozens of people have been killed in the latest attack by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on a rebel stronghold. At least 30 people, including children, died Wednesday when Syrian warplanes bombed the rebel-held town of Azaz near the border with Turkey. At least 10 homes were reportedly destroyed in the attack. Speaking to the BBC during a visit to Syria, U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos said the situation on the ground is getting worse.
Valerie Amos: “I was here in March, and the situation has clearly got worse since then. Our assessment at the end of March was that about a million people needed help. In my discussions with government yesterday, it’s clear that that number has gone up significantly.”
In other Syria news, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has suspended the country’s membership in protest of the Assad regime’s crackdown. OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu announced the move at a summit in Mecca.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: “This is a very strong message for the Syrian regime telling them that the Islamic world cannot accept a system that kills its people. And it’s a message to the international community, as well, telling them that the Islamic community supports a political, peaceful solution and does not want any more bloodshed.”
Militants in Pakistan have attacked an army base that some have speculated may store a number of the country’s nuclear weapons. The attackers struck the Minhas air force base overnight, battling with Pakistani troops until the early morning hours. Seven militants and one soldier were reportedly killed. It is believed the gunmen had intended to target warplanes in anticipation of a Pakistani military attack on the militant stronghold of North Waziristan. The base is believed to hold at least some of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal of an estimated 100 warheads, but the Pakistani military has denied the storage of any nuclear weapons there.
Tens of thousands of young undocumented immigrants waited in mile-long lines across the country on Wednesday to take advantage of a new federal policy that may grant them legal status to temporarily remain and work in the United States. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, students and certain other immigrants under 31 will now be eligible for a two-year reprieve from deportation if they meet specific conditions, including being able to demonstrate that they came to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, lived here for the past five years, have not been convicted of certain crimes, and do not pose a national security threat. As the policy went into effect, Republican Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona issued an executive order barring immigrants who are granted a reprieve from receiving public benefits or getting drivers’ licenses. She also instructed state agencies to make sure only legal residents access taxpayer-financed benefits.
A Pennsylvania judge has upheld a controversial voter identification law that critics say will benefit Republicans this November. The measure requires voters to produce photo ID before they can cast ballots. Opponents of the law had sought to delay its implementation until after the November 6 elections. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups say they will appeal to the state Supreme Court.
A security guard at the right-wing Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., was shot and wounded on Wednesday by a man who reportedly disagreed with the group’s views. Police say the shooter opened fire after the security guard confronted him in the lobby of the group’s offices. The suspect, identified as Floyd Corkins, reportedly expressed objections to the Family Research Council’s opposition to LGBT rights. Corkins had volunteered at the D.C. Center, an LGBT community center in Washington. The center quickly joined with more than 40 other LGBT rights groups to denounce the attack, saying: “We utterly reject and condemn such violence.”
Seven major banks have been subpoenaed in a probe of the manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, which provides the basis for rates on trillions of dollars in transactions across the globe. The manipulation meant millions of borrowers paid the wrong amount on their loans. New York officials have subpoenaed UBS, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, JPMorgan, Citigroup, HSBC and Barclays Bank over the past several months. Barclays was fined $453 million in June for its role in fixing Libor. Both the Justice Department and the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut are currently conducting investigations.
A federal probe into the failed commodities and derivatives brokerage house MF Global is unlikely to result in any criminal prosecutions of top executives. MF Global filed for one of the largest bankruptcies in U.S. corporate history last year with almost $40 billion in liabilities. It was the largest failure on Wall Street since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Regulators later discovered up to $1.2 billion in customer funds that should have been kept segregated were missing. But the New York Times reports federal investigators have concluded that the losses were due to mistakes rather than fraud. Former New Jersey governor and U.S. Senator Jon Corzine, who headed MF Global, would be among those to evade prosecution.
Raging wildfires across parts of the western United States have forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. The fires have swept through more than a half million acres in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California so far.
On the campaign trail, Vice President Joe Biden is under fire for what Republicans call an attempt to link Mitt Romney to the policies of slavery. Speaking in Virginia, Biden said Romney wants to put Americans “back in chains” through his opposition to financial regulation.
Joe Biden “Every Republican’s voted for it. Look at what they value and look at their budget and what they’re proposing. Romney wants to let the — he said in the first hundred days he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, 'unchain Wall Street.' They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”
Biden has stood by his remarks, saying he intended no comparisons to slavery.
A prominent human rights activist in Bahrain has been sentenced to three years in prison for taking part in protests against the U.S.-backed regime. Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was detained in June after criticizing the Bahraini government in Twitter messages and in media appearances, including one on Democracy Now! in May. During his comments, Rajab had criticized U.S. support for the ruling monarchy.
Nabeel Rajab: “We are very upset about United States’ position with Bahrain. We are very upset about United States trying to hide the crimes and trying to hide the violation happening in all the Gulf country. Because the Gulf country are a rich region, because it’s a big arm market, because it’s a big oil exporter, we have to suffer for that. We are victims for being a rich region. We are a victim of being a region that have an interest with the United States. Unfortunately, the United States — and the West, as well, comes after United States — have ignored completely the crime what’s happening here.”
In breaking news, a NATO helicopter has crashed in southern Afghanistan killing 11 people, including seven international troops.