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Britain is vowing to deny safe passage to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange despite Ecuador’s decision to grant him political asylum. Assange remains inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has stayed for almost two months in attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sex crime accusations. Assange’s lawyers say he fears Sweden will then extradite him to the United States to face charges over the leaking of secret U.S. military and diplomatic files. On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assange would be arrested if he left the embassy.
William Hague: “We are disappointed by the statement by Ecuador’s foreign minister today that Ecuador has offered political asylum to Julian Assange. Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We must carry out that obligation, and of course we fully intend to do so. The Ecuadorean government’s decision this afternoon does not change that in any way, nor does it change the current circumstances in any way.”
Britain has also threatened to raid the Ecuadorean embassy in order to arrest Assange within a week.
At least 70 people were killed Thursday in a series of bombings and shootings across Iraq. It was Iraq’s deadliest day of violence since more than 100 people were slain on July 23.
The U.S.-led NATO occupation force in Afghanistan has confirmed the deaths of 11 people in a helicopter crash Thursday, including seven U.S. soldiers. NATO spokesperson Günter Katz announced the news.
Günter Katz: ”ISAF helicopter crashed in Kandahar province today, resulting in the death of seven American soldiers, three Afghan national security force members and one Afghan civilian interpreter. The crash is still under investigation. I would like to express my sincere condolences to the loved ones and families of these 10 brave soldiers and their civilian colleague, who lost their lives today.”
The United Nations is phasing out its monitoring mission inside Syria amidst unrelenting violence between government and rebel forces. Saying both sides have “chosen the path of war,” a top U.N. peacekeeping official said the last of the remaining monitors inside Syria will pull out by a week from today. The United Nations, meanwhile, has confirmed veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi will take over as international mediator, replacing Kofi Annan, who resigned two weeks ago. On Thursday, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said up to 2.5 million people affected by the Syrian conflict are in need of aid.
Valerie Amos: “Over a million people have been uprooted and face destitution. Perhaps a million more have urgent humanitarian needs due to the widening impact of the crisis on the economy and on people’s livelihoods. Back in March, we estimated that a million people were in need of help. Now as many as 2.5 million are in need of assistance, and we are working to update our plans and our funding requirements.”
Syria’s opposition received a boost on Thursday with unconfirmed reports the brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Maher Assad, had lost a leg in the bombing of a key regime meeting in Damascus last month. Speaking in neighboring Turkey, a spokesperson for the opposition Syrian National Council urged international support for a no-fly zone over Syria.
Anas Abda: “We need certain measures, effective, and we need it now. This is a message to the whole world, not only to the friends of Syria, to the whole world. And we also expect from the Arab countries and from the friends of Syria to take the lead in this and to help stop bloodshed and to establish a safe haven and a no-fly zone immediately.”
Police in South Africa opened fire on a miners’ strike near Johannesburg on Thursday, killing at least 30 people. Government officials say the police began shooting after workers armed with machetes ignored orders to disperse. The killings followed more than a week of clashes at the Marikana platinum mine. South Africa’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which represents most of the strikers, has accused the police of committing a massacre. It was one of the worst mass killings in South Africa since the end of apartheid.
The oil giant Shell is being accused of a new oil spill in southern Nigeria. The Nigerian NGO Environmental Rights Action says it has observed an “extensive” spill on the Brass River in the Niger Delta. Shell has shut down an oil processing site but denies claims of a large spill. The news comes days after Exxon Mobil acknowledged a separate oil spill in the Delta. A U.N. report one year ago said the region will already need 30 years and around $1 billion to at least partially recover from environmental damage caused by major oil companies over several decades.
The State Department is calling on the kingdom of Bahrain to vacate charges against a prominent human rights activist who has just been sentenced to three years in prison. Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was detained in June after criticizing the U.S.-backed Bahraini regime in Twitter messages and in media appearances, including one on Democracy Now! recently. He was sentenced to three years this week in what Amnesty International called “the end of the facade of reform in Bahrain.” Speaking to reporters on Thursday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland initially declined to denounce Rajab’s sentence but soon called for the case to be dropped after further questioning.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is claiming to have paid an effective tax rate of at least 13 percent over the past 10 years. Romney made the claim on Thursday in response to long-running speculation fueled by his refusal to release his tax returns. Speaking in South Carolina, Romney said the focus on his finances is “small-minded.”
Mitt Romney: “I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces — 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty — the fascination with taxes I paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face. But I did go back and look at my taxes, and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that. So, I’ve paid taxes every single year. Harry Reid’s charge is totally false. I’m sure waiting for Harry to put up who it was that told him what he says they told him. I don’t believe it for a minute, by the way. But every year I’ve paid at least 13 percent, and if you add in addition the amount that goes to charity, why, the number gets well above 20 percent.”
The controversy over Romney’s taxes escalated recently when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed without providing evidence that Romney had avoided paying taxes entirely in some years. Romney has denied Reid’s claims but has maintained his refusal to release his returns.
A new study says 26 major corporations paid their top executives more money last year than they paid in federal taxes. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, companies including AT&T, Boeing and Citigroup paid their CEOs an average of $20.4 million, while paying little or no tax to the federal government.
New figures show July marked the 329th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. It was also the 36th consecutive July with an above-average temperature, a streak dating back to 1976. In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently disclosed July was the hottest month on record.
The city of Dallas has declared a state of emergency and authorized the spraying of pesticides to control a record outbreak of the West Nile virus. Nearly 200 cases of West Nile have been reported in Dallas, leading to at least 10 deaths in the surrounding county and 17 statewide. In response, Dallas has begun spraying an aerial pesticide for the first time since 1966.
Nine people have filed suit against the oil giant Chevron over a massive fire at the company’s oil refinery in Richmond, California, last week. Tens of thousands of area residents were ordered to stay in their homes with the windows and doors closed after a series of blasts sparked blazing fires that sent huge plumes of smoke. Hundreds sought medical treatment for respiratory issues. The lawsuit accuses Chevron of negligence in its operating of the refinery and in its emergency response.