WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange emerged from inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London on Sunday with a defiant speech from near the embassy’s balcony. Assange spoke days after Ecuador granted him political asylum, prompting Britain to deny him safe passage out of the country. In a nine-minute address to the media and supporters of WikiLeaks, Assange called on President Obama to abandon what he described as a “war on whistleblowers.”
Julian Assange: “I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks. The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation. The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters. The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.”
At least 13 people were killed over the weekend in three separate U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan. The attacks came as Pakistanis celebrated the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. The United States says its drone strikes target militants, but the Obama administration’s policy is to deem all adult male victims as militants unless exculpatory evidence emerges after their deaths.
The last U.N. monitors have withdrawn from Syria, marking the end of a four-month mission. The mission announced its dissolution last week amidst unrelenting violence between government and rebel forces. Earlier today, the Syrian regime launched a new assault to retake the Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya from the opposition. On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attended services at a Damascus mosque, his first public appearance since a bomb attack killed top members of his cabinet last month. The United Nations, meanwhile, has confirmed veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the new international mediator for Syria, replacing Kofi Annan. U.N. spokesperson Eduardo del Buey announced Brahimi’s appointment.
Eduardo del Buey: “The violence and the suffering in Syria must come to an end. The secretary-general appreciates Mr. Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task, for which he will need, and rightly expects, a strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council.”
President Obama continues to invoke the record of newly announced Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan on the campaign trail. On Saturday, Obama compared his signature healthcare law to Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program.
President Obama: “So here’s the bottom line. My plan saves money in Medicare by cracking down on fraud and waste and insurance company subsidies. And their plan makes seniors pay more so they can give another tax cut to millionaires and billionaires. You’d think they’d avoid talking about Medicare, given the fact that both of them have proposed to voucherize the Medicare system.”
Republicans have accused Obama of slashing more than $700 billion from Medicare, even though the cuts actually come from insurers and providers. Speaking in Florida, Ryan rejected charges he seeks to gut Medicare, citing his family’s personal experience.
Paul Ryan: “When I think about Medicare, it’s not just a program. It’s not just a bunch of numbers. It’s what my mom relies on. Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma, when we needed it then. And Medicare is there for my mom while she needs it now. And we have to keep that guarantee.”
As Paul Ryan seeks to distance himself from his previous proposals on Medicare, new video has emerged showing another apparent reversal on a major policy issue. In a 2002 speech on the House floor during debate on an economic stimulus, Ryan forcefully backed government intervention to stimulate the economy and help the unemployed. The video was unearthed by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
Paul Ryan: “What we’re trying to accomplish is to pass the kinds of legislation that, when they’ve passed in the past, have grown the economy and gotten people back to work. We want to make it easier for employers to keep people employed. We want to make it easier for employers to invest in their businesses, to invest in their employees and to hire people back to work. And on top of it, for those people who have lost their jobs, we want to help them with their unemployment insurance and with health insurance. … What we’re trying to accomplish here is a recognition of the fact that, in recessions, unemployment lags on even well after a recovery has taken place.”
A Republican congressmember running for the Senate in Missouri has sparked national outrage for comments on rape and abortion. Asked by a reporter why he opposes abortion even in cases of rape, Rep. Todd Akin said that in cases of what he called “legitimate rape,” women can somehow block a pregnancy from taking place.
Reporter: “What about in the case of rape? Should it be legal or not?”
Todd Akin: “Well, you know, people always want to try and make that as one of those things: 'Well, how do you — how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question?' It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
Akin is a six-term member of Congress with Tea Party backing in his race to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. He later issued a statement saying he “misspoke.” Last year, Akin supported a Republican measure that called for permanently barring federal abortion funding, allowing exceptions only in the case of what it deemed “forcible” rape.
Prosecutors in Kansas have dropped the nation’s first criminal prosecution of the reproductive health services group Planned Parenthood, ending a five-year ordeal. Planned Parenthood’s affiliate in Kansas and mid-Missouri had faced charges of failing to assess the viability of fetuses before abortions. Although most of the charges had already been dismissed, prosecutors announced on Friday they were dropping the entire case.
Striking workers at the South African mine where police shot dead 34 people last week face a deadline to return to work today or face the loss of their jobs. The victims were killed more than a week after walking off the job at the Marikana platinum mine, owned by Lonmin, the world’s third largest producer of platinum. Police say they shot after workers armed with machetes ignored calls to disperse, but the workers’ union says the police committed a massacre. In response, South African President Jacob Zuma announced a week of national mourning as well as the formation of a commission of inquiry.
President Jacob Zuma: “I have decided to institute a commission of inquiry. The inquiry will enable us to get to the real cause of the incident and to derive the necessary lessons, too. However, today is not an occasion for blame, finger pointing or recrimination. Today challenges — today challenges us to restore calm and to share the pain of the affected families and communities.”
The shooting marked the worst mass killing in South Africa since the end of apartheid. The head of South Africa’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union said it evoked memories of the Sharpville massacre of 1960.
Joseph Mathunjwa: “I thought the history that I read about Sharpville massacre was a history. I never thought that in 2012 we will experience the same massacre under the democratic-elected government by ourselves. This is a shame.”
Two U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Friday when a member of the Afghan police force opened fire. It was the latest in a spate of shootings by members of the Afghan forces against the U.S.-led NATO occupation. A NATO spokesperson announced the attack.
Günter Katz: “This morning in Farah province, a member of the Afghan local police shot two American soldiers, killed them, and the guy, the shooter, has been killed, as well. The investigation is still ongoing, and we have no findings yet in terms of what the reason for this insider threat incident was.”
Protests against the U.S.-backed monarchy in Bahrain continued over the weekend, leading to at least one death. A 16-year-old demonstrator was killed on Friday in what activists called a brutal attack by the Bahraini police. The victim, Hussam al-Haddad, was reportedly shot before being assaulted by police in civilian clothes. His death came days after the prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in prison.