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The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to unveil a new push for immigration reform in the coming months. According to The New York Times, President Obama will ask Congress to approve measures including a new path to citizenship for some of 11 million undocumented people currently in the United States, as well as a guest-worker program for low-wage immigrant workers. A bipartisan group of senators is working on a comprehensive bill that could be introduced as early as March. The administration is backing eventual citizenship after deporting more than 400,000 undocumented people in the 2012 fiscal year, the largest number in U.S. history.
A number of civilians have been killed in an explosion that followed a U.S.-led NATO raid in Afghanistan. The victims reportedly died as they tried to collect the bodies of Taliban fighters who had been killed in a firefight with U.S. troops around a mosque in Wardak province. It is unclear what caused the explosion, as the fighters had already been shot dead when the blast occurred. Estimates of the civilian toll stand at between seven and 16.
The latest violence in Afghanistan comes days after President Obama announced plans to speed up the transfer of formal military control to the Afghan forces. Appearing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House Friday, Obama said a transition to Afghan military leadership of combat missions will take place in the spring instead of the summer.
President Obama: “Today we agreed that as Afghan forces take the lead and as President Karzai announces the final phase of the transition, coalition forces will move to a support role this spring. President Karzai and I also discussed the nature of our security cooperation after 2014. Our teams continue to work toward a security agreement, and as they do, they will be guided by our respect for Afghan sovereignty and by our two long-term tasks, which will be very specific and very narrow tasks: first, training and assisting Afghan forces, and second, targeting counterterrorism missions — targeted counterterrorism missions against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”
It is unclear how the sped-up timetable of formal control will change operations on the ground as tens of thousands of U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan until the withdrawal deadline of late 2014 and possibly even beyond. As in Iraq, a rejection of immunity for U.S. troops could prevent a large troop presence after the withdrawal. After returning from Washington earlier today, Afghan President Karzai said a jirga, or grand assembly, will decide on U.S. immunity by the end of the year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “The decision regarding immunity for American soldiers in Afghanistan is a very important issue, which condition of immunity they want from us. The government of Afghanistan cannot make a decision on this. This decision should be referred to the people of Afghanistan in a grand assembly, to be asked whether immunity should be given to the American soldiers or not, and if we give them immunity, how and under which conditions.”
According to Karzai, an initial U.S. proposal for immunity was rejected and a second round of talks will be held this year in Kabul. In a statement, the activist group Voices for Creative Nonviolence criticized the U.S. role in Afghanistan, saying: “Over the past 10 years of occupation, the United States could have assumed a responsibility to help establish a sustainable economy and infrastructure. Instead … the U.S. forces will leave behind many millions of war-weary, exhausted and economically desperate people.”
France is in its fourth day of bombing areas of Mali in a bid to oust rebels that have held the country’s north since March. The strikes have killed a reported 11 civilians, including three children fleeing the bombardment of a camp near the central town of Konna. France has launched the attacks in its former colony at the Malian government’s request, backing troops from neighboring West African states who are arriving over the next few days. France’s defense minister says the United States has “seconded” its intervention, reportedly providing intelligence as well as transportation and communications support.
News of a U.S. role in the bombing of Mali comes as President Obama has confirmed involvement in a failed French operation inside Somalia. In a letter to Congress, Obama disclosed U.S. forces provided support to French troops in a failed effort to recover a French secret agent captured by Somali militants. The hostage, Denis Allex, was reportedly killed during the failed operation along with 17 Somali fighters.
Israel has cracked down on the latest nonviolent effort by Palestinian activists to stop the ongoing expansion of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank. On Sunday, Israeli troops raided a tent encampment dubbed Bab al-Shams, Arabic for “Gate of the Sun,” in the so-called E1 settlement zone that bisects the West Bank. The E1 construction had largely been put on hold following U.S. objections dating back to President George W. Bush. But Israel resumed work there last month in response to the U.N. vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state. The activists behind Bab al-Shams pitched around 20 tents at the site on Friday in a bid to oppose the latest settlement growth. Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouthi said Palestinians are protecting the land of their future independent state.
Mustafa Barghouthi: “This is Palestinian land. It is owned by a Palestinian, and we are legally here. What you see here is the best and most beautiful act of nonviolent resistance. We are encountering the Israeli illegal settlements with building settlements on stolen Palestinian land by building on our own land.”
The inhabitants of Bab al-Shams remained there until early Sunday morning, when around 500 Israeli forces raided the encampment and detained several people. Organizers say at least six people were wounded in the crackdown. In a statement, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee vowed to continue similar actions, saying: “This is not the end of the popular struggle and it will continue in its full strength.”
An Egyptian court has granted a retrial to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in his appeal of a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of unarmed demonstrators during the protests that ended Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule. Mubarak will be retried along with his top security aide, Habib el-Adly, who was convicted on the same charges.
At least 20 people have reportedly been killed in a Syrian government air strike in a rebel-held town south of Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says six children were among the dead. The reported strike comes one day after Syrian opposition activists claimed 36 people, including 14 children, died in government bombings. On Friday, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi held a new round of talks with top U.S. and Russian envoys in Switzerland, with no apparent breakthroughs.
Lakhdar Brahimi: “We stressed again that, in our view, there was no military solution to this conflict. We underscored the necessity to reach a political solution based on the Geneva communiqué of the 30th of June, 2012.”
Haiti marked the third anniversary on Saturday of the devastating earthquake that killed roughly 300,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless in what was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In tent camps housing the displaced, Haitian residents said international donors have left them behind.
Clautaire Fenel: “My message to the international donors is that the money they gave to help the people in Haiti is being put to use for the interest of other people instead. It is used to buy luxury cars, pay for hotels and go to high-priced restaurants paid in U.S. dollars.”
Eunice Eliassaint: “I don’t see a future here. I can’t hide anything from you. There is no tomorrow. Last night, the children went to bed without anything to eat.”
Appearing in Haiti to mark the anniversary, former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, was questioned about U.N. responsibility for the post-earthquake cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 8,000 people. Some 450,000 Haitians have also been sickened since the cholera outbreak erupted in October 2010, apparently brought over by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal.
Bill Clinton: “We have to speed up some of the infrastructure. We have to repair the agriculture. We’ve got to build more houses. We’ve got to get people out of those tents.
Reporter: “And cholera? What about — you’ve said the U.N. introduced cholera to Haiti. Do you think they should be liable for all of those deaths? There’s nearly 8,000 people who have been killed.”
Bill Clinton: “I think that’s a decision someone else has to make now. I think the most important thing is that the U.N. asked Paul Farmer to oversee the response. We’ve got the infection and mortality rate cut in half, and I think it can be contained, so I’m encouraged by that.”
New cases of deadly gang rape have been reported in India amidst ongoing outcry over the death of a rape victim last month. Six men have been arrested on charges of gang-raping a woman on board a bus in northern India. Another gang rape and murder has also been reported at a train station in the state of Bihar. The attacks are likely to fuel protests that have erupted across India since 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey was gang-raped and mutilated on a moving bus in the capital New Delhi nearly one month ago. She died in the hospital two weeks later.
Vice President Joe Biden is preparing to unveil the recommendations of his task force on gun violence formed in the aftermath of last month’s shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. On Friday, Biden capped a week of meetings with visitors including both gun control advocates and the gun industry by hosting representatives of companies behind video games that feature heavy violence.
Vice President Joe Biden: “We know that it is — there is no silver bullet. There is no, as one of my friends said, no seatbelt that you can put on to assure that you will not be in this circumstance again. We have a problem beyond, quote, 'the massacres' — the Columbines to the Auroras, to Connecticut. You know, there’s 10,000 people a year gunned down in our cities. Different motives, different reasons, different explanations, but, you know, it’s a real problem. It’s serious.”
Biden and other Cabinet members are expected to meet with members of Congress to discuss the proposals at the White House today. His proposed measures will likely include an assault weapons ban, though pro-gun organizations are already predicting it will not pass the Republican-controlled House.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared a public health emergency in response to a flu epidemic that’s spreading across the country. Cuomo’s action came days after Boston became the first major U.S. city to make the same declaration. The flu was officially deemed an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control on Friday. In Washington, Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health claimed a flu vaccine has been 62 percent effective and urged parents to seek it out for their children.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Whenever you have influenza, children have an infection rate almost certainly that’s higher than you see with adults. And young children, when they get sick, they’re in a very high-risk category of having complications, which is the reason why we want to vaccinate children and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that children six months of age or older should be vaccinated.”
Scores of activists gathered outside the White House on Friday to mark the 11th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Wearing orange jumpsuits and hoods, the demonstrators called on President Obama to uphold his now-four-year-old vow to close the prison. Parallel rallies for Guantánamo’s closure were held in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami and London. One hundred sixty-six men remain locked up at the prison even though 86 of them have been cleared for release.
A prominent immigrant rights activist has spoken out after her mother and brother were detained in a raid by federal immigration agents at their Phoenix home. In a tearful recording, Erika Andiola, who has played a leading role in the undocumented youth movement, urged an end to the raids.
Erika Andiola: “We need to do something. We need to stop separating families. And this is real. This is so real. This is not just happening to me; this is happening to families everywhere. We cannot let this happen anymore. And I need everybody to stop, to stop pretending like nothing is wrong, to stop pretending that we’re just living normal lives, because we’re not. This can happen to any of us.”
Andiola’s mother and brother were released on Friday following a national outcry by activist groups. A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has denied accusations the family was targeted for Andiola’s activism.