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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling for a near doubling of the international peacekeeping force in South Sudan amidst spiraling violence. On Monday, Ban asked the Security Council to send up to 5,500 more troops.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “The world is watching all sides in South Sudan. Attacks on civilians and the U.N. peacekeepers deployed to protect them must cease immediately. The United Nations will investigate reports of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Those responsible at the senior level will be held personally accountable and face the consequences, even if they claim they had no knowledge of the attacks.”
The Security Council is due to vote on Ban’s proposal today. South Sudan’s violence erupted earlier this month when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of mounting a coup. On Monday, Machar said the release of opposition leaders is a precondition for talks.
Riek Machar: “We are ready to start dialogue as soon as my comrades under detention there, SPLM leaders, are released and evacuated to a neutral ground, preferably Addis, because these are the people who will engage in the dialogue. We want a peaceful settlement of this conflict. We do not want our people to be subjected to a lot of suffering. They have already suffered enough. We want peace.”
Hundreds have been killed and thousands have sought refuge at U.N. facilities to escape the fighting.
A week of bombing by the Assad regime in northern Syria has reportedly left over 300 people dead. Syrian government helicopters have been hitting the town of Aleppo with highly destructive barrel bombs –- oil drums filled with explosives and sometimes with nails or scrap metal. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the death toll includes 87 children. Over 80 people were reportedly killed on Monday.
At least 14 people were killed and over 120 wounded when a car bomb hit a police station in northern Egypt. The Egyptian government has blamed the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood, calling it a “terrorist organization.” In a statement, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the bombing as “a direct attack on the unity of the Egyptian people.” No one has claimed responsibility so far.
Earlier on Monday, dozens of people rallied in Cairo against the jailing of three activists who helped lead the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. The three were the first to be sentenced under a new law that effectively bans public protest by requiring seven different permits for rallies.
Protester: “It makes us very surprised that the government that has reached power after demonstrations against Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood takes such measures against the activists and put them in prison. We will definitely continue opposition to this demonstration law, because we think it violates all international conventions and even the constitution that’s been recently reached.”
Israel has released a Palestinian prisoner whose lengthy hunger strike helped spark major protests in the Occupied Territories. Samer Issawi was initially released under the 2011 deal that freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, only to be re-arrested and returned to an Israeli prison last year. Issawi staged a hunger strike that spanned eight months and fueled solidarity actions by other Palestinian prisoners and rallies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Issawi ended his hunger strike in April after Israel agreed to set him free in return.
The Israeli government is seeking an explanation from the U.S. after becoming the latest country to be caught up in NSA spying. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show the NSA monitored the emails of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other top Israeli officials in 2009. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the surveillance unacceptable.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Concerning matters published in the past few days, I have asked for an examination in the matter. In the close ties between Israel and the United States, there are things that must not be done and that are not acceptable to us.”
In a lengthy interview published by The Washington Post today, Edward Snowden declared “mission accomplished” in his exposure of NSA surveillance. Snowden said: “As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.” Snowden also repeated his denials of sharing the leaked documents with foreign governments, including his host country Russia. Snowden said: “If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public.”
The Obama administration has extended a deadline until today for Americans seeking health insurance starting January 1st through the HealthCare.gov website. The 24-hour grace period was announced as over a million people flooded the site on Monday. In a symbolic move to promote the healthcare exchanges, the White House says President Obama personally enrolled in a “bronze” plan online over the weekend.
Same-sex marriages are continuing in Utah after a federal judge refused to overturn his decision striking down the state’s ban. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby rejected arguments from Utah’s attorney general, saying he stands by his ruling that marriage is a “fundamental right” for all. Dozens of couples exchanged vows at the city clerk’s office in Salt Lake City.
Dennis Owens: “You know, I don’t think it’ll change day-to-day life for us, obviously, but it is nice to know that there’s some formal recognition for the relationship we’ve created over the last 18 years. So it’s just a nice way to sort of commemorate the relationship that we share.”
Penny Kirby: “And just to have this opportunity in Utah, in our home state, because we could have gone to California. We could have gone to another state. But we’re Utahns. And that is huge. That’s huge. We’re pioneers. I mean, you know, it’s so awesome.”
Meanwhile in Ohio, a federal judge has issued a partial rejection of the state’s gay marriage ban. On Monday, Judge Timothy Black ruled Ohio is unlawfully discriminating against gay spouses married out of state in barring them from appearing on their partner’s death certificate.
LGBT advocates gathered in Uganda on Monday to vow opposition to the country’s new anti-gay law. Uganda’s parliament passed a measure last week that imposes a sentence of life in prison for repeated homosexual acts. It also makes it a crime not to report LGBT people. Ugandan activist Kasha Jacqueline vowed to challenge the measure in court.
Kasha Jacqueline: “If we fail in the courts of Uganda, we shall go to the African Court. And if we fail in the African Court, we shall go to the international court. Because the reason why, actually, we are not already in court when this bill was passed, because you cannot challenge something that is not already passed. When it was proposed in Parliament, we couldn’t challenge it, because you cannot challenge something that is not passed. But now that it’s passed, it has actually made us stronger. It has paved a way, a shorter way for us to go to the constitutional court. And for us, that’s one positive thing we’ve seen about this, despite all the setbacks.”
A number of U.S. evangelicals have been tied to anti-LGBTQ fervor in Uganda, with some reportedly helping draft the newly passed law.
The two freed members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot are calling for a boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics following their release from prison. Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina had been jailed since last March for protesting Russian leader Vladimir Putin in an Orthodox cathedral. They were due to be released within the next few months but were freed early under an amnesty that Putin proposed. Tolokonnikova called Putin’s amnesty a “cynical act.”
Nadia Tolokonnikova: “This is a cynical act. Putin blamed us for carrying out cynical acts, but in reality his today’s act is much more cynical — to release those people who do not need to be released. These remaining two months I could have easily spent where I was, and at the same time he refused to release those people who really needed it. It’s a disgusting and cynical act.”
The Pussy Riot members say the world should boycott the Winter Games in the Russian city of Sochi in February to protest Putin’s record on human rights.
New York City has reportedly settled hundreds of lawsuits over the mass arrest of protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Over 1,800 people were detained during the RNC, with many held in squalid conditions and for far longer than legally allowed. According to The New York Times, the new settlement would cover most or all pending lawsuits, with some payments totaling several million dollars.