A car bombing in the Lebanese capital of Beirut has left at least five people dead. The victims included the attack’s apparent target, Mohamad Chatah, Lebanon’s former finance minister. Chatah was an aide to former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Much of Beirut was put on lockdown after the blast.
A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan has killed four people. The attack hit a compound in the tribal region of North Waziristan. Pakistani officials described the victims as Afghan members of the Haqqani militant group. The strike came amidst ongoing protests against the U.S. drone war. On Thursday, demonstrators briefly blocked a NATO supply route near the city of Quetta.
Fighting is continuing in South Sudan amidst mediation efforts by African countries. The leaders of Ethiopia and Kenya are in the capital Juba in a bid to end fighting between government forces and rebels loyal to the country’s ousted former vice president. The United Nations says the violence has claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands more. Rebels have now captured half of the capital in South Sudan’s main oil producing state, the Upper Nile. Hilde Johnson, head of the U.N. mission in South Sudan, said the country is facing its worst crisis since gaining independence from Sudan two years ago.
Hilde Johnson: “These past 11 days have been a very trying time for South Sudan and for all citizens of this newborn nation. What has happened this last week has, for many of them, brought back the nightmares of the past. The nationhood, painstakingly built over decades of conflict and strife, is at stake.”
Dozens of people have been killed this week in continued fighting in the Central African Republic. Muslim and Christian militias have battled the other and attacked civilian areas since fighting erupted earlier this month. The Red Cross says it has recovered 44 bodies in the streets of the capital over the last two days. A mass grave with 30 bodies was also reportedly found near a Muslim rebel base.
The military government in Egypt has pressed ahead with its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood one day after declaring the group a terrorist organization. On Thursday, dozens of Brotherhood members were arrested and their assets seized. Over a thousand groups also had their bank accounts frozen, including a network of hospitals. The terrorism designation marks a new escalation of the campaign against the Brotherhood since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July. On Thursday, one person was killed as Brotherhood supporters clashed with rivals in Cairo. The State Department says it has “expressed concern” to the Egyptian government over its latest moves.
Israeli forces have bombed the Gaza Strip for the second time in three days. The latest strikes came after Palestinian militants fired rockets into southern Israel, causing no damage. Israel has also cut off its lone commercial crossing into Gaza, stopping the import of critical fuel for Gaza’s lone power plant. Palestinians say the plant will again be forced to shut down unless the crossing reopens today.
Brazil continues to grapple with massive flooding in its southeast. The death toll from weeks of torrential rains stands at 44, with more than 60,000 left homeless. It is the worst rain storm to hit Brazil in 90 years.
A U.S. citizen kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Pakistan has appeared in a new video appeal to President Obama. Warren Weinstein was working as a U.S. government contractor when he was seized two years ago. Al-Qaeda has said it will free him if the United States stops air strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and frees al-Qaeda prisoners, among other demands. On the tape, Weinstein asks President Obama to help win his release.
Warren Weinstein: “It seems that I have been totally abandoned and forgotten. You are now in your second term as president of the United States. And that means that you can now take hard decisions without worrying about re-election. And so I again appeal to you to instruct your appropriate officials to negotiate my release.”
Weinstein goes on to say his captors have agreed to let his family members visit him if the United States allows the same courtesy to its al-Qaeda prisoners.
A pair of U.N. experts has asked the United States and Yemen to account for a suspected drone strike that reportedly killed up to 15 people earlier this month. The victims were on their way to a wedding when they were apparently mistaken for an al-Qaeda convoy. In a statement, Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, called on the United States and Yemen to confirm their responsibility for the attack. Juan Méndez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said bombing an illegitimate target such as a convoy of civilians would amount to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
A plan to relocate a U.S. military base on the island of Okinawa has won local approval after a multi-year dispute. The Okinawa governor has signed onto a U.S. effort to move the base to a more remote area. A movement of Okinawa residents has opposed the base altogether and pushed for ousting U.S. forces off the island, citing environmental concerns and sexual assaults by U.S. soldiers on local residents. The United States maintains 34 bases and 18,000 troops on Okinawa.
More than 100,000 people remained without power in Maine on Thursday after an ice storm that swept up from the Midwest. Freezing temperatures over the past several days have killed 27 people, 17 in the United States and 10 in Canada.
President Obama has signed into law the two major congressional measures of the past month: a Pentagon spending bill and a new budget for 2014. The military bill bars the transfer of Guantánamo Bay prisoners to the United States, but frees up their release to foreign countries. In a signing statement, Obama called the U.S. transfer ban “unwise” and said he will continue to work for its removal. The measure also keeps military sexual assault cases within the chain of command while adding some new protections for survivors. The budget bill averts a government shutdown early next year, but ignores the extension of jobless benefits for the unemployment that expired this week.
An appeals court has overturned the conviction of a top-ranking clergyman of Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic Church for covering up child sexual abuse by Philadelphia priests. Monsignor William Lynn was found guilty last year of hiding the molestation by transferring predatory priests to unsuspecting congregations. He was the highest-ranking U.S. church official to be convicted of covering up child abuse to date. But on Thursday, Lynn’s conviction was overturned after a judge ruled he was not legally responsible for a victim’s welfare. Lynn remains jailed pending an expected appeal by prosecutors, but his attorneys will now seek his release on bail.
Members of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 have begun leaving Russia after charges were formally dropped earlier this week. The group of 28 activists and two journalists were jailed for two months for trying to stop Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. On his way home to Sweden, activist Dmitri Litvinov vowed to remain involved in anti-drilling protests.
Dmitri Litvinov: “I’m glad that this chapter is over, but the book still remains to be written. As long as there is threat for the Arctic, as long as multinational companies, like Gazprom, like Shell, like Exxon, and the puppet regimes are intent on raping the Arctic, we will certainly continue to fight against that and to work towards a sane future.”