Police in Thailand allowed anti-government protesters to enter the prime minister’s office compound earlier today in an apparent bid to ease the country’s worst political crisis in three years. The protesters want to oust the government and replace it with an unelected “people’s council.” Their outrage erupted last month over an amnesty bill that would have eliminated a corruption conviction against the brother of the current prime minister, who himself led Thailand until his ouster in 2006. Protests escalated over the weekend with at least three people killed. Earlier today, police removed barricades near the police headquarters and allowed protesters to swarm the lawn of Government House in a symbolic victory that appeared to calm tensions.
The United Nations human rights chief has directly implicated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in war crimes, saying U.N. investigators have found evidence indicating “responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state.” Navi Pillay said the investigators have found “massive evidence” of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. Investigators have also implicated opposition groups in war crimes, although to a lesser extent. Pillay repeated her call for the conflict to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Navi Pillay: “The inquiry into chemical weapons, which is utterly necessary, should not be used as a distraction from the fact that more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of the use of conventional weapons. Accountability should be a key priority of the international community, and I want to make this point again and again as the Geneva 2 talks begin. And I reiterate my call to all member states to refer the situation to the ICC.”
New data shows the number of aid workers killed in Afghanistan has more than tripled this year. According to the United Nations, 36 people have been killed in more than 200 attacks through the end of November, up from 11 deaths in total last year. In some cases, the Taliban has openly claimed credit for the attacks. Afghanistan is by far the most dangerous country in the world for aid workers.
Vice President Joe Biden criticized China’s new air defense zone during remarks earlier today in Japan. Standing with the Japanese prime minister, Biden said the zone, established over islands claimed by both China and Japan, has increased the risk of accidents and raised tensions. Biden is also due to meet with the Chinese president during his visit to the region.
In New York, investigators say a train that derailed in the Bronx Sunday was traveling at nearly three times the allowed speed when it headed into a curve before leaving the track. Four people died, and dozens more were injured, marking New York City’s deadliest train derailment in more than two decades. A National Transportation Safety Board member said Monday it is still unclear if the crash stemmed from human error or an equipment failure.
Earl Weener: “The preliminary information, and let me emphasize this is preliminary information, from the event recorders shows that the train was traveling at approximately 82 miles per hour as it went into a 30-mile-an-hour curve. That speed again was 82 miles an hour at the entrance to a 30-mile-an-hour curve.”
In Honduras, the tribunal overseeing elections says it will review vote tallies from the disputed presidential race after the runner-up denounced the results as fraudulent. The tribunal vowed to recount the tallies from more than 16,000 voting booths after demands by Xiomara Castro and her supporters, thousands of whom took to the streets on Sunday. Castro’s opponent, right-wing candidate Juan Orlando Hernández, has been declared the official winner.
In the Gulf nation of Bahrain, a court has denied a bid for early release from leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. Rajab was sentenced to three years in prison last summer as part of a government crackdown on dissent. According to Amnesty International, he has reported dire prison conditions, including being kept in solitary confinement with a dead animal in his cell. Rajab’s lawyer said he is eligible for early release under Bahraini law, but the request was rejected on Sunday. Bahrain is a close ally of the United States.
In Gaza, hundreds of activists set sail Monday morning in a “reverse flotilla” to challenge an Israeli naval blockade they say hurts the livelihoods of Palestinian fishermen. The blockade bans Gazans from going more than six nautical miles from shore. Organizers said at least some of the ships breached the boundary.
Shorouq Mahmoud: “Today, the Palestinian Intifada Coalition and more than 200 young men, women and foreigners decided to break the siege by sailing more than six miles into the sea. It is a protest against the siege that is not allowing fishermen to enter inside the sea of Gaza and to fish normally.”
The White House says 375,000 people visited the government’s healthcare website on Monday before noon. The reported spike in traffic came after the Obama administration claimed it had met its goal for improvements following the site’s disastrous rollout. But The Washington Post reports roughly a third of people who have signed up for health plans through the federal marketplace may not get the coverage they want due to rampant, computer-generated errors. The mistakes include duplicate enrollments, incorrect information and failure to notify insurers about new customers.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying its guidelines for Catholic hospitals — including a ban on abortions — lead to negligent care. The lawsuit centers on Tamesha Means, a Michigan woman who endured a risky miscarriage after a Catholic hospital failed to inform her that ending her pregnancy was an option. The hospital reportedly sent Means home twice even though she was in excruciating pain and there was virtually no chance her pregnancy would survive. Kary Moss, head of the Michigan ACLU, told the Associated Press, “It’s not just about one woman. It’s about a nationwide policy created by non-medical professionals putting patients in harm’s way.”
Same-sex couples in Hawaii began getting married early Monday as a law allowing the unions went into effect at midnight. The law followed a more than two-decade struggle for same-sex marriage in Hawaii, which is seen as one of the earliest battlegrounds for marriage equality.
In Canada, protests against the gas-drilling technique of fracking took place nationwide on Monday during an emergency day of action. The actions were called by members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation and other protesters in New Brunswick who are waging a campaign to stall gas exploration by the Texas-based firm Southwestern Energy.
In Oregon, a so-called megaload of oil equipment departed for the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, Monday night, a day after protesters successfully blocked it from leaving. On Sunday, two people locked themselves to a truck at the Port of Umatilla, stalling departure of the massive equipment, which they say will travel through sensitive areas and then help fuel climate change in the oil fields.
In breaking news, the political crisis in Ukraine is continuing after the parliament rejected a no-confidence motion against the government brought by the opposition. Protesters are continuing to condemn the government’s decision not to sign an agreement to boost ties with the European Union. Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled a planned trip to Kiev this week amid the mass protests. More than a million people have been in the streets.
André Schiffrin, the founder of The New Press and a leader in the book publishing world for nearly half a century, has died at the age of 78. Schiffrin served as editor-in-chief of Pantheon Books, where he edited titles by Jean-Paul Sartre, Studs Terkel and Noam Chomsky. In 1990, he made waves across the publishing world with his departure from Pantheon following a dispute with Alberto Vitale, head of Pantheon’s parent company, Random House. Schiffrin described that moment on Democracy Now! in 2007.
André Schiffrin: “And Vitale said to us, 'Why can’t you publish more books on the right rather than those on the left?' It was clear to us at that point that we were in a situation where there was no compromise, no solution. So all of my colleagues and I resigned at the same time, which is something that normally doesn’t happen in publishing. When there’s a new owner, everybody says, 'Oh, well, let’s see. Maybe we can work it out. We don’t want to leave our corner offices,' and so on. But we did leave all together. And…”
Amy Goodman: “How many of you?”
André Schiffrin: “Well, there were six who left altogether, the editorial staff. And there was a big picket line outside of Random House. There was a lot of noise about it, protests from all over Europe and so on. And it was clear that people saw that as a sea change, a moment when the conglomerates would really try to alter, as they had been doing, what was published.”
After his departure from Pantheon, Schiffrin went on to found The New Press, an independent, nonprofit company dedicated to “publishing in the public interest.” He died in Paris on Sunday of pancreatic cancer. Click here to watch our full interview with him.
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