Iraq is capping off its worst year of violence since the height of the U.S. occupation. According to the United Nations, more than 7,150 civilians and 950 security forces have been killed this year, the highest annual total since 2008. On Monday, at least 13 people were killed in clashes when Iraqi police raided a Sunni protest camp in Anbar province. Protesters had been camped out for a year to protest the marginalization of Sunnis by the Shiite-led government. More than 40 Sunni lawmakers announced their resignations following the raid. Separate attacks across Iraq killed at least 11 other people.
Police in Russia have rounded up dozens of people in the city of Volgograd following the twin bombings of a railway station and trolleybus. The toll from the attacks has risen to 34. No one has claimed responsibility, and it is unclear whether any of those detained today were involved. Russia is due to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi in just over a month.
Rebels in South Sudan are claiming to have retaken the key town of Bor after a firece battle with government forces. Bor is considered a crucial point on the path to the capital Juba. Rebel leader Riek Machar has also reportedly agreed to enter peace talks with the South Sudanese government in Ethiopia. The news comes after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni raised the prospect of regional intervention against the rebels. Museveni said East African countries had agreed to take action last week if the rebels did not agree to a ceasefire by today. He spoke to reporters on Monday.
President Yoweri Museveni: “We gave Riek Machar some four days to respond, and if he doesn’t, we shall have to go for him, all of us. That’s what we agreed in Nairobi.”
Reporter: “Mr. President, when you say you will go for him, what does that mean?”
President Yoweri Museveni: “To defeat him.”
The violence in South Sudan has killed more than 1,000 people. Speaking on Monday, Gérard Araud, the U.N. Security Council president for this month, said 180,000 people have been displaced.
Gérard Araud: “The situation of the human rights is also pretty worrying. There are reports of torturing, killing, disappearance and on ethnically targeted violence, actually. So the human rights sector or component of the mission has been upgraded, and investigations and reporting have been upgraded, so there could be accountability at the end of this tragedy.”
Troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo quashed a coordinated series of attacks on the airport, a military barracks, and the headquarters of the state television station Monday. In total, about 100 people were killed. The attackers were followers of a pastor who has accused the government of harassing his supporters.
The United Nations is urgently appealing for access to a Palestinian area of Damascus where people are dying from hunger. A U.N. official says some 20,000 Palestinians are trapped inside the Yarmouk district of Damascus amid fighting between the regime and rebels. Since the last delivery of U.N. aid in September, 15 people have died there from malnutrition, including five this past weekend.
The watchdog tasked with overseeing the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons is set to miss its deadline to remove the deadliest materials from Syria. The organization had planned to transport the materials to the port of Latakia and ship them out of the country by today. But the group has cited roadblocks ranging from bad weather to logistical hurdles. The head of the effort, Sigrid Kaag, said security is a top concern.
Sigrid Kaag: “Security, I think all parties agree that this is, of course, a big concern, always, but it also impacts the safety of any convoy and the safety of any effort. So you need to plan to make everything as secure and safe as possible for the civilian population, for those who need to conduct the operation, and then the government needs to plan for any eventuality in the journey from different sites to Latakia and in Latakia itself.”
The Lebanese military says it fired on Syrian helicopters that entered its airspace on Monday, marking the first time it has done so during the Syrian conflict. The incident came a day after Lebanon announced it would receive $3 billion in military aid from Saudi Arabia.
Israel has released a group of 26 Palestinian prisoners amid reports it will unveil plans for 1,400 new settlement homes in the West Bank. The prisoners are the third batch to be released since U.S.-brokered peace talks began in July. Both of the earlier prisoner releases were also accompanied by the announcement of new settlement plans. Palestinians have warned the settlements could derail the peace talks. Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to the region this week. Speaking Monday, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Kerry will present a proposed framework for a peace deal.
Marie Harf: “During this trip, the secretary will discuss with both leaders the proposed framework for negotiations. As we’ve said, this framework would serve as guidelines for the permanent status negotiation and would address all the core issues. This is a detailed consultation with the leaders, continuing to work to bridge gaps between the parties, obviously continuing to encourage both sides to take constructive steps, as we said, including the prisoner release this evening in Israel, as well.”
Burma has begun releasing political prisoners after the government announced an end-of-year amnesty. Burmese President Thein Sein had vowed to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013. The amnesty is expected to include some 40 political prisoners and another 200 who are facing trial or investigation under laws designed to target activists. Among those released today was Yan Naing Tun, who was serving a seven-month sentence for leading a march without permission. He criticized the government after his release.
Yan Naing Tun: “Even though they (the government) said this is amnesty, this is not amnesty for us. They are trying to hide the weakness of the legislature by doing this. But I respect Mr. President since he kept his promise, because he had not ever kept his promise before.”
U.S. regulators have chosen six universities and other public entities to develop test sites for domestic drones. The approved test sites are located in at least 10 states ranging from New York and Massachusetts to Hawaii, Alaska, Nevada and Texas. The Federal Aviation Administration says the sites will “conduct critical research” on the requirements needed to “safely integrate [drones] into the national airspace over the next several years.” Hundreds of entities, including law enforcement agencies, are already permitted to fly drones. The latest testing is part of a push to use drones for commercial purposes.
A new survey finds more than 80 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, making the occupation potentially the most unpopular in U.S. history. The poll by CNN and ORC International found just 17 percent of Americans support the war, a steep drop from 52 percent five years ago. CNN reports the disapproval numbers are higher than comparable data for both wars in Iraq and Vietnam. Only a quarter of Americans want U.S. troops to remain on the ground beyond 2014. But the Obama administration is currently pressuring Afghanistan to accept a deal to keep U.S. troops beyond that deadline. A new U.S. intelligence report predicted U.S. gains from the 12-year conflict will be eroded within three years without a large military presence.
A new report by the Committee to Project Journalists says at least 70 journalists died on the job in 2013. At least 29 journalists died covering the civil war in Syria. Another 10 were killed in Iraq. Egypt was the third most violent country for journalists with six killed for their work last year. The report came as four Al Jazeera journalists were interrogated by Egyptian prosecutors following their arrest Sunday evening. Cameraperson Mohamed Fawzy has been released, but the three others remain in custody.
Residents of the small town of Casselton, North Dakota, have been urged to evacuate after a train carrying crude oil collided with another train, triggering a series of explosions. The BNSF Railway train stretched about a mile long and was carrying more than 100 oil-laden cars, about 10 of which caught fire. A plume of black smoke could be seen for miles. Authorities said shifting winds could raise the risk of health effects. No injuries have been reported.
In Canada, scientists say tar sands oil operations in Alberta are releasing mercury that is impacting an area of more than 7,300 square miles. According to Postmedia News, mercury levels in the area are up to 16 times higher than “background” levels for the region. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can cause brain damage. The Alberta tar sands are the origin point for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil to the Texas Gulf Coast.
A new poll shows the number of Republicans who believe in evolution has dropped 11 percent since 2009. According to the Pew Research Center, just 43 percent of Republicans believe that human beings have evolved over time. By contrast, 67 percent of Democrats believe in evolution, a slight increase since 2009.
Dr. Kenneth Edelin, an abortion provider and key figure in the struggle for reproductive justice, has died at the age of 74. In 1975, Dr. Edelin, who was African American, was charged with manslaughter after performing a legal abortion in Massachusetts. An all-white, mostly male jury convicted him. He was later acquitted and became an outspoken advocate for the healthcare rights of women, particularly poor women of color. In a speech posted by Planned Parenthood in 2008, Dr. Edelin hailed the women’s movement.
Dr. Kenneth Edelin: “For all those women who marched, for all those women who lobbied, for all those women who died, we say to you today, your lives have always been our concern, your sacrifices our motivation. We will continue the fight, and our struggle will go on for as long as it must.”
Edelin died from cancer on Monday in Sarasota, Florida.