North Korea is drawing global condemnation for a new underground nuclear test. The North Korean government confirmed the test after seismic activity of 4.9 magnitude was picked up in the Korean Peninsula. North Korea had vowed to conduct rocket launches and a U.S.-aimed nuclear test after the U.N. Security Council resolution tightened sanctions in response to a rocket launch two months ago. In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the test, calling it “deplorable” and “a clear and grave violation.” The Security Council is holding an emergency session on North Korea later today.
Two men have been charged in the shooting death of a 15-year-old girl struck by random gunfire just days after taking part in President Obama’s inauguration. Hadiya Pendleton had recently returned from Washington, where she had performed with her school marching band during the inaugural festivities. She was laid to rest on Saturday at a funeral attended by first lady Michelle Obama. Police say the suspects are 18- and 20-year-old members of a street gang who opened fire at a group of students they mistook for gang rivals.
The White House has announced Hadiya Pendleton’s parents will be among President Obama’s guests at tonight’s State of the Union. The Obamas’ Chicago home is about a mile from where Hadiya was killed. The Pendletons will be among a number of attendees touched by gun violence. At least 24 Democratic congressmembers are bringing victims of gun violence and their families. One Republican guest who is drawing attention, meanwhile, is the singer and gun advocate Ted Nugent, who’s attending with Texas Rep. Steve Stockman. The Secret Service investigated Nugent for making threatening comments about President Obama last year.
In one of the latest cases of gun violence, a gunman killed two women at a Delaware courthouse on Monday before dying in a shootout with police. The gunman was reportedly the father of a man embroiled in a bitter custody dispute with one of the victims. Delaware State Police Sgt. Paul Shavack announced the shooting.
Sgt. Paul Shavack: “A lone gunman walked into the lobby area of the county courthouse and opened fire. Updated information is, that I can give you, that two civilian females were killed in that shooting. Two capitol police officers were shot in the exchange of gunfire with that gunman. Their conditions now are non-life-threatening. The gunman is dead inside the lobby.”
Armed rebels have seized Syria’s largest hydroelectric dam amidst ongoing fighting in the capital Damascus. The news comes as rebels are also preparing an offensive to seize the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, a move that would bring them control of an entire province for the first time. At least 13 people were killed and dozens wounded when a bus exploded near Syria’s border with Turkey. Speaking at a public event in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued to warn Syria is being torn apart.
Ban Ki-moon: “Fighting rages. Sectarian hatred is on the rise. The catastrophe — the catalog of war crimes is mounting. Sexual violence is widespread. The destruction is systematic. Syria is being torn apart, limb by limb.”
Amidst the unrelenting violence, both the Assad regime and the opposition are opening the window to potential negotiations. Responding to a rebel offer for talks in the opposition-controlled north, the Assad regime said Monday it is willing to meet anywhere abroad. In an interview, Assad Cabinet member Ali Haidar said he would sit down with opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib “in any foreign city … to discuss preparations for a national dialogue.”
Clashes erupted in Egypt Monday on the second anniversary of the overthrow of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. Police fired tear gas and water cannons at groups of demonstrators after thousands marched to the gates of the presidential palace. Two years after Mubarak’s fall, demonstrators are now pressing their new demand for the departure of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
In Yemen, tens of thousands rallied in the capital Sana’a to mark the second anniversary of the popular uprising that ousted longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Demonstrators called for Saleh to face charges for the killings of protesters and vowed to continue the revolution until their demands are met. Yemen’s political groups are due to hold talks on a new constitution beginning next month.
Israel has authorized the construction of hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank just days after President Obama announced an upcoming visit. More than 340 homes have been given the green light in two southern West Bank settlements, and another 90 homes have been authorized for a settlement near Ramallah.
Senate Democrats are preparing to hold a vote today on the nomination of defense secretary hopeful Chuck Hagel, despite Republican opposition. Republicans won a delay of Hagel’s confirmation vote last week after demanding more information on his financial ties. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has vowed to block votes on both Hagel and CIA nominee John Brennan by invoking the partisan dispute over the deadly attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Speaking to CBS News, Graham said he would place a hold on the votes unless the White House provides more information on its response to the Benghazi incident.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “I don’t think we should allow Brennan to go forward for the CIA directorship, Hagel to be confirmed as secretary of defense, until the White House gives us an accounting. Did the president ever pick up the phone and call anyone in the Libyan government to help these folks? What did the president do?”
The Pentagon has announced an expansion of benefits offered to gay and lesbian couples. Members of the military in same-sex relationships will receive full access to base facilities and groups, as well as joint assignments. But a number of benefits will still be denied, including health-insurance coverage and on-base housing. Those restrictions are expected to remain in place until the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is fully repealed.
A federal judge has overturned a state law in Arizona barring funding for the reproductive services group Planned Parenthood. The law banned the use of public funds by state or local government to contract with any organization that provides abortions as one of its services. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake found the law unlawfully denies Medicaid recipients the right to choose their medical options. Planned Parenthood had won an injunction against the law in October. In a statement, Planned Parenthood of Arizona said: “Politics should never interfere with a woman’s breast exam or birth control. … Our health centers are open today and they will be open tomorrow.”