The government of Cyprus has brokered a last-ditch $13 billion bailout deal with European officials to stave off the collapse of its banking sector. Under the deal, all bank deposits above approximately $130,000 in the island’s main banks will be frozen and used to help pay off the banking sector’s debts. In addition, Cyprus’s second-largest bank will be shut down. An earlier version of the deal collapsed last week when Cypriots took to the streets to protest paying a tax of up to 10 percent on their life savings. Fresh protests erupted Sunday when the island’s central bank imposed a 100-euros-per-day withdrawal limit on bank accounts.
A new report says the CIA has been supporting a vast expansion in the flow of weapons to Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. The New York Times reports the airlift of arms and equipment to the rebels, largely overseen by Turkey, has massively increased since early 2012 to include more than 160 flights in Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari planes. U.S. intelligence officers have helped shop for weapons and have vetted rebel groups to decide who gets the arms. The CIA’s covert backing comes despite the Obama administration’s public support for solely “non-lethal” aid to the rebels.
The CIA has further increased its role in Syria by feeding intelligence to rebel fighters for use against the Syrian government. The Wall Street Journal reports the move comes as part of a U.S. effort to tamp down on Islamist militants in Syria by aiding secular forces.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Iraq to take action to stop Iranian flights carrying arms to the Assad regime through Iraqi airspace. Kerry made the comments during a surprise visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
John Kerry: “I made it very clear that for those of us who are engaged in an effort to see President Assad step down and to see a democratic process take hold with a transitional government according to the Geneva communiqué, for those of us engaged in that effort, anything that supports President Assad is problematic. And I made it very clear to the prime minister that the overflights from Iran are in fact helping to sustain
President Assad and his regime.”
Syria’s main opposition leader has announced his resignation in the latest sign of deep divisions among those fighting President Bashar al-Assad. Moaz al-Khatib said he was quitting as president of the Syrian National Coalition, “so that I can work with freedom that is not available inside the official institutions.” Al-Khatib had faced criticism from his own ranks for offering to negotiate with Assad. In a further sign of turmoil among anti-government groups, the coalition’s military chief has rejected the authority of Ghassan Hitto, a U.S. citizen recently elected as interim prime minister over rebel-held areas. General Salim Idris said Hitto, a former technology manager who lived in Texas, lacks a broad base of support in Syria.
The Syrian conflict is continuing to leak across its borders. On Sunday, Israeli forces fired into Syria and destroyed a military post after gunfire from the Syrian side hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights two times. One of the strikes damaged an Israeli military vehicle.
In the latest violence in Syria, explosions rocked the capital Damascus this morning as rebels fired mortar rounds into a high-security area less than a mile from the home of President Bashar al-Assad. Assad’s forces hit back with artillery fire. There were reports at least one person has been killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for the killings of nine people on board a Gaza-bound aid flotilla nearly three years ago. On May 30, 2010, Israeli commandos raided the ship, Mavi Marmara, in international waters, killing nine Turkish activists, including one U.S. citizen. President Obama brokered Netanyahu’s apology for the attack, which the Israeli leader made Friday at the very end of Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel. In a phone call with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Netanyahu apologized for “any errors that could have led to the loss of life.” Erdogan said the apology was one step toward normalizing relations between Israel and Turkey.
Prime Minister Erdogan: “Israel murdered nine of our citizens in international waters. They tried to find different excuses. They even tried to use American and European negotiators to repair the relations. We told them that there would be no normalization of relations unless they apologized, paid compensation and lifted the embargo on Palestine. All Turkish opposition parties mocked the government for believing that this would happen. But it has happened. The phone call was a step forward.”
Israel did not agree to Turkey’s call to end the blockade of Gaza.
Roughly a day after President Obama left Israel, Israeli police raided a Palestinian protest camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Protesters had erected the camp on Wednesday within the E1 settlement zone, which bisects the West Bank and cuts Palestinians off from their land. More than 200 Israeli officers leveled the camp before dawn on Sunday. Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouthi said he and four others were arrested. An earlier encampment on the same site was dismantled by Israeli forces in January.
The United States has announced it will transfer control of Bagram prison to the Afghan government today, but key details on the deal have not been disclosed. The United States was seeking to retain veto power over who could be released from the prison, which human rights groups have dubbed the “other Guantánamo.” In addition, the United States wanted assurances that certain prisoners would not be released even if they could not be prosecuted in court.
In the Central African Republic, a rebel leader has declared himself president a day after President François Bozizé fled the country as rebels stormed the capital. The Seleka rebels had accused Bozizé of reneging on a January peace deal. The newly installed president, Michel Djotodia, has vowed to adhere to that accord by sharing power with civilians and loyalists of the former regime. South Africa, meanwhile, says 13 of its soldiers were killed in clashes with the rebels on the outskirts of the capital Bangui.
Anti-Muslim violence continued to spread in Burma over the weekend after days of clashes left dozens of people dead. President Thein Sein dispatched the army to quash violence in the central city of Meikhtila, where at least 32 people were killed and roughly 10,000 — most from the country’s Muslim minority — were displaced by armed Buddhists. Mobs continued to destroy mosques and burn homes in at least three other towns. The United Nations’ top envoy to Burma toured Meikhtila on Sunday.
Vijay Nambiar: “From what I can see is that they are obviously feeling very insecure because their houses have been destroyed. Mosques — they say all the mosques have been destroyed in this locality. But they are being provided with food and healthcare, and they don’t have any complaints about the basic necessities. They are, of course, worried. And I have tried to stress to them that this should be seen as criminal action, and it should not be converted into a major communal problem and that the communities must learn to live together.”
The New York Times is reporting about 300 immigrants are being held in solitary confinement at U.S. detention centers on any given day even though they are being held on civil, not criminal, charges. The Times reports nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm. One Mexican immigrant says he was held in solitary for four months. He told the Times he sank into a deep depression as he overheard three other immigrant detainees attempt suicide.
North Dakota has passed a measure that will let voters decide whether to end abortion in the state. The measure puts to a ballot vote a possible constitutional amendment saying life begins at conception. State legislators also passed another bill imperiling abortion access by requiring doctors at the state’s only remaining abortion clinic to obtain hospital admitting privileges. North Dakota lawmakers have already passed what would be the strictest abortion ban in the country, ending abortion when an embryonic heartbeat is detected, which can happen at six weeks of pregnancy or even earlier.
Two teenagers have been arrested in Brunswick, Georgia, following the shooting death of a 13-month-old baby. The baby’s mother, Sherry West, said a young man approached her and demanded money. When she said she did not have any, he shot at her, and then shot baby Antonio Santiago in the face. The suspects are 17 and 14 years old.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced he will bankroll a $12 million TV ad campaign aimed at convincing U.S. senators to back gun control. The ads will focus on legislation mandating universal background checks. National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre has vowed to lead a counter-campaign against Bloomberg’s efforts.
In his weekly address Saturday, President Obama called on lawmakers to pass gun-control legislation, including a contentious assault weapons ban that has been dropped by Senate Democrats.
President Obama: “These ideas shouldn’t be controversial — they’re commonsense. They’re supported by a majority of the American people. And I urge the Senate and the House to give each of them a vote. As I’ve said before, we may not be able to prevent every act of violence in this country. But together, we have an obligation to try. We have an obligation to do what we can.”
The police chief of Omaha, Nebraska, is promising an investigation after video captured police throwing a man to the street even though he did not appear to be resisting. On the recording, officers then appear to punch Octavious Johnson repeatedly while he is on the ground. Johnson and his two brothers were arrested during the incident last week. Their aunt said officers chased one of them into the house to try to the seize the video documenting the apparent assault. Three officers have been reassigned while the probe is underway.
Senate Democrats have passed a $3.7 trillion budget for next year that protects social programs House Republicans are seeking to gut. The plan approved early on Saturday is the first budget to pass the Senate in four years. All Republicans and four Democrats voted against it. Last week, the Senate rejected a budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that would have slashed programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.
The Nigerian literary icon Chinua Achebe has died at the age of 82. Achebe’s novels, including the highly celebrated “Things Fall Apart,” provided a counterpoint to the colonial depiction of Africa and helped give voice to a continent. In 2008, during a celebration of his birthday at the Library of Congress, Achebe was asked how the groundbreaking novel, published in 1958, had changed him.
Chinua Achebe: “The process of writing 'Things Fall Apart' actually changed my life, because I had to invent the language of that story. It was not something that anybody was teaching anywhere, the conversation between Igbo and English. That had not — and so I had to make it up as I went along.”
Achebe died in Boston after a brief illness.