Nicolás Maduro has won Venezuela’s presidential election more than a month after the death of Hugo Chávez. Maduro, who was Chávez’s chosen successor, narrowly defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski with just more than 50 percent of the vote. Capriles has refused to concede the race and is demanding a recount. According to preliminary figures, the turnout of registered voters surpassed 78 percent.
Guards at the Guantánamo Bay military prison have intensified their crackdown on a hunger strike by detainees. The Pentagon says guards fired “non-lethal” rounds at prisoners on Saturday after trying to move them into isolated, one-man cells. At least one prisoner was hit with a rubber-coated bullet. The military claims it took action after prisoners covered windows and surveillance cameras. It also says prisoners used “improvised weapons” to resist the guards’ sweep. Defense attorneys say most of the prison’s 166 detainees are now taking part in the hunger strike two months after it began. At least 11 prisoners are being force-fed through nasal tubes. The latest unrest came one day after the International Committee of the Red Cross wrapped up a three-week visit to assess the prisoners’ treatment.
In an opinion article published in The New York Times, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a hunger-striking prisoner held at Guantánamo for 11 years without charge, writes: “The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made. I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.”
The Senate is set to take up gun-control legislation today after voting to begin debate. The proceedings follow a week of Capitol Hill lobbying by family members of victims of the shooting massacre at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary. On Saturday, Newtown mother Francine Wheeler, who lost her six-year-old son, Ben, delivered President Obama’s weekly address.
Francine Wheeler: “I’ve heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish our country felt on 12/14 has receded. But not for us. To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday. And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun. Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief. Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has wrapped up a visit to Asia dominated by the standoff with North Korea. Speaking in Japan, Kerry suggested the United States could ease its precondition of North Korea’s denuclearization if China takes on a mediator role. Earlier, Kerry again vowed to defend U.S. allies in the event of a North Korean attack.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “It is very simple, that the United States will do what is necessary to defend our allies — Japan, the Republic of Korea — and the region against these provocations. But our choice is to negotiate. Our choice is to move to the table and find a way for the region to have peace.”
Secretary of State John Kerry’s Asia visit also came as the Obama administration fast-tracked Japanese involvement in talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial trade pact between the United States and nine other countries. The TPP has attracted scrutiny for creating new mechanisms that would allow foreign corporations to win taxpayer compensation for lost profits due to regulations. Japan has more corporations operating in the United States than other TPP countries, raising the prospect of compensation claims. In a statement, the group Public Citizen said: “By inviting Japan to enter the TPP negotiations, the Obama administration is inviting a wave of corporate attacks on domestic laws through a system that is a threat to our sovereignty and solvency.”
A former Texas court official has been arrested in connection with the murders of two prosecutors and the district attorney’s wife. Eric Williams, a former justice of the peace in Kaufman County, was detained Saturday after police searched his home in their probe of last month’s killings of District Attorney Mike McLelland and Cynthia McLelland as well as of Assistant Prosecutor Mark Hasse two months before. Public speculation had initially focused on white supremacists, but local police say they’ve found “strong evidence” implicating Williams in the murders. Hasse and McLelland had prosecuted Williams last year after he was caught stealing computer equipment.
North Dakota lawmakers have advanced new restrictions on abortion rights. The North Dakota State House voted Friday to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which anti-choice activists believe marks the point at which a fetus can feel pain. The vote comes weeks after North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed a measure banning abortion once an embryonic heartbeat is detectable, which can happen at six weeks of pregnancy, or even earlier.
The Virginia Board of Health, meanwhile, has signed off on new regulations that could force the closure of some of the state’s abortion clinics. A 2011 measure dubbed by critics as a “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers,” or TRAP law, requires clinics that provide abortions to meet the same building standards as hospitals. Critics say the TRAP rules are a thinly veiled attempt to limit access to abortion services because clinics unable to afford to overhaul their buildings would close down. Other states have imposed similar regulations, but Virginia’s are said to be the harshest to date. The former head of the Virginia Board of Health, Dr. Karen Remley, resigned in protest of the clinic rules last year.
The Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed plans to delay the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. The rules would have forced new power plants to keep emissions under 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour of electricity. They were unveiled a year ago and set for finalization over the weekend. But on the eve of the deadline, the EPA said opposition from electric power companies would delay the rules’ implementation. While energy companies and Republican critics said the rules went too far, environmentalists had also criticized the plan for exempting existing plants and allowing a number of loopholes.
A standoff between the United States and Russia has intensified with both countries announcing travel bans on certain officials. The White House has sent Congress a list of Russians subject to visa denials and asset freezes in the United States for their alleged involvement in the death of imprisoned whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. Russia responded by banning the entry of a number of U.S. officials, including former Bush administration attorney John Yoo and David Addington, chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the administration’s action.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “Russian officials implicated directly in Magnitsky’s imprisonment and prison officials directly involved in decisions that led to his death remain unpunished. This administration is committed to working with the Congress to advance universally recognized human rights worldwide, and we will use the tools in the Magnitsky Act and other available legal authorities to ensure that persons responsible for the maltreatment and death of Mr. Magnitsky are barred from traveling to the United States and doing business here.”
A Florida police officer has been fired for using the likeness of Trayvon Martin as a target in gun practice. Sgt. Ron King of the Port Canaveral police reportedly offered the targets with Martin’s face to two other officers and a civilian, who all declined. Martin was the unarmed African-American teenager shot to death by self-proclaimed “neighborhood watchman” George Zimmerman last year. John Walsh of Port Canaveral apologized to Martin’s family.
John Walsh: “We truly reach out and apologize to the family of Trayvon Martin for them needing to hear any of this and the grief that it must bring them, as well as all members of the community. We just don’t find this behavior acceptable on any level.”
The fired officer, Ron King, has apologized, claiming Martin’s target was meant as a “do-not shoot” target. Zimmerman’s trial is set to begin in two months.
A Tennessee Republican lawmaker has withdrawn a measure that would have cut the welfare benefits of parents whose children receive low grades. State Sen. Stacey Campfield had proposed a 30-percent cut to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits for parents whose children fail to pass state tests or are held back a grade level. The proposal sparked controversy and national media attention. Campfield backed down on the proposal just hours after he was confronted by a group of protesters inside the State Capitol, including an eight-year-old girl who followed him down a hallway after presenting him with a petition in opposition to his bill.
The Republican lawmaker who revealed portions of a classified Pentagon report on North Korea last week has acknowledged he was motivated by seeking to increase funding for so-called missile defense. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado made headlines last week after citing a Defense Intelligence Agency document that concluded with “moderate confidence” North Korea now knows how to make a nuclear weapon small enough to be carried by a ballistic missile. Top U.S. officials later cast doubt on the report, but not before it caused a stir. Speaking on CNN, Lamborn said he hoped to restore missile defense funding cut by President Obama.
Rep. Doug Lamborn: “And the reason I’m concerned about this is because the president has offered a defense budget that cuts missile defense by half a billion dollars. My goal in all this is, by calling attention to the potential threats, that we restore those dollars.”
Hundreds of people marched in Washington, D.C., for the first-ever “K Street 5K” protest against money in politics. Participants wore costumes of $100 bills to march from the lobbyist stronghold of K Street to the U.S. Capitol. The rally brought together progressive activists with groups including the D.C. Tea Party Patriots. One of the organizers, the group Represent.us, said the rally marked the launch “of a powerful movement of grassroots progressives and conservatives who are building a new, robust anti-corruption movement” in the United States.