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Former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt has spent his first days in prison after being convicted of genocide. On Friday, a three-judge panel found Ríos Montt guilty of overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region after seizing power in 1982. The conviction marked the first time a former head of state has been found guilty of genocide in his or her own country. During the two-month trial, nearly 100 witnesses testified of massacres, torture and rape by state forces. Many wept and cheered in celebration after the verdict was read. The judge in the case has instructed prosecutors to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was among those implicated during the trial’s testimony. Pérez Molina served as a regional commander under Ríos Montt using a different name. In an interview with CNN, Pérez Molina denied that a genocide ever occurred and said he would support Ríos Montt’s appeal.
Scientists are warning the planet has now reached a grim climate milestone not seen for two or three million years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 400 parts per million. The 400 parts per million threshold has been an important marker in U.N. climate change negotiations, widely recognized as a dangerous level that could drastically worsen human-caused global warming. The environmentalist group 350.org takes it name after the 350 parts per million threshold that scientists say is the maximum atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide for a safe planet. In a statement on the parts per million number hitting 400, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said: “The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it.”
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on the verge of returning to office more than a decade after his ouster in a military coup. Sharif placed first in Saturday’s Pakistani elections and is now in talks to form a coalition government. The former cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, a vocal campaigner against political corruption and the U.S. drone war, also had a strong showing at the polls. Khan’s PTI party gained as many as 30 seats after previously holding just one. Khan has vowed to hold protests against Sharif’s victory over allegations of vote rigging. More than 150 people were killed in violence surrounding the vote, including 24 on election day.
The three women freed from a decade-long imprisonment in a Cleveland home last week have issued a public statement thanking their supporters and appealing for privacy. A spokesperson read the message on their behalf.
Jim Wooley: “Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight are extremely grateful for the generous assistance and loving support of their family, friends and the community. … Amanda Berry says, quote: 'Thank you so much for everything you're doing and continue to do. I am so happy to be home with my family.’ Gina DeJesus says, quote: ’I’m so happy to be home. I want to thank everybody for all your prayers. I just want time now to be with my family.’ Michele Knight says: 'Thank you to everyone' — quote: 'Thank you to everyone for your support and good wishes. I am healthy, happy and safe, and will reach out to family, friends and supporters in good time.'”
A paternity test has confirmed that the detained suspect, Ariel Castro, is the father of Berry’s six-year-old daughter, who was also freed. The longest-held captive, Michele Knight, has stayed away from her family so far following her release from the hospital on Friday. Knight has told police she was repeatedly beaten and raped over the years and forced to miscarry at least five times. Her grandmother says her injuries are so serious she may need surgery for facial reconstruction.
Nineteen people were shot in New Orleans on Sunday when gunfire broke out during a Mother’s Day parade. Three of the victims are reportedly in critical condition. New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas appealed for public help in finding the shooters.
Ronal Serpas: “We have second lines (of a parade) that occur in the city of New Orleans virtually every weekend at this time of the year. We had a full complement of police officers. It appears that these two or three people, just for a reason unknown to us, started shooting at, towards or in the crowd. It was over in just a couple seconds. Police were everywhere. And we hope that anybody who saw anything will give Crime Stoppers a call.”
The Internal Revenue Service has apologized to tea party and other right-wing groups after acknowledging their bids for tax-exempt status came under extra scrutiny. An official disclosed Friday that organizations with the terms “tea party” or “patriots” in their names were singled out by the IRS division responsible for investigating those seeking to qualify as charities under U.S. tax law. The IRS says the targeting was not politically motivated, but rather a rushed effort to sort through a surge in applications. An inspector general’s report says the targeting also extended to groups questioning government spending, debt and taxes. Top officials have reportedly been aware since 2011 but have only now issued a public apology.
Activists demonstrated in front of the White House on Friday to urge closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. More than 100 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike in protest of their indefinite detention. The co-founder of the activist group CodePink, Diane Wilson, was arrested after chaining herself to the White House fence. Appearing before a congressional briefing, the former chief prosecutor at Guantánamo, Colonel Morris Davis, delivered a petition of more than 188,000 people calling for the prison’s closure.
Col. Morris Davis: “Our joke at Guantánamo was: You gotta lose to win. Because if you get charged as a war criminal and convicted and lose, you might get to go home; and if you don’t get charged, you can sit there for the rest of your life. The cases — the administration has got to make a decision on which cases they want to prosecute, and they should be prosecuted in federal court.”
The partisan rift over last year’s fatal attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, deepened Friday with the release of emails showing internal government discussions of the public talking points used by government officials. Republican critics say the emails show the Obama administration was more involved in revising the talking points than it has previously disclosed. But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said no major changes were made and that the discussions were routine.
Jay Carney: “The White House, as I said, made one minor change to the talking points drafted by and produced by the CIA and, even prior to that, made very few — had very few inputs on it. The other discussions that went on prior to this in an inter-agency process reflected the concerns of a variety of agencies who had a stake in this issue, both the FBI because it was investigating, the CIA obviously and other intelligence agencies, and the State Department because an ambassador had been killed and a diplomatic facility had been attacked. And what I think the concern was is that these points not provide information that was speculative in terms of whether it was relevant to what happened.”
The news website The Daily Beast reports the CIA was heavily relying on a local Libyan militia, the February 17 Martyr’s Brigade, for security at the time of the attack. Militia members failed to show up when the consulate was hit and declined to join the rescue effort. The site of the attack is often described as a consulate, but it was in fact a U.S. intelligence outpost operating under State Department cover.
A federal judge has denied the Obama administration’s request to suspend his ruling ordering the government to make emergency contraception available to people of all ages without a prescription. The administration had requested a stay on the ruling while it appeals. On Friday, Judge Edward Korman denounced the appeal as “frivolous,” “taken for the purpose of delay,” and “largely an insult to the intelligence of women.” Korman also criticized what he called the “bad-faith, politically motivated” actions of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who overruled FDA regulators in 2011 to prevent the drug from being sold without a prescription to women under 17. The FDA now says it will make one specific emergency contraceptive pill — “Plan B One Step” — available over the counter to women 15 and older. In his ruling, Korman called the move a “boon” to its manufacturer that “did little to eliminate the practical obstructions” to obtaining the “morning-after pill” for women of any age.
Thousands of people marched in Spain’s capital of Madrid on Sunday to mark the second anniversary of the protests that arose in response to crippling austerity measures and economic stagnation. The so-called “Indignados” movement swept Spain in 2011 and helped inspire similar protests across the globe, including the Occupy movement in the United States.
Marches were held around the United States this weekend in a Mother Day’s call for gun control. The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America says it held at least two dozen actions nationwide. In Chicago, a group of 20 mothers who have lost children to gun violence marched through the streets.
Dozens of activists walked from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., over the weekend as part of the Poor People’s Campaign and March. The two-day action was held 45 years after the first Poor People’s March on Washington organized by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The demonstrators stopped off for a rally outside of a Wal-Mart outlet on their way out of Baltimore.