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The death toll from last week’s collapse of a garment building in Bangladesh has surpassed 500. Bodies are still being found in the rubble as relatives search for their loved ones. One of the major Western companies tied to the disaster is vowing to remain in the country, but with higher standards for its workers. The Canadian retail giant Loblaws used the building for manufacturing its “Joe Fresh” clothing line. On Thursday, Loblaws CEO Galen Weston said he is “shaken” by the incident and vowed to unveil new safeguards.
Galen Weston: “I’m shaken by the events that took place in Bangladesh last week. And my thoughts and prayers go out to all those who were injured and to all the families who have lost loved ones. This was a senseless tragedy. It should not have happened. Based on what we know, the top floors of the building should never have been built, and reports from the ground suggest that garment workers should never have been allowed back in the building after an evacuation was ordered.”
The owner of the building, Sohel Rana, was arrested in the days after the disaster along with several factory owners. On Thursday, an engineer who had warned the site was unsafe, Abdur Razzaque Khan, was also detained. Police say Rana and the other owners are blaming Khan for the collapse, even though he is known to have urged them to close the building because of cracks in its structure. The Dhaka collapse is considered the worst industrial accident in the garment industry’s history. It has sparked a series of protests in Bangladesh, culminating in a demonstration of tens of thousands on Wednesday, May Day. At the Vatican this week, the new pontiff, Pope Francis, decried what he called “slave labor” at Bangladeshi factories used by Western firms.
President Obama began a two-day visit to Mexico on Thursday by holding talks with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Dozens of protesters, including many people deported from the United States, gathered outside the U.S. embassy in Mexico City urging Obama to follow through on an immigration overhaul. More demonstrations are planned for today before Obama moves on to Costa Rica.
During a news conference on Thursday, President Obama defended his administration’s decision to block access to emergency contraception without a prescription for women of all ages. The Justice Department this week moved to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the “morning-after pill” be made available over the counter without age restrictions. Obama told reporters he is comfortable with the FDA’s new policy to make the “Plan B One Step” pill available without a prescription to women 15 and older.
President Obama: “I’m very supportive of contraception, because I think it’s very important that women have control over their healthcare choices and when they are starting a family. That’s their decision to make, and so we want to make sure that they have access to contraception.”
Critics say lowering the age requirement to 15 still does not go far enough toward allowing all women to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
The FBI has added the former Black Panther Assata Shakur to its Most Wanted Terrorists list 40 years after the killing for which she was convicted. Born Joanne Chesimard, Shakur was found guilty of shooting dead a New Jersey state trooper during a gunfight in 1973. She escaped from prison in 1979 and received political asylum in Cuba. On Thursday, the reward for her capture was doubled to $2 million. Shakur is the first woman added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. She has long proclaimed her innocence.
In Syria, forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad are being accused of killing up to 100 people, including many civilians. Opposition activists say the killings occurred when government troops and militia fighters raided the coastal village of al-Baida. The attack came hours after rebels killed at least six pro-Assad fighters traveling aboard a bus.
New figures show last month was the deadliest in Iraq since 2009. The United Nations says at least 460 people were killed in growing sectarian and political violence in April. The figures’ release coincided with the 10th anniversary of President George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” declaration, and the public opening of Bush’s new presidential library in Texas.
The United Nations has confirmed nearly 260,000 people died in Somalia’s 2011 famine, nearly 5 percent of the country’s population. Half of the dead were young children. In a report, the United Nations faulted global inaction for worsening the crisis, saying the world failed to heed early warnings. The United Nations also singled out the militant group al-Shabab, which banned aid workers from critical areas where many died.
At least 60 people are reportedly dead, and many more are missing, after a mine collapse in Sudan. The mine reportedly caved in after workers dug into one of its most dangerous areas.
The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has reportedly told investigators he and his brother initially planned to strike on the July 4th holiday. According to law enforcement sources, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said the attack came earlier because the brothers completed their bomb making more quickly than planned. The New York Times reports the Tsarnaev brothers considered suicide attacks and viewed many online sermons by the U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
President Obama has unveiled his picks for the last two vacant economic posts of his administration. Mike Froman, currently deputy national security adviser for economic affairs, has been tapped to be the new U.S. trade representative. Penny Pritzker, a billionaire hotel heir and prominent Obama fundraiser, would be the new commerce secretary. At the White House, Obama said both nominees will fight to protect the middle class.
President Obama: “One of the reasons I’m proud to nominate them is they don’t forget what matters. They know this is not about just growing balance sheets. It’s about growing opportunity for people. It’s about growing a sense of security for the middle class. And, most of all, they operate with integrity, and they understand that public service is a privilege, and you’ve got to do it right when you get involved on behalf of the American people.”
Both choices immediately drew criticism from progressive groups. In a statement, the watchdog Public Citizen said: “Given that Michael Froman has been instrumental in pushing President Barack Obama’s trade policies backward to the corporate agenda that Froman also championed during the Clinton administration, this choice doesn’t inspire confidence.”
As an heir of the Hyatt Hotel chain and former head of the Chicago Board of Education, Pritzker has come under scrutiny for her clashes with labor unions. She also served on the board of the failed bank Superior, which played an early and critical role in promoting subprime loans that ultimately saddled millions with crushing debt and helped crash the economy. In a petition opposing her nomination, the group CREDO Action called Pritzker “an anti-worker business mogul who should not be appointed.”
Advocates for low-income borrowers are welcoming Obama’s new pick to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina. The official Watt would replace, Ed DeMarco, has been accused of siding with banks by opposing measures that would allow struggling homeowners to modify their loans. In a statement, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition said that, by contrast, Watt “will do what is best for American taxpayers and homeowners.”
Maryland has become the sixth state in as many years and the 18th state overall to ban the death penalty. Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a repeal of capital punishment into law Thursday following its passage by state lawmakers last month. The law replaces death sentences with life terms without the chance of parole, but not for the five prisoners already sent to death row. In a statement, Human Rights Watch said: “[Governor] O’Malley should ensure that the death penalty is never again used in Maryland by immediately commuting the sentences of all five death row inmates.” At the signing ceremony, O’Malley also enacted dozens of other laws, including the legalization of medical marijuana, an expansion of early voting, and allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Rhode Island has become the 10th state to legalize marriage for LGBT couples. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a marriage equality bill into law Thursday following its passage in the state House. State Rep. Frank Ferri, a longtime advocate of same-sex marriage, spoke shortly before the vote was held.
Frank Ferri: “Thank you, Governor. Thank you, Speaker. Rhode Island is open for equality. I recommend we pass this bill.”
The new Rhode Island law takes effect August 1. Delaware is the next state expected to approve marriage equality when lawmakers take it up next week.