Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for a second day in Geneva to discuss a potential deal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons and avoid U.S. strikes. The pair is also meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria. Kerry called the initial talks with Lavrov “constructive” and said the two plan to meet in New York later this month in a bid to revive plans for an international peace conference on Syria in Geneva. But speaking before the talks Thursday, Kerry upheld the prospect of a military strike against Syria.
John Kerry: “President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these weapons. It won’t get rid of them, but it could change his willingness to use them.”
The United Nations confirmed Thursday it had received documents from Syria to join the international convention against chemical weapons. In a Russian television interview, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he would only surrender his chemical arms if the United States ends the threat of strikes.
President Bashar al-Assad: “When we see that the U.S. really wants stability in our region and will stop threatening and aiming to attack, and stops supplying weapons to terrorists, then we will consider the process can be brought to the final stage. And it will become real and acceptable to Syria.”
A new report by Human Rights Watch says Syrian government and pro-government forces killed roughly 250 people during one of the conflict’s worst mass executions in the towns of al-Bayda and Baniyas in May. Another report by United Nations investigators says Syrian government forces are systemically attacking hospitals and denying treatment to sick people from areas linked to the opposition. The United Nations has previously accused both sides in the Syrian conflict of war crimes.
A Syria researcher whose worked was cited by Secretary of State John Kerry and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain to help bolster support for military strikes in Syria has been fired after lying to her employer about having a doctoral degree. Elizabeth O’Bagy worked for the Institute for the Study of War. She wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that was cited by Kerry in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last Wednesday. He said her name incorrectly.
John Kerry: “A woman by the name of Elizabeth Bagly, B-A-G-L-Y, just wrote an article. She works with the Institute of War. She’s fluent in Arabic and spent an enormous amount of time studying the opposition, studying Syria. She just published this the other day, very interesting article, which I commend to you. The general belief, there is a real, moderate opposition that exists.”
The Wall Street Journal attached a clarification to O’Bagy’s opinion piece noting that she is also affiliated with a group called the Syrian Emergency Task Force which subcontracts with the U.S. government to assist the Syrian opposition.
In Afghanistan, Taliban militants attacked the U.S. consulate in the western city of Herat early this morning, setting off explosives and exchanging fire with security forces. Two Afghan police, a security guard and seven attackers died in the assault. The U.S. consulate said all of its personnel are safe.
Egypt’s military-backed government has extended a state of emergency for two months just days before it was set to expire. The interim government imposed emergency law starting last month after launching a crackdown against supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi that has killed some 1,000 people. The extension came the same day an Egyptian court acquitted 10 police officers and four others in the killings of protesters during the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Broadcaster Al Jazeera says it is taking legal action in international courts against Egypt’s government for raiding its offices, jamming its signals, confiscating equipment and detaining reporters. Earlier this month, an Egyptian court ordered Al Jazeera’s local affiliate and other stations to stop broadcasting amid a campaign against outlets seen as sympathetic to ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
A judge in India has sentenced four men to death by hanging for the fatal gang rape of a woman on a New Delhi bus that ignited mass anti-rape protests in December. The family of the victim, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was among those demanding the death penalty. The sentence must still be approved by India’s high court.
Mass demonstrations continued for a third night across Turkey following the death of a 22-year-old protester on Tuesday. According to Turkish news reports, witnesses said Ahmet Atakan was hit in the head with a tear-gas canister at an action to condemn earlier police violence and protest government construction projects. But officials say Atakan died after falling from a building. On Thursday, Amnesty International called on the United States and other countries to suspend shipments of tear gas and other police equipment to Turkey amid what they termed an “abusive use of force” by the authorities.
In Washington, D.C., more than 100 women were arrested Thursday after blocking an intersection outside the U.S. Capitol building to demand comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people. More than 20 undocumented women took part in the act of civil disobedience. The protesters came from across the country to call attention to the impact of current U.S. immigration policies on women and children. Pramila Jayapal of the campaign We Belong Together spoke at a rally before the women all joined hands and sat down in the street.
Pramila Jayapal: “Each one of the 105 women who are here today understands how high the stakes are. We understand that passage of fair and humane immigration reform is not just a piece of legislation, but rather the ability for us to take care of our families, to keep our children safe and fed and in school, rather than preparing them for what they will see if they come home and they find a parent has been deported.”
On our website, you can watch our interview on September 12 with Christina Tzintzun before she was arrested at the protest in D.C.
California is poised to raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016, potentially giving it the highest minimum wage in the country. The state Legislature passed the bill Thursday and sent it to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has vowed to sign it. California’s current minimum wage is $8 an hour. Washington currently has the highest state minimum wage at $9.19 an hour.
California lawmakers also passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which would make California the first state in the country to give live-in workers the right to overtime pay if they work more than nine hours a day or 45 hours per week. Gov. Brown vetoed similar legislation last year.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has vetoed a bill to provide retail workers with a living wage following pressure from Wal-Mart and other chains. The bill would have required large retailers to pay their employees at least $12.50 an hour. Wal-Mart had threatened not to open three out of six stores planned for the area if the measure was passed. Mayor Gray called the bill a “job-killer,” saying Target, Home Depot and other retailers also objected. The D.C. City Council could still override the mayor’s veto. Wal-Mart workers have launched a series of strikes recently to demand higher wages and better conditions.
In Colorado, at least three people are dead amid devastating floods following days of torrential rain. Officials warned early this morning that a 30-foot surge of water bearing cars and other debris was headed for the Boulder area. Thousands of residents there were told to evacuate, while some communities were left stranded without power. Massive wildfires in recent years have made some areas more susceptible to flooding.
In Arkansas, a special prosecutor has been ordered to investigate the fatal police shooting of a 107-year-old man last weekend in Pine Bluff. Police say they were called to Monroe Isadore’s home after he brandished a gun. They say Isadore fired at them after they stormed inside and deployed gas.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says she made a mistake when she delayed the execution of a death-row prisoner so she could attend a fundraiser for her re-election campaign. Marshall Lee Gore was due to be executed Monday for two murders, but Gov. Rick Scott postponed his killing at Bondi’s request. The move drew criticism, particularly since Bondi is currently fighting challenges to Florida’s so-called Timely Justice Act, which is aimed at speeding up executions even though Florida has the highest rate of exonerations in the country for wrongfully convicted death-row prisoners. In a statement, Bondi said she “absolutely should not have requested that the date of the execution be moved.” Gore’s execution had previously been stayed twice following claims he is mentally ill.
In the latest potential sign of contamination from genetically modified crops, alfalfa plants in Washington state have tested positive for genetic modification, even though the farmer believed they were unmodified. Agriculture officials are testing the alfalfa after it was rejected for export by a broker. In May, genetically modified wheat created by Monsanto was discovered on an Oregon farm after the farmer attempted to kill the wheat with a Monsanto herbicide but found some of the plants had survived. Testing showed the wheat was from an herbicide-resistant strain that was field-tested before being withdrawn from the regulatory process after protests. The discovery prompted Japan and South Korea to temporarily halt purchases of some U.S. wheat.
Officials in Canada say a train that derailed and exploded this summer in Quebec was carrying mislabeled oil that was actually more hazardous than initially believed. Forty-seven people died in the July derailment in Lac-Mégantic. A recent report by an environmental group found high levels of toxic material at the site. It turns out the oil was labeled “Group 3” when it actually belonged to the more explosive Group 2.
Cubans marked the 15th anniversary of the arrest of the Cuban Five Thursday, displaying yellow ribbons and calling for the United States to release the men from prison. The Cuban Five were arrested on September 12, 1998, and later convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. They say they were not spying on the United States but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups responsible for attacks inside Cuba. Four members of the Cuban Five remain behind bars while the fifth, René González, was released on parole in 2011. Adriana Pérez, wife of Cuban Five member Gerardo Hernández, spoke at an event in Havana.
Adriana Pérez: “Today is a movement of solidarity, a message to the people of the United States so that they ask their president and their government to return the Cuban Five with a signature that he can give to free them. Gerardo, my husband, is jailed on two life sentences. He’s condemned to die in prison. So, all that is left is a humanitarian gesture, which is what we are asking the president of the United States and his people for.”
Watch our interview with the late journalist Saul Landau, who made many films, including “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up,” about the Cuban Five. Saul died Monday at the age of 77.
The New York-based education scholar, professor and author Jean Anyon has died following a battle with cancer. She wrote several seminal works on the way schools reproduce inequality. She died on Saturday.