More than 200 South Sudanese civilians have drowned in the White Nile River while attempting to flee violence in the town of Malakal. An army spokesperson told AFP as many as 300 people died in the accident on an overloaded ferry, including children. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the conflict in South Sudan. Talks between the government and rebels are underway in Ethiopia.
Egypt has begun a two-day referendum on a new constitution. The vote is seen as a possible precursor to a presidential bid by Egypt’s top military general. It takes place amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent including the arrests of those who oppose the charter. Hundreds of thousands of police and soldiers were deployed across Egypt. Just before polling began, an explosion rocked a Cairo neighborhood. The Muslim Brotherhood of ousted President Mohamed Morsi has called for a boycott. An activist with the April 6 Democratic Front said his group is also rejecting the vote.
Mohamed Fawaz: “We can never participate and give legitimacy to a regime which fools the people and tries to act like it is a civil democratic regime, while it is neither democratic nor civil. We will not participate in a constitution which forms a military state after we revolted against its principles and oppressive nature filled with aggression, violence and rage against all that oppose it.”
The vote on a new constitution comes as 50 news outlets are calling on Egypt to release at least eight detained journalists, including three from Al Jazeera. Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were all detained in late December. On Monday, a group of journalists released a statement saying the arrests had “cast a cloud over press and media freedom in Egypt.” Among the signers were Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
The new interim leader of Central African Republic has ordered a military crackdown amid ongoing fighting between Christian and Muslim fighters. The former president resigned last week after failing to contain the violence. The interim president, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, said he was deploying 400 additional soldiers in the capital Bangui.
Interim President Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet: “All of the armed elements, I am warning the anti-balaka and Seleka that the holiday is over. To the forces of order, I order you to shoot to kill at all those disturbing the public order, so that peace can reign in this country. The break is finished.”
According to the United Nations, two-thirds of Bangui residents have fled from the violence.
Opposition protesters in Thailand marched on government buildings for a second day today as part of a push to “shut down” the capital Bangkok. Thousands of demonstrators camped out in the streets overnight after blocking intersections and forcing schools to close on Monday. The protesters want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and be replaced by an unelected “people’s council.”
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have agreed on a $1 trillion spending bill to keep the government funded through September. About half of that amount will go to the military. The bill boosts federal budgets after last year’s across-the-board cuts, but keeps levels tens of billions of dollars lower than Democrats wanted. It restores funding to Head Start education programs and finances some efforts to curb sexual assault in the military. It also allows $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt despite global concerns over the crackdown on activists and journalists.
In California, a jury has acquitted two former Fullerton police officers of all charges in the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man in 2011. Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were charged with battering Kelly Thomas with a baton and a stun gun, leaving him comatose. Thomas died days later. The incident was captured on surveillance video that appears to show police threatening Thomas as he sits on the ground, then beating him, even though he appears to show no resistance. Thomas can be heard on the video pleading for help, apologizing and saying he cannot breathe. Prosecutors have decided not to pursue charges against a third officer accused in the incident. Thomas’ father reacted to Monday’s verdict in an interview with local news station KNX 1070.
Ron Thomas: “I’m feeling horrible. The injustice is — it’s just unbelievable. Completely innocent on all counts. I mean they brutally beat him to death, we’ve all seen that. But yet they’re innocent on all counts. Unreal.”
Following the verdict, protesters carrying candles gathered at the transit depot in Fullerton where Thomas was fatally beaten.
The Senate has confirmed President Obama’s fourth nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the second most powerful court in the country. Following the confirmation of Robert Wilkins, Democrats now hold a seven-to-four majority on the court. The vote took place as the Supreme Court heard arguments on President Obama’s ability to make appointments during breaks within Senate sessions. The case relates to Obama’s appointment of three officials to the National Labor Relations Board without Senate approval in 2012. A majority of justices appeared poised to curb Obama’s appointment powers.
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a bid by Arizona to revive a ban on abortion at 20 weeks, leaving in place a lower ruling blocking the law. Several other states have passed similar bans, but Arizona’s was considered the strictest because it took effect at 18 weeks post-fertilization.
Mexico is sending troops to the western state of Michoacán after self-defense groups took up arms against drug traffickers. The groups have taken control of several towns over the past week in an effort to oust the brutal Knights Templar cartel. They say they are defending their families.
A new investigation by a Mexican newspaper confirmed U.S. drug agents negotiated extensively with Mexican cartels in order to build cases against rival organizations. According to El Universal, agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration met with high-level members of the notorious Sinaloa cartel more than 50 times in Mexico between 2000 and 2012, allegedly without the knowledge of Mexican authorities.
The scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is deepening amid reports his administration may have targeted other political rivals. Last week, Christie fired a top aide after it emerged she had ordered the closure of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for declining to endorse Christie. Now, documents released by Jersey City show Christie’s commissioners canceled meetings with that city’s mayor after he declined to endorse Christie, leaving the city without needed funds from the Port Authority. Federal investigators, meanwhile, have announced they will probe whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy relief money to fund a multi-million-dollar tourism ad campaign featuring his family. New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone said the funds could have been used to help storm victims.
Sen. Frank Pallone: “I don’t think there’s any question that this was an effort to promote him. But the problem is, it was at the expense of money from the taxpayers that could have been used for other Sandy purposes. And I represent the area that was hardest hit by Sandy, where people are still looking for money now, so I think it smells.”
Nigeria’s president has signed a harsh new anti-gay law. The law bans same-sex marriages and criminalizes participation in LGBT organizations or meetings. Under the law, anyone who publicly demonstrates love toward a person of the same sex could face up to 10 years in prison.
A judge in New Mexico has cleared the way for doctors in the state to prescribe drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives. Judge Nan Nash wrote she could not “envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.” New Mexico is the fifth state to allow patients to seek aid in dying from a doctor.
An African-American transgender woman imprisoned for killing a man who reportedly harassed her has been released. Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald served two-thirds of her 41-month sentence for stabbing Dean Schmitz with a pair of scissors. Supporters say she was defending herself against a group of people who attacked her with a bar glass and hurled transphobic and racist slurs. McDonald was held in a men’s prison, even though she identifies as a woman. McDonald beamed as she left prison, where she was greeted by supporters, including actress Laverne Cox from the series “Orange is the New Black.” In a statement, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, “Trans women of color, such as CeCe, face shocking levels of physical violence and discrimination by the police, the courts and the prison system. … Her story should be a wake-up call for our nation.”
Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, whose sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina helped catalyze the civil rights movement, has died at the age of 73. The group of four African-American college students sat down at the whites-only counter in on February 1, 1960, and refused to leave. The next day, they returned. Within days, 300 people were taking part. The sit-in helped spark a wave of similar actions across the segregated South. Today, two other members of the Greensboro Four are still alive; a third, David Richmond, died in 1990. This is Franklin McCain in a tribute video produced by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Franklin McCain: “I’m talking to you, the youth. I’m saying to you, all you have to do is believe, all you have to do is have a dose of commitment, throw yourself to the wind, forget about caution, and in the words of Eric Hoffer, the stevedore, become the true believer. And my parting words are to you, if you want to do something, don’t wait for the masses, because they ain’t coming!”
McCain died Thursday of respiratory complications at a hospital just a few miles from the old Woolworth, which is now a civil rights museum.