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The Obama administration is ramping up pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond this year. In a phone call with Karzai Tuesday, Obama said he has ordered the Pentagon to launch new contingency planning for a total withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2014. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Karzai’s replacement after April elections might sign the deal, known as the bilateral security agreement, or BSA.
Jay Carney: “The fact that President Karzai has indicated that it is unlikely he will sign the BSA means that if he doesn’t sign it, it is at least possible that a successor Afghan government might sign it. But that pushes us later into the year. And the longer we go without a signed BSA, the — by necessity, the more narrow in size and ambition the mission for a post-2014 force would be.”
The remarks come as NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels this week to discuss Afghanistan.
According to the latest tally from the Associated Press, 2,174 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion. A new report from Doctors Without Borders, meanwhile, finds 1-in-4 people in Afghanistan have lost a relative or close friend to violence in the last year alone.
Afghans currently make up the largest population of refugees in the world, but they are poised to be surpassed by Syrians. According to the United Nations, the number of Syrian refugees could pass four million by the end of this year.
Lawmakers in France have voted to extend indefinitely the country’s military intervention in Central African Republic. Troops from France and the African Union have so far been unable to staunch sectarian bloodshed between Muslim rebels and Christian vigilantes. Three months ago, France named its mission in Central African Republic after a butterfly, Sangaris, assuming it would have a short life span. In the latest violence, Christian fighters reportedly killed 70 people over a two-day period earlier this month, while Chadian troops are accused of killing three civilians in the capital Bangui.
In Nigeria, officials say 59 students died in an attack by Islamist militants on a boarding school in the northeast. The group Boko Haram reportedly shot or burned male students to death, while allowing females to flee. Attacks by Boko Haram have killed more than 300 people this month alone, most of them civilians.
In Venezuela, the death toll from violent opposition protests has risen to 13 amid the country’s worst unrest in a decade. President Nicolás Maduro has accused right-wing opponents of fomenting a coup with U.S. support. On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States was expelling three Venezuelan diplomats in response to Maduro’s earlier expulsion of three U.S. officials.
Jen Psaki: “The State Department has declared three officials from the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C., personae non gratae, as well. They have been allowed 48 hours to leave the United States. As you know, the convention permits the United States to declare any member of a diplomatic mission persona non grata at any time and without the necessity to state a reason.”
Ukraine’s acting government has disbanded its riot police and is set to unveil a new Cabinet today as ousted President Viktor Yanukovych remains in hiding with a warrant out for his arrest. Yanukovych faced months of protests for strengthening ties with Russia instead of Europe. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Ukraine should not be forced to choose sides.
Sergey Lavrov: “It is dangerous and counterproductive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle, 'You are either with us or against us.' We are interested in Ukraine being a part of a common European family in all senses of this word.”
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has died from heart failure at the age of 66, less than a year after he was elected in Mississippi. A longtime black nationalist organizer and attorney, Lumumba has been called “America’s most revolutionary mayor.” We’ll discuss Lumumba’s legacy and hear from him in his own words after headlines.
A former Guantánamo prisoner who spent nearly three years in U.S. custody without charge has been arrested in Britain on accusations related to the conflict in Syria. Police say Moazzam Begg is suspected of attending a terrorist training camp and “facilitating terrorism overseas.” Begg is director of the prisoner advocacy group, Cage. Earlier this month, he published an article about visiting Syria to probe reports of U.S. and British complicity in rendering terrorism suspects to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He also said his passport was seized last month, writing, “I am certain that the only reason I am being continually harassed — something that began long before any visit to Syria — is because [Cage] and I are at the forefront of investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been willfully complicit in torture.” Cage released a statement expressing outage at Begg’s arrest, writing, “Moazzam Begg is just the latest individual drawn by the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria who has been labelled a terrorist. The purpose is to intimidate and vilify the wider Muslim community so that they are prevented from delivering much needed aid to the Syrian people.”
Missouri has executed its fourth prisoner in four months. Michael Taylor was injected with the lethal drug pentobarbital following his conviction of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. His attorneys had warned the drug, purchased from an unnamed compounding pharmacy, could cause immense suffering. They had also questioned Missouri’s practice of executing prisoners before appeals are exhausted. Late last month, Missouri executed Herbert Smulls just minutes before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on an appeal.
A nuclear waste disposal site is set to reopen near Carlsbad, New Mexico, following an unexplained leak of radioactive material. The underground waste dump was shut down earlier this month after an air monitor detected radioactive contamination. On Monday, federal regulators reported “slightly elevated levels” of airborne radioactivity, but said they did not pose a public threat.
The family of a man who died following an encounter with police outside a movie theater in Moore, Oklahoma, earlier this month has released disturbing video of the incident. Cellphone video shot by the man’s wife shows Luis Rodriguez lying face down with five police officers pressing on top of him — one of them holding down his head — while his wife pleads with them.
Nair Rodriguez: “Luis, are you OK? Luis? Luis, are you OK?”
Officer: “He’s fine.”
Nair Rodriguez: “Why you came to all this? Please, tell me!”
Nair Rodriguez says police beat her husband before he died. Police say he was uncooperative when they questioned him about reports of a domestic dispute.