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Syria has missed another deadline for shipping out its chemical weapons as part of the deal reached last year following threats of a U.S. strike. The regime of Bashar al-Assad has handed over just 5 percent of its stockpile, far below the timeline’s 90 percent goal. The Assad regime is blaming the delay on clashes with opposition rebels. The United Nations says it still expects Syria to meet a final June 30 deadline. At a hearing in Washington, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he believes the weapons agreement has strengthened Assad.
James Clapper: “Well, the prospects are right now that he is actually in a strengthened position than when we discussed this last year, by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons, as slow as that process has been. So if he doesn’t go, in the absence of some kind of a diplomatic agreement ensuing from Geneva or follow-on discussions, I would foresee kind of more of the same, sort of a perpetual state of stalemate, where either — neither the regime nor the opposition can prevail.”
A new U.N. report warns children in Syria are enduring “unspeakable suffering,” mostly at the hands of the Assad regime. The report says Syrian children have suffered abuses including torture, maiming and sexual crimes. Government forces are said to have been the main culprits, but the report says rebel groups have committed increasing attacks on children over the past year.
At least 23 people have been killed in a series of bombings in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The attacks came near the heavily fortified Green Zone housing the Iraqi government and several embassies. More than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq last month, following the country’s deadliest year since 2008.
The Israeli government has authorized a new round of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. More than 550 homes are planned for three settlements surrounding Jerusalem, whose borders Israel has extended far beyond the internationally recognized Green Line. The move was announced as Israel demolished three Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. The news follows a public spat earlier this week between the Israeli government and Secretary of State John Kerry after Kerry said Israel will face intensified global boycotts if it fails to make peace with the Palestinians.
The United Nations has issued its harshest condemnation to date of the Catholic Church cover-up of child sexual abuse. In a new report, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child says the Vatican has consistently placed its reputation above the welfare of child victims. Panel chair Kirsten Sandberg said the Vatican has enabled a culture of impunity that has wronged tens of thousands of children.
Kirsten Sandberg: “With regard to child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, that is, clerics who have been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide, the main finding of the committee was that the Holy See has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators. The Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests.”
The U.N. report calls on the Vatican to hand over alleged or known abusers to law enforcement worldwide, and release its entire archive on child sex abuse cases.
El Salvador’s Supreme Court has ordered an unprecedented probe of a 1981 massacre of civilians by U.S.-backed troops. Around 45 people, including women and children, were killed by the Salvadoran military in the town of San Francisco Angulo. The investigation comes days after a former rebel leader just missed an all-out victory in the first round of presidential elections, setting up a runoff for next month. The El Salvador Supreme Court is also reviewing a challenge to a 1993 law granting amnesty for atrocities by El Salvador’s right-wing governments.
Federal officials are claiming the water supply in West Virginia is safe despite continued local warnings to avoid consumption. Residents have been told they can drink the water nearly a month after a chemical spill cut off 300,000 people for up to a week. But despite the safety clearance, doctors are still advising pregnant women and children under three to use alternative sources of water. Two schools in Charleston were closed on Wednesday after the water had the same licorice smell as it did during the spill and students complained of chemical-related symptoms.
The company behind the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, TransCanada, is facing new scrutiny at home. The Canadian broadcaster CBC News has revealed regulators buried a report about a rupture on a TransCanada natural gas pipeline in 2009. An investigation cited TransCanada for “inadequate” inspections and “ineffective” oversight. But for unknown reasons, the incident was never publicly disclosed and the report never released. The Canadian government has been a vocal proponent of TransCanada’s plans for the Keystone XL. Speaking to the CBC, environmental policy expert Nathan Lemphers said the report’s disappearance raises questions.
Nathan Lemphers: “It certainly seems fishy from the outside that this report was kept quiet due to an apparent administrative error. Certainly, if the report came out, it would have been — risen to immediate public attention.”
The drugstore chain CVS has announced it will stop selling tobacco products in its thousands of U.S. stores. CVS Executive Vice President Troyen Brennan says the company has decided the sale of cigarettes does not fit in a healthcare setting.
Troyen Brennan: “We’re part of the overall healthcare team. It’s really antithetical, as a result, to have a product in our store, tobacco, which actually causes these kinds of diseases. So that’s why it’s so important for us to eliminate the sale of tobacco products today.”
Protests have been held in 20 cities around the world to protest Russia’s crackdown on LGBT rights. The “All Out” protests were part of a series of actions organized around Russia’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which begin on Friday. In London, protest organizer Marie Campbell called on the games’ corporate sponsors to speak out.
Marie Campbell: “These huge corporations are saying one thing in some countries, that they are pro-gay, they’re very friendly to their gay employees, but, you know, they’re staying very silent in other parts of the world, where their consumers and employees are suffering under anti-gay laws. And we think it’s time that was called out.”
Two freed members of the Russian group Pussy Riot were honored Wednesday night at a concert organized by Amnesty International. Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are in the U.S. following their release from prison in December. They had spent nearly two years behind bars for protesting Russian President Vladimir Putin inside an Orthodox cathedral. In front of a crowd of thousands at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the pop star Madonna introduced the Pussy Riot members.
Madonna: “I do not take this freedom for granted, and neither should you, OK? So, the two members of Pussy Riot that I’m about to introduce do not have this right in the country they come from. They do not share this freedom with me, so they must be commended for their courage and for their fearlessness. Yay! That would be a yay! You can do better than that. They must be commended!”
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: “We will not forgive and we will not forget what the regime is doing to our fellow citizens, so we demand a Russia that is free, a Russia without Putin!”
Earlier in the day, the two women from Pussy Riot met with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, prompting a rebuke from Power’s Russian counterpart. Meanwhile, at a news conference before the event, the women responded to reports of a rift within Pussy Riot.
Maria Alyokhina: “When we were jailed, Pussy Riot immediately became very popular and widely known. And it has turned from just a group into essentially an international movement. Anybody can be Pussy Riot. You just need to put on a mask and stage an act of protest against something in your particular country, wherever that may be, that you consider unjust.”
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: “And we’re not here as leaders of Pussy Riot or determining what Pussy Riot is and what it does and what it says. We are just two individuals that spent two years in jail for taking part in a Pussy Riot protest action.”
Six anonymous members of Pussy Riot have released a letter saying Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are no longer members and calling the sale of concert tickets and the use of an Amnesty International event logo displaying a man in a Pussy Riot mask an “extreme contradiction” of the group’s principles. Other performers at Wednesday’s event included The Flaming Lips, Blondie and Lauryn Hill.