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Crimea has formally asked to join Russia after voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to secede from Ukraine. Crimean authorities say 96.8 percent of voters supported the referendum, but many members of the ethnic Ukrainian and Muslim Tatar minorities in Crimea stayed home in a boycott. The Obama administration has threatened sanctions on Russia if Crimea follows through and secedes. Russia has vowed to approve Crimea’s bid in a parliamentary vote. On Saturday, the Russian government vetoed a U.S.-backed Security Council resolution declaring the referendum invalid. Russia’s occupation of Crimea also sparked a massive opposition protest at home, with tens of thousands marching in Moscow on Saturday against military intervention in Crimea. It was Russia’s largest opposition rally since 2012. Tension meanwhile is rising in parts of eastern Ukraine that have seen a series of pro-Russian rallies. The Ukrainian parliament has endorsed a presidential decree for a partial military mobilization to call up 40,000 reservists to counter Russia’s military actions.
The Syrian military says it has recaptured the town of Yabrud, the last rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border. Government forces and Lebanese allies from the group Hezbollah have besieged the town for weeks in an attempt to control key transport routes. The opposition had held Yabrud for most of the duration of the conflict.
A group of Syrian Americans rallied outside the White House on Saturday to mark the three-year anniversary of the protests that set off Syria’s civil war.
Jehad Ajlani: “If I raise the flag in this area, that gives me a lot of satisfaction, and it shows the people in Syria that we’re here for them. They’re not by themselves.”
An estimated 146,000 people have been killed since the conflict began on March 15, 2011, roughly half of them civilians. We’ll have more on Syria later in the broadcast.
The U.S. has confirmed a new round of weapons shipments to Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad says nearly 100 Hellfire missiles and hundreds of thousands of ammunition rounds have been delivered this month. The Obama administration has accelerated weapons aid in recent months to support the Iraqi government’s campaign against militant groups. This comes amidst mounting sectarian violence set off by the U.S. invasion in 2003.
U.S. forces have boarded and taken control of an oil tanker seized by militants at a Libyan port earlier this month. The operation occurred in international waters southeast of Cyprus. The Pentagon says no one was hurt. The tanker’s seizure sparked a political crisis in Libya, leading parliament to remove Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.
The search continues for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 more than a week after its disappearance. Malaysian investigators say they believe someone in the cockpit may have diverted the plane and flown for several hours after deliberately switching off its communication and tracking systems. The plane’s pilots and crew members have been under intense investigation since the plane vanished somewhere north of Kuala Lumpur.
President Obama has pledged to modify his enforcement of immigration laws following a wave of protests against record deportations. The number of undocumented immigrants sent abroad under Obama’s watch is set to reach two million. At a White House meeting on Friday, Obama told immigration activists he would direct the Department of Homeland Security to help find an approach that acts “more humanely.” The changes reportedly include halting deportations for most people never convicted of crimes, and focusing on those with criminal records or who are deemed a danger to public safety. Obama has long maintained he has done all he can on immigration reform within the confines of the law, and that Congress will have to overcome Republican obstruction in order to bring additional change. But the White House apparently changed its mind after a flood of criticism in recent weeks that brought Obama the moniker of “deporter-in-chief.” Top Democrats have also started pressuring Obama amidst concern Latino voters will stay home in the coming midterm elections.
A federal judge has struck down an Arkansas law banning abortions at 12 weeks of pregnancy. The measure became one of the harshest in the country after its passage last year. In her ruling, District Judge Susan Webber Wright let stand a requirement that a woman seeking an abortion first undergo an ultrasound to detect a fetal heartbeat.
The Obama administration has issued new rules that bar discrimination against same-sex couples in health insurance plans. Starting in 2015, insurers will have to offer coverage to same-sex couples if they already provide them for heterosexual couples.
A U.S. general accused in a high-profile sexual assault case has reached a plea deal at his trial. Military prosecutors have agreed to drop sexual assault charges against Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair in return for a guilty plea on lesser offenses. The accuser, an Army captain, testified Sinclair twice forced her to perform oral sex during their three-year affair in Afghanistan and threatened to murder her and her family if she told anyone. Under his plea, Sinclair will admit to “mistreatment” but avoid charges that would have forced him to register as a sex offender if convicted.
The Obama administration has announced the U.S. will give up the administering of domain names and web addresses on the Internet. A new regulatory body will be created to exert formal control. Fadi Chehadé of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers welcomed the move.
Fadi Chehadé: “This is a moment of triumph. This is a moment where the multistakeholder model shows that it is mature and ready and we no longer need the stewardship of one government. We now need the world’s stewardship to come and ensure that our functions are performed as requested by the global community.”
The U.S. has faced calls to relinquish its control of Internet addresses in the wake of the revelations over extensive NSA spying.
Clashes broke out in Venezuela on Sunday amidst continued anti-government protests. Thousands of demonstrators marched on a Venezuelan army base to protest what they claimed to be Cuban interference in Venezuela’s military. At least 28 people have been killed and over 300 wounded in the last six weeks, marking Venezuela’s worst violence in 10 years.
A group of Haitians and their advocates have filed a new class action lawsuit against the United Nations for the cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed more than 8,000 people. The disease strain has been traced to U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal deployed after the January 2010 earthquake. The U.N. rejected a formal petition for compensating the victims last year. Federal prosecutors in New York recently sided with the U.N.’s claim to immunity from legal redress.
A new United Nations report has called for independent probes of a series of drone attacks that have killed civilians around the world. Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights, identified 30 drone strikes – most of them by the U.S. – in which civilians were killed, badly injured or threatened. They include a U.S. drone strike on a wedding party in Yemen that killed as many as 12 civilians in December. While drone strikes in Pakistan appear to have declined, strikes in Yemen increased and civilian casualties tripled in Afghanistan last year.
And hundreds of farmworkers and their supporters have wrapped up a five-state, nine-day march in their latest effort to improve conditions at the fields and farms serving major food companies. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ “Now is the Time” march focused on urging the food giants Publix and Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, which ensures improved wages and working conditions for farmworkers in the companies’ supply chains. The march set off from Florida, reaching as far north as Ohio before returning home for an overnight vigil on Saturday outside a Publix store in the town of Lakeland.