Ukraine is warning it will continue efforts to retake control of eastern areas from pro-Russian groups despite warnings from Russia. Tensions have escalated after Ukrainian authorities said they killed five pro-Russian separatists near Slovyansk. Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced new military exercises on the border and warned of unspecified “consequences.” On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry warned the United States could take further action against Russia if it does not back down.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Seven days, two opposite responses, and one truth that cannot be ignored: The world will remain united for Ukraine. So I will say it again. The window to change course is closing. President Putin and Russia face a choice. If Russia chooses the path of de-escalation, the international community, all of us, will welcome it. If Russia does not, the world will make sure that the costs for Russia will only grow. And as President Obama reiterated earlier today, we are ready to act.”
A U.S. journalist has been released by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Vice News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky had been held since Monday. He says he believes he was targeted for his reporting.
Simon Ostrovsky: “They had my photograph at a checkpoint that’s just down the road from here. And so the guy at the checkpoint saw my picture, saw my face, and then they pulled me out of the car and all hell broke loose. There was four other journalists with us in the car, and I think they were released pretty early on. And me, they took to the SBU [Ukraine’s SBU state security service] headquarters, where the pro-Russian forces have their headquarters right now.”
President Obama has left Japan without sealing a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretive pact among Pacific Rim countries to establish a free-trade zone encompassing nearly 40 percent of the global economy. The deal has faced mass protest in Japan by farmers and others who say it will cause large-scale poverty and displacement like what happened in Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Obama said a deal could still be reached if Japan further opens its economy to U.S. products. Obama continues his Asia tour in South Korea today.
Israel has suspended U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians following a unity pact between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Israeli officials say they will only resume negotiations if the PA abandons the deal with Hamas, which Israel deems a terrorist organization.
The Marshall Islands is suing the United States and eight other countries, accusing them of failing to meet commitments for nuclear disarmament. In an unprecedented legal action brought before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, the tiny Pacific island nation accuses the nine countries of “flagrant violations” of international law, saying they are upgrading their nuclear arsenals instead of working to reduce them. The Marshall Islands chain, which includes Bikini Atoll, was the subject of 67 nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s, which have left lasting health and environmental impacts.
A federal judge has dismissed criminal charges against a former Blackwater guard accused of firing the opening shots that triggered a massacre of Iraqis in 2007. At least 14 civilians died in the Nisoor Square massacre, including a nine-year-old boy. But the judge dismissed the indictment of Nicholas Slatten after a federal appeals court ruled the charges had been filed after the statute of limitations expired. Prosecutors may seek new charges ahead of the June trial of three other Blackwater guards in the case. The decision comes as an Army sergeant faces a possible court-martial for killing two unarmed Iraqi boys in 2007. At a preliminary hearing this week, military prosecutors said Michael Barbera shot the two brothers as they herded cattle, posing no threat. After an earlier investigation in 2009, Barbera received a letter of reprimand, prompting accusations of a cover-up.
Native Americans and ranchers are continuing their weeklong protest against the Keystone XL oil pipeline in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance rolled out a fake pipeline in front of the Lincoln Memorial and called for leaders to reject the project.
Wizipan Little Elk, member of Rosebud Sioux tribe: “So our message to the Canadian government is let’s do what’s right for North America. Let’s not capitulate to multinational corporations and their greed.”
Art Tanderup, Nebraska landowner: “We do not want to pollute our water and destroy our land. We want to see our children and our grandchildren survive on the plains as our forefathers have done for many generations. We need President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”
Thousands of protesters are expected to join a march on D.C. on Saturday. The Obama administration has delayed a decision on the pipeline for a third straight year.
Federal regulators have unveiled changes aimed at preventing deadly black lung disease among coal miners. The long-awaited rule lowers the amount of dust allowed in mines and requires new technology to monitor dust levels. Black lung disease has been on the rise in the United States since the late 1990s.
Vermont is poised to become the first state in the country to require labeling of genetically modified foods. Gov. Peter Shumlin has vowed to sign the bill passed by state lawmakers on Wednesday. The measure also bars foods with GMOs from being labeled as “natural.” The measure would take effect in July 2016. Connecticut and Maine have passed similar laws, but theirs have clauses that prevent them from going into effect until neighboring states require the labeling.
U.S. postal workers rallied outside Staples stores across the country Thursday to protest the shifting of their jobs to nonunion retail workers. At issue is the opening of postal counters inside Staples stores, which are staffed by employees paid far less than union postal workers.
An Arkansas judge has struck down the state’s strict voter ID law, saying it violates the Arkansas Constitution. The law requires voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot. It was enacted last year after the Republican-led Legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.
A Nevada rancher whose stand against the federal government became a right-wing cause célèbre has been caught on tape making racist comments. Cliven Bundy refused to pay decades’ worth of fees for grazing his cattle on federal land, prompting a standoff with federal rangers during which an armed militia of supporters flocked to his aid. In comments quoted by The New York Times, Bundy discussed what he termed “the Negro.”
Cliven Bundy: “So now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”
Right-wing figures, including Fox News host Sean Hannity and Republican Senators Dean Heller, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, have all condemned Bundy’s remarks after they publicly supported his case.
The issue of sexual assault on college campuses is in the spotlight. Brown University is under fire for allowing a student who allegedly raped and strangled a classmate to return to campus after what amounted to a one-semester suspension. The victim, Lena Sclove, said her assailant was found responsible for sexual misconduct by a university panel, but will still be allowed back in the fall. Surrounded by supporters, Sclove described her injuries.
Lena Sclove: “It turned out I had a cervical spine injury in my neck from being strangled. It’s very common for trauma injuries like this to take several months to surface. I could not walk for about two months, from January and February. I was bedridden and was forced to take a medical leave. So I lost my one semester of freedom, and now my next opportunity to come back as a student, to matriculate here at Brown, is the same semester that the rapist is allowed to come back and matriculate here at Brown. … I feel like I should have been thanked by the administration for keeping this campus safe. Instead, they kept him safe.”
Brown is not the only Ivy League school facing scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault. Students at Columbia and Harvard universities have filed complaints accusing their schools of violating federal law by failing to adequately protect survivors and punish perpetrators. Last month, a Harvard student published an open letter titled, “Dear Harvard: You Win,” detailing her unsuccessful battle to have her accused assailant moved out of her residential house.
Imprisoned Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal turned 60 years old on Thursday. He has spent more than three decades in prison, much of it on death row until his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2012. He was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer, but maintains he is innocent of the charges. Human rights groups have pointed to racial bias that pervaded the trial, and have long called for a new trial. Abu-Jamal thanked his supporters in a birthday recording made from prison.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: “I breathe today because you fought for my breath. The state hates you and attacks you because you fought for me, with me every step of the way. I’m humbled by your support and energized by it. Struggles like this prove the possible and we are not done.”
Abu-Jamal’s supporters are holding a “Celebration of Life” festival in Philadelphia Saturday to celebrate his 60th birthday.