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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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Ukraine and Russia have agreed on the main points of a ceasefire following all-night talks in Belarus. The truce would take effect on Sunday and see the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front lines. The deal comes amidst some of the worst fighting between separatist and Ukrainian forces to date and a pending U.S. decision on arming the government in Kiev. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund has offered a new $40 billion rescue package for Ukraine’s ailing economy, most of it in loans.
Thousands gathered on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last night to remember the three Muslim students shot dead by a gunman who had posted anti-religious messages online. The victims were two sisters — 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and 21-year-old Yusor Abu-Salha — and Yusor’s husband, 23-year-old Deah Barakat. Suspected gunman Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Hicks had frequently posted anti-religious comments on his Facebook page and was a supporter of the group Atheists for Equality. On Wednesday, police said the killings resulted from a dispute over a parking space. But Mohammad Abu-Salha, Razan and Yusor’s father, described the shootings as a hate crime.
Mohammad Abu-Salha: “We’re sad. We’re distraught. We’re shocked. We’re angry. We feel we were treated unjustly. This is uncalled for. We heard from the media — not from the media, from the police folks that each one of these children had a bullet in the head. This was an execution style, this was a hate crime from a neighbor our children spoke about, they were uncomfortable with. He came to their apartment more than once, condescending, threatening and despising and talking down to them.”
Greece has failed to reach an agreement with European creditors following an opening round of talks in Brussels. The Greek Syriza government wants to revise the terms of its international bailout following last month’s historic election victory on an anti-austerity platform. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he remains confident a deal can be reached when negotiations resume next week.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis: “We heard many different, interesting opinions. We had the opportunity to table our views, and now we are proceeding to the next meeting, which is in very few days, on Monday, hoping that by the end of that one there is going to be a conclusion to the deliberations in a manner that is optimal from both the perspective of Greece and our European partners.”
In a show of support for the government’s position, thousands of people rallied in Athens on Wednesday to reject internationally imposed austerity.
Protester: “The crucial point now is solidarity. We need solidarity. That’s the whole point. And the elections sent a message, I believe, sent a crucial message to all European people that now we have to be united and we need solidarity.”
Two Al Jazeera journalists have been freed on bail in Egypt after more than 400 days behind bars. Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released today at the start of a new trial. The pair and a third colleague, Peter Greste, were arrested as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera after the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Despite their release, the case has not been dismissed. A new hearing will be held later this month.
The United Nations says more than 300 people died at sea this week after attempting to flee Africa by boat. The migrants left from Libya on Saturday in a bid to reach Italy. A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced their deaths.
Carlotta Sami: “This morning at 7:30, nine survivors arrived to Lampedusa. They confirmed what other survivors previously said, that there were 203 people with them that have disappeared. They have been swallowed by the sea. But in addition to that, they confirmed that there was a fourth, a fourth dinghy, so we do not know about the fate of another hundred of people.”
The Libyan migrants’ deaths comes as the United Nations has issued a new warning over the crisis in Libya, saying the country is beset by widespread abuses. A report this week by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says “Libya is facing the worst political crisis and escalation of violence” since the U.S.-backed ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country is run by two different governments, each with their own parliaments and armies.
The Republican-controlled Congress has cleared a measure to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The House approved the bill on Wednesday following Senate passage last month. However, the bill does not have enough votes to override a veto from President Obama, who has vowed to reject it.
Activists opposed to the Keystone XL oil pipeline have been receiving phone calls and house visits from the FBI. An attorney told the Canadian Press news agency at least a dozen people in the northwestern United States have been contacted by FBI agents. The agency appears to be focusing on people involved with efforts to block the transport of “megaloads” — massive shipments of oil equipment bound for the Canadian tar sands.
The New York City police officer accused in the killing of unarmed African American Akai Gurley has been indicted. Gurley was in the dimly lit stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project when Officer Peter Liang opened fire. On Wednesday, Liang was arraigned on charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault and official misconduct. Liang reportedly did not call for help or respond to police radio contact for several minutes after shooting Gurley dead. Defense attorneys say the shooting was accidental. After the hearing, Gurley’s partner, Kimberly Ballinger, said her family wants the indictment to lead to a conviction.
Kimberly Ballinger: “I want to thank the DA’s office for getting us an indictment. This is the first step in justice. Now all we need is a conviction, which I have faith that we will get. … It’s hard. There’s like no way to express it. It’s really hard when someone that used to be in a home isn’t there anymore. Not only is it hard for me and my kids. It’s hard for his mom and his aunt and his family, as well.”
Three white men have been sentenced to prison for the 2011 murder of an African-American man in Jackson, Mississippi. The three and other friends beat James Craig Anderson, a 49-year-old black auto plant worker, while yelling “white power!” and other racial epithets. Surveillance footage then shows one of the individuals’ truck driving over Anderson, killing him instantly. Anderson was also a gay man with a same-sex partner, but it is unclear if his sexual orientation factored into the deadly attack. On Wednesday, Deryl Paul Dedmon received 50 years in prison; John Aaron Rice, 18-and-a-half years; and Dylan Wade Butler, seven years. All were convicted of the commission of a hate crime.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois has launched a new effort to undermine the state’s public sector unions. Rauner issued an executive order this week that bars unions from requiring all state workers to pay fees equivalent to union dues. The measure applies to around 6,500 Illinois public workers who pay fees to unions but are not members. Around 42,000 state employees are unionized. Union leaders have argued the “fair share” fees are justified because nonmembers still benefit from collective bargaining. Rauner, a former private equity manager, is the latest Midwestern Republican governor to challenge public sector employees following similar measures in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. In response, Illinois labor leader Roberta Lynch called the order a “blatantly illegal abuse of power … that can’t hide [Rauner’s] real agenda: silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class.”
In New York City, Spanish activists and local housing advocates gathered at the headquarters of the private equity firm Blackstone Group to protest its treatment of tenants around the world. Following the global financial crisis, Blackstone has been at the forefront of Wall Street’s takeover of the housing market. In the United States, the firm has become the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the country. In Spain, Blackstone has swept up nearly 42,000 rental and mortgaged units. Critics in both countries accuse the company of harassing tenants and driving up rents in an effort to force people out of their homes. Pablo La Parra of the group Marea Granate NYC, described the problem in Spain, where the unemployment rate is 25 percent.
Pablo La Parra: “The problem right now is that many banks that were rescued with public funds are selling their mortgages to private vulture funds as Blackstone. Many people is facing eviction because Blackstone’s strategy is to raise the prices for the tenants so people is no longer able to pay the rent. So they leave the apartment, and then Blackstone can renegotiate the prices. So they are earning money with people’s suffering.”
Read the column by Juan González in the New York Daily News titled “U.S. firms buy housing in Spain, raise rent and evict tenants.”
The veteran CBS News correspondent Bob Simon has died in a car crash in New York City. Simon was a longtime contributor to the news program 60 Minutes. He was 73.