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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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A devastating cyclone in the South Pacific Island state of Vanuatu has left half the population homeless and an unknown number dead. A Category 5 storm, Cyclone Pam flattened buildings and washed away roads and bridges. Speaking during a visit to Japan just as the storm hit, Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale appealed for international aid.
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale: “I stand to appeal on behalf of the government and people of Vanuatu to the global community to give a lending hand in responding these very current calamities that have struck us. Fellow heads of state, governments and development partners, we have all experienced our form of disaster at one time or another. Today, we appeal for your assistance.”
Lonsdale says climate change is “contributing to the disaster,” with global warming fueling extreme weather and stronger cyclones. We will have more on this story after headlines.
Activists in the Syrian town of Douma say more than 30 people have been killed in government bombings of residential areas and schools. Children were reportedly among the dead. The attack comes as the Syrian conflict has entered its fifth year. The U.N. refugee agency calls it “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era,” with at least 220,000 people killed and four million displaced. Daniel Gorevan of the British charity Oxfam said 2014 was the worst year in the Syrian civil war to date.
Daniel Gorevan: “The Security Council resolutions have been largely ignored by the parties to the conflict. In fact, if you look across the indicators which we have analyzed, there’s been more killings, more bombings, a massive increase in displacement and a huge increase in the number of people that are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.”
As the Syria conflict marks its fourth anniversary, the Obama administration has publicly backed talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Obama administration has quietly stopped calling for Assad’s ouster with the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. Speaking to CBS News, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and allies are mulling options to bring Assad back to the table.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we could reignite a diplomatic outcome. Why? Because everybody agrees there is no military solution. There is only a political solution. But to get the Assad regime to negotiate, we’re going to have to make it clear to him that there is a determination by everybody to seek that political outcome and change his calculation about negotiating. That’s underway right now. And I am convinced that, with the efforts of our allies and others, there will be increased pressure on Assad.”
Margaret Brennan: “And you’d be willing to negotiate with him?”
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Well, we have to negotiate in the end.”
Despite Kerry’s comments, the State Department says the United States still refuses to negotiate with Assad directly.
Iran has resumed talks with the United States and five other world powers in Switzerland ahead of this month’s deadline for a framework nuclear deal. The New York Times reports negotiators are confronting last-minute obstacles over the timeline for easing the sanctions on Iran and the intensity of international inspections. Iran wants an immediate end to all United Nations sanctions and has rejected U.S. demands for inspections of any potential nuclear site, including Iranian military bases. Ahead of the new talks, Secretary of State John Kerry was mum about the deal’s chances.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “As you know, we have set the end of the month as the deadline, and so we will be going into this understanding that time is critical. I can’t tell you whether or not we can get a deal or whether we’re close.”
The talks resume on the eve of national elections in Israel, where the leading opponent of negotiations with Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in a tight race for re-election. Some polls show Netanyahu’s Likud trailing the Zionist Union coalition, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. The Joint List, a coalition of four Arab parties, is running in third place and could be decisive in forming a new coalition that would unseat Netanyahu. In recent campaign speeches, Netanyahu has suggested he would never withdraw from the Occupied Territories or allow a Palestinian state there. His foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently made headlines after calling for the beheading of disloyal Arab-Israeli citizens, prompting critics to label him the “Jewish ISIS.”
More than a million people rallied across Brazil on Sunday in a protest against the government of President Dilma Rousseff. Organizers called the day of action to oppose a sluggish economy and a corruption scandal at the state-run energy company Petrobras. According to Reuters, many protesters come from the country’s wealthier classes, traditional foes of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. Rousseff was narrowly re-elected to a second term in October.
Venezuelan lawmakers have given final approval to new decree powers for President Nicolás Maduro. The measure enables Maduro to make laws on his own for up to six months, authority Maduro says is necessary following the Obama administration’s designation of Venezuela as a “national security threat.” A number of South American governments have denounced the U.S. move ahead of a regional summit in Panama next month. On Friday, Bolivian President Evo Morales called on President Obama to issue a public apology.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “I very much regret the attitude of U.S. President Barack Obama. He throws a threat, an aggressive planning of military intervention in Venezuela. Could it be that Obama is afraid of democracies in Latin America and the Caribbean? Could it be that Barack Obama is the enemy of political and economic sovereignty of countries in Latin America?”
An immigration appeals court has upheld the deportation order of a former El Salvadoran general accused of murder and torture. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova is wanted in El Salvador for his role in the notorious killings of four U.S. churchwomen in 1980. A 2012 decision marked the first time an immigration judge ordered a top-ranking foreign military leader deported under a 2004 law intended to bar human rights violators from U.S. soil. Vides was a close U.S. government ally during his stint as defense minister for the Salvadoran junta between 1983 and 1989. The churchwomen’s families have fought for years to hold him and other U.S.-backed Salvadoran officials responsible for the deaths. In a ruling last week, the Board of Immigration Appeals found there is ample evidence Vides was complicit in the Americans’ rape and murder as well as the torture of political prisoners. Vides, who lives in Florida, can still appeal in federal court.
A suspect has been arrested in last week’s shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri. The attack occurred outside the Ferguson police headquarters as protesters marked the ouster of Police Chief Tom Jackson following months of activism. The suspect has been identified as 20-year-old Jeffrey Williams. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said he may not have deliberately targeted police, but instead someone in the crowd with whom he had a dispute.
Robert McCulloch: “Essentially what we’ve charged him with is firing shots. It’s possible at this point that he was firing shots at someone other than the police, but struck the police officers. So the charge is still assault in the first degree, and they’re class-A felonies for striking those two officers. There was a weapon recovered, which has been tied to the shell casings that were recovered there, the weapon recovered from him, and he has acknowledged his participation in firing the shots or his — that in fact he did fire the shots that struck the two officers.”
Williams was identified with public help. McCulloch described him as a protester, but several Ferguson activists say he did not take part in the demonstrations.
Hundreds of people have gathered in Madison, Wisconsin, for the funeral of Tony Robinson, an unarmed black teenager shot dead by police. Police say Robinson was fatally shot after an officer responded to a report of a man jumping in and out of traffic and assaulting someone. His killing has sparked protests in the latest display of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. In a packed high school field house hosting the funeral, a friend of Tony Robinson broke down as he paid tribute.
Elijah: “And as his Aunt Lolo said, he began to talk about how he would live forever and how he would be something great. (pause/cries) I can’t … I can’t.”
Dozens of people have completed a multi-day re-enactment of the historic Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. On March 7, 1965, hundreds of peaceful voting rights activists were attacked by Alabama state troopers, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery. “Bloody Sunday” was the first of three attempted marches, finally completed under federal protection and led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on March 24. Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama was among those taking part in the anniversary event.
Rep. Terri Sewell: “I think it’s so important to remember that this is not just one event in history, that this is really a movement for strengthening the Voting Rights Act, as well as remembering and preserving our past. You know, 50 years have passed, but there’s still a renewed assault on voting rights.”
Congressmember Sewell is the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress from Alabama.
Robert Durst, the estranged son of one of New York’s most prominent real estate families, has been arrested on murder charges over the killing of a longtime friend in 2000. Durst has been suspected in multiple killings for years. Authorities are still investigating him over the disappearance of his wife in 1982. In a separate case, in 2001, Durst was acquitted of killing and dismembering an elderly neighbor, after claiming the death was an accident. Durst’s arrest for the murder of his friend Susan Berman came after the filming of an HBO documentary series about his life. During an unguarded moment caught on tape as Durst wore his microphone in the bathroom, he whispered: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
Protesters from New York City traveled to Greenwich, Connecticut, on Saturday to rally outside the home of billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones. The protest came as part of a project called The Hedge Clippers, which seeks to highlight the role of hedge fund leaders in steering New York state toward policies that favor the rich. The group recently reported hedge fund managers have flooded New York state with nearly $40 million in political contributions since 2000. The largest individual beneficiary has been Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has received nearly $5 million, much of it from founders and backers of charter schools. Activists Jonathan Westin and Zakiyah Ansari described their reasons for targeting Paul Tudor Jones, who has a net worth of more than $4 billion.
Jonathan Westin: “The greedy few cannot control New York state government and our governor, Andrew Cuomo.”
Zakiyah Ansari: “His hedge fund buddies have bought our state majority, which is Republican right now, and they are pushing policies and don’t want to pass laws that help folks who don’t have as much money as them. They’re not thinking about passing the DREAM Act. They don’t think about passing a living wage, ensuring that there’s a living wage available for others, so not even that they could be as wealthy as them, so they can live.”