Tens of thousands of people have rallied in Moscow to honor the slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. A former deputy prime minister turned dissident politician, Nemtsov was shot to death Friday night near Red Square. Speaking just hours before in what would be his final interview, Nemtsov had accused Russian President Vladimr Putin of authoritarian rule.
Boris Nemtsov: “We need political reform in the country. When all the power is concentrated in the hands of one person, and when that person rules eternally, it will all end in absolute catastrophe. The main question people ask us is: 'You are inviting us to join the march. If we come, what will change?' I answer: 'If a lot of people come, something will change.'”
Weeks before his death, Nemtsov reportedly told a Russian news site he feared Putin wanted him dead. Putin has condemned the murder and vowed to find the perpetrators. Nemtsov had been set to lead Sunday’s rally to protest Russia’s economic policies and its military role in Ukraine. It instead turned into a vigil in his memory. An estimated crowd of 50,000 marched past the Kremlin, carrying signs reading, “I am not afraid.”
Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Geneva to discuss the conflict in Ukraine. The meeting comes just days after Kerry publicly accused Russian officials of lying to his face about their military support for separatist rebels. Russia and Ukraine are also holding direct talks in Brussels to resolve a dispute over the delivery of Russian gas. The United States said today the death toll from the nearly year-old conflict has topped 6,000. A recent ceasefire continues to hold after a shaky start.
Iraq has launched a new military operation to retake the city of Tikrit from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Thousands of Iraqi forces and militia fighters have converged in the city Samarra to strike nearby ISIS strongholds. The United States is expected to provide air support as part of its continued bombing campaign. The offensive comes as the Iraqi military prepares for a major U.S.-backed operation to retake Mosul from ISIS in the coming weeks.
Opposition groups in Syria have rejected the U.N. plan for a temporary ceasefire in the northern city of Aleppo. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura recently won a pledge from the regime of Bashar al-Assad to stop attacks on Aleppo for up to six weeks. But Aleppo’s Revolutionary Council says it will not meet with de Mistura unless he proposes a “comprehensive solution” based on Assad’s removal from power. This month marks the fourth anniversary of Syria’s civil war.
The Islamic State has reportedly freed 21 Assyrian Christians kidnapped in Syria. But more than 200 Assyrians are said to remain in ISIS captivity following its raids on more than a dozen villages last week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Washington for a trip aimed at stopping a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu is set to address the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC today followed by a controversial speech before Congress on Tuesday. His visit comes just as Iran and six world powers, including the United States, are set to resume talks in a bid to meet a March 31 deadline. We will have more on Netanyahu’s visit and the Iran nuclear talks when we spend the rest of the hour with Noam Chomsky, after headlines.
Hundreds of people have rallied in the West Bank to mark a pair of anniversaries in the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. On Friday, demonstrators gathered in Hebron to mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre of 29 Palestinian worshipers by U.S.-born settler Baruch Goldstein. Protesters also marched in the village of Bilin to mark the 10th anniversary of the village’s campaign against the Israeli separation wall, which carves up the West Bank to divide Palestinian land and annex the major Jewish settlement blocs. Dov Khenin, a leftist member of the Israeli Parliament, was among the Israeli protesters taking part.
Dov Khenin: “Now this is a very important struggle, because it is a struggle of a small village that from day one opened its houses, opened its hearts to other people, to people from international community, to democratic Israelis who come here and together struggle and demonstrate against the confiscation, against the separation wall, against occupation.”
An Egyptian court has upheld a decision that deems the Palestinian group Hamas a terrorist organization. The move will further strain ties between Egypt and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip on Egypt’s northern border. Hamas has called the decision “shocking and dangerous.” Hamas could react by no longer accepting Egypt as a broker with Israel, a role it most recently played during the assault on Gaza last summer.
Venezuela has announced the arrest of an unspecified number of Americans on charges of espionage, at least some of whom have reportedly been released and left the country. Speaking at a rally, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said the suspects were trying to stoke anti-government political sentiment.
President Nicolás Maduro: “We’ve detected activity, and we have captured some U.S. citizens in undercover activities, in hidden activities, espionage, trying to win over people in towns along the Venezuelan coast, trying to win over people in some neighborhoods. In Táchira, we captured a pilot of a U.S. plane of Latin origin with all sorts of documentation.”
Maduro also announced new restrictions on the number of U.S. diplomats allowed in Venezuela, and rule changes that will subject Americans to the same visa requirements Venezuelans face in the United States. Maduro has also unveiled a list of American politicians barred from entering Venezuela in response to U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials last year. Maduro has repeatedly accused right-wing opponents of fomenting a coup with U.S. support. The White House has denied the charges but said last week it’s considering “tools” to “steer the Venezuelan government in the direction … they should be headed.”
The United States and Cuba have held a second round of talks as part of the effort to restore full diplomatic ties for the first time in more than half a century. After meeting in Washington, the head of the U.S. delegation, Roberta Jacobson, said the two sides could reopen embassies in time for a regional meeting next month. The head of the Cuban delegation, Josefina Vidal, said Cuba expects the United States to remove it from the State Department’s list of countries sponsoring international terrorism.
Roberta Jacobson: “We can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas, and I certainly think that with the kind of cooperation that we had today, I certainly leave those conversations today optimistic, but committed and recognizing the work that still has to be done.”
Josefina Vidal: “It’s a priority for Cuba that we hope is addressed and is solved in the process towards the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, because, as I already said, it would be very difficult to say that we have re-established relations with our country still on a list that we believe very, very firmly that we have never belonged to and we do not belong to.”
Uruguay has sworn in Tabaré Vázquez as its new president. Vázquez previously served in the post from 2005 to 2010, when his leftist ally and now outgoing president, José Mujica, replaced him. Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter, leaves office after a term that included the legalization of marijuana, abortion and same-sex marriage. He chose to live in a modest one-story home instead of the presidential palace, and famously donated 90 percent of his salary to charity. That earned Mujica the nickname “world’s poorest president.”
A large crowd gathered in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Sunday to honor a Bangladeshi-American blogger killed in a brutal attack. Avijit Roy, a U.S. citizen born in Bangladesh, was walking home from a book fair when machete-wielding assailants hacked him to death. Roy’s wife and fellow blogger, Rafida Ahmed, was left seriously wounded. Roy’s family says Islamist extremists recently threatened him for speaking out against religious fundamentalism.
Congress has averted a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security just hours before the agency was set to lose its funding. On Friday, lawmakers approved a stopgap measure keeping the DHS open for another week. House Democrats helped approve the bill hours after far-right Republicans revolted against a three-week funding measure brought by House Speaker John Boehner. Republicans have sought to tie the DHS money to reversing President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Boehner has reportedly promised Democrats that a “clean” long-term funding bill without the immigration provisions will reach the House floor this week.
Los Angeles police have shot and killed a homeless man in an encounter caught on video and viewed millions of times online. The footage shows police wrestling the man to the pavement and deploying a Taser. In the foreground, a woman who tries to pick up an officer’s baton is also wrestled to the ground. A voice in the background appears to yell “drop the gun” before at least five gunshots are heard. A warning: This footage is graphic. The man, identified by witnesses as “Africa,” was pronounced dead at the scene. Police say they opened fire after a struggle over an officer’s gun. One witness described his account of the shooting.
Witness: “About five officers wrestled him down to the ground. He managed to get up. They took him down again. Then they beat him while he was on the ground. Next thing I knew, I heard one shot. And I looked over across the street, and I seen three more shots being fired at the guy, who was laying down on the ground.”
Los Angeles police say they are investigating.
Dozens of people have rallied in Chicago outside a secretive police facility tied to the abuse and mistreatment of prisoners. The Guardian revealed last week Chicago police have used a nondescript warehouse known as Homan Square to conduct detentions and interrogations. Prisoners were allegedly denied access to their attorneys, beaten, and held for up to 24 hours without any official record of their detention. On Saturday, a group of demonstrators gathered at Homan to demand an investigation and the facility’s closure.
Protester 1: “When you became officers, you became public servants, not an extension of a military branch of the state. We are not the enemy.”
Protester 2: “Mr. Mayor, we demand an immediate, impartial investigation of Homan Square. We demand that you shut down this facility, at least so far as taking any accused people here. There are plenty of police lockups better monitored than this one around the city.”
Local activists have organized another rally today calling on Chicago to pay compensation to victims of longtime police abuse.