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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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Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari has defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria’s presidential elections. Jonathan conceded after results showed him losing by some 2.7 million votes. It is the first time a Nigerian opposition party has risen to power through a democratic election. A spokesperson for Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party hailed the landmark result.
Lai Mohammed: “We are all happy, because we are witnessing history, history in the sense that this is the first time in Nigeria that a sitting government would be voted out of power using purely democratic means. Before now, when our governments are not popular, they either sit tight or they’re removed by the military.”
Buhari’s democratic victory marks a return to power after three decades. He headed Nigeria for nearly two years after leading a military coup in 1983. Buhari oversaw a major crackdown on civil liberties that included the jailing of political opponents — among them the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. But he campaigned against Jonathan on the pledge that he has embraced democratic ideals as a changed man. Jonathan leaves office amid widespread public anger over his failure to stop the Boko Haram insurgency, which included the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls one year ago this month.
Negotiators in Lausanne, Switzerland, continue to meet over an Iran nuclear deal after extending the talks for another day. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said enough progress was made to continue negotiations past the U.S.-imposed Tuesday deadline.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “It also doesn’t make sense, if we are getting serious engagement from the other side, to just abruptly end the talks based on this — based on this deadline, because the fact is, if we are making progress toward the finish line, then we should keep going.”
Russia says “key aspects” of a general agreement have been reached, to be finalized in a new phase aimed at a comprehensive agreement in June. But other sources have denied any deal has been struck. Details of the talks have been kept under wraps.
The United Nations has issued dire warnings for Yemen amidst a rising civilian death toll from internal violence and a Saudi Arabian-led military campaign. Witnesses in the city of Aden say clashes between Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed forces loyal to deposed President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi have left hospitals flooded with casualties. Water has been cut off for days and power only available for hours at a time. Meanwhile, in the town of Dhale, Houthis and affiliated military forces have reportedly attacked three hospitals, killing an unknown number of people. And an apparent Saudi airstrike on the Red Sea port of Hodaida has reportedly killed 23 workers at a dairy factory. The latest violence follows the Saudi bombing of a camp for the displaced on Monday that killed 40 people and wounded around 200, dozens seriously. U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq called the strike a violation of international law that should be punished.
Farhan Haq: “Whoever is responsible, this is a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. This camp, as well as the hospitals that have also been hit, are under protected status and should not be hit. So, whichever forces are hitting them are in violation of the law. There should be accountability for that. And ultimately, all such attacks have to cease.”
In a statement, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad called the crisis in Yemen “extremely alarming,” adding: “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse.”
The Iraqi government says its forces and Iran-backed militias have driven the Islamic State out of the center of the town of Tikrit following a month-long fight. But hundreds of ISIS militants remain holed up in three neighborhoods still under the group’s control.
The Obama administration has fully lifted a freeze on military to aid to Egypt first imposed after the country’s July 2013 military coup. The White House says President Obama told President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi he will remove holds on weapons shipments, including F-16 jets and Harpoon missiles, and continue the $1.3 billion in annual aid. The White House had partially suspended aid to Egypt but has avoided a full cutoff by refusing to deem the ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi a “coup.” The United States will now lift all of its restrictions by exempting Egypt from a “democracy certification” required by Congress. In a statement, the White House said: “We will continue to engage with Egypt frankly and directly on its political trajectory and to raise human rights and political reform issues at the highest levels.” According to The New York Times, Obama’s move “signaled he was done punishing Cairo for toppling an elected president and that he was instead focusing on the shared goal of combating extremist elements in Libya and Yemen.”
Palestine has officially become a member of the International Criminal Court. The Palestinian Authority joined the ICC earlier this year after the United States and Israel successfully lobbied against a U.N. Security Council measure calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2017. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the court has already opened a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes committed by Israel in the Occupied Territories.
Saeb Erekat: “The court had already began a preliminary examination, and we hope that those who are trying to pressure Palestine not to make referral to the court — we are the victims here. They should go to the criminals and ask them to stop committing crimes. Settlement activities, dictations, demolition of homes, the continuation of occupation are all war crimes, and Israel will be held accountable.”
Israel had retaliated against the ICC bid by withholding hundreds of millions in Palestinian tax revenue needed to pay salaries and provide public services. But it recently released the money in a bid to ease tensions with the United States and avert the Palestinian Authority’s collapse.
Indiana could be backing off its so-called “religious freedom” law just as Arkansas has approved one of its own. Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he plans to sign the measure, which critics say could allow business owners to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers in the name of religious freedom. The CEO of Wal-Mart, Arkansas’s largest corporation, has called for Hutchinson to veto the bill. Wal-Mart joins a growing number of corporations and governmental bodies opposing the religious freedom bills. Following an outcry in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence has announced he will ask lawmakers to pass new legislation that clarifies the measure.
Gov. Mike Pence: “I believe in my heart of hearts that no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love or what they believe. And I believe every Hoosier shares that conviction. But as I said, we’ve got a perception problem here, because some people have a different view. And we intend to correct that. … I’d like to see on my desk, before the end of this week, legislation that is added to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone. We want to make it clear that Indiana is open for business.”
President Obama has commuted the sentences of 22 people the White House says were serving “outdated” sentences for drug crimes. Eight of the prisoners had been sentenced to life in prison, and all were prosecuted for intent to distribute an illegal drug. Obama has commuted the sentences of a small group of prisoners since the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced sentencing disparities between users of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine to address a racial imbalance in prison terms. But the law did not apply retroactively. Last year, the Justice Department widened the criteria for clemency to consider nonviolent felons who have served at least 10 years behind bars and who would have received shorter terms had they not been sentenced under old laws.
The Obama administration has announced new cuts to carbon emissions ahead of this year’s U.N. climate talks in Paris. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the measure was announced in line with the pollution reduction deal struck with China last year.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “The fact is the kind of an agreement that the president succeeded in striking with China and is implementing here in the United States is one that will have a positive impact on carbon pollution, will have a positive impact on trying to make the air safer for Americans here in this country, and will have a positive impact on our economy. And that’s why the president is pursuing this so aggressively.”
In a statement, the Center for Biological Diversity said the administration’s new pledge “uses deceptive accounting to disguise weak reductions that won’t prevent catastrophic warming.” The group added: “Global efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change depend on the United States making much more ambitious cuts to planet-warming pollution.”
Syracuse University has become the latest school to join the growing list of institutions divesting from fossil fuels. On Tuesday, trustees voted to purge the university’s $1.8 billion endowment from fossil fuel corporations. The campus-led divestment movement calls for purging investment portfolios of assets tied to companies that drive and profit from global warming.