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The self-proclaimed Islamic State has reportedly seized the last Syrian government-controlled border crossing between Syria and Iraq. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Syrian troops have withdrawn from al-Tanf. ISIL’s latest advance follows its capture of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova appealed for a ceasefire in Palmyra to preserve some of the world’s most renowned historic structures.
Irina Bokova: “I appeal to all parties involved in the conflict for an immediate ceasefire in and around Palmyra. It is an extremely important World Heritage Site, which belongs to the whole of humanity, and we have the responsibility to protect and preserve it. I can’t imagine that the world will never see Palmyra anymore. And also, Palmyra is very closely linked to the people living around it. The city of [Tadmur], which is in this oasis close to the palm growth which are there, we want to protect also the civilians equally as we protect the heritage.”
The United Nations meanwhile said it’s received reports of Syrian government forces preventing residents from leaving Palmyra, where ISIL forces have been executing residents.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military has acknowledged a U.S. airstrike last year in Syria likely killed two children, marking the first time the United States has admitted to civilian casualties in the campaign against ISIL. The children were killed in a strike targeting the al-Qaeda-linked Khorasan Group near Harim City. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has put the civilian toll from the U.S.-led campaign in Syria far higher, saying 131 civilians have been killed, including 42 children.
In Yemen, five Ethiopian refugees were killed when Saudi shells struck an international aid office in the town of Maydee. Ten other refugees were wounded. Airstrikes and deadly clashes raged across Yemen Thursday, a day after the U.N. announced it will convene a meeting of Yemen’s rival factions next week. There were reports of further civilian casualties during intense Arab bombing, including eight members of a single family killed in the province of Dhamar.
Amnesty International has accused both sides of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine of carrying out war crimes, including torture and summary killings of prisoners, on a near-daily basis. Former prisoners held by both the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels described abuses, including being beaten until their bones broke, tortured with electric shocks and subjected to mock executions.
In the United States, the Senate has voted to end debate on a measure to give President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the secretive 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, or TPP. The measure would let Obama present the deal to Congress for a yes-or-note vote with no amendments. It advanced despite opposition across the political spectrum, from lawmakers including Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions and Democratic Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, who said the TPP would lead to job loss.
Sen. Sherrod Brown: “We make decisions here that throw people out of work. And even The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the greatest cheerleader, the most vigorous, vociferous cheerleader for free trade of any newspaper in the country, I believe, even they acknowledge people are thrown out of work from trade agreements because of the dislocation. But we’re going leave here, and we’re going to vote on this without even having amendments on how to take care of those workers and how to do trade enforcement. It simply doesn’t make sense.”
The NSA’s bulk collection of phone data may be on the verge of lapsing as the Republican-led Senate scrambles to renew key portions of the PATRIOT Act before they expire. The Obama administration has warned lawmakers they must act today, because it needs time to halt the bulk spying program if they can’t reach a deal. The House passed a measure to end bulk spying, then left for a recess set to end June 1, when the program expires. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had opposed any curbs to bulk spying and is now pressing for a two-month extension of the program, which a federal appeals court has ruled illegal.
In Ireland, voters are going to the polls today in a historic referendum on legalizing same-sex marriage. The referendum would make Ireland the first country in the world to adopt same-sex marriage through a vote. Despite opposition from religious leaders in the heavily Catholic country, opinion polls show the measure is expected to pass.
The president of the Boy Scouts of America has called for an end to the organization’s ban on LGBT adult leaders. Robert Gates, who previously served as CIA director and as defense secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, made the call at a national meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
Robert Gates: “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it would be. The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained. We can expect more councils to openly challenge the current policy. While technically we have the authority to revoke their charters, such an action would deny the lifelong benefits of scouting to hundreds of thousands of boys and young men today, and vastly more in the future. I will not take that path.”
In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America lifted a ban on gay scouts, but not on gay adult leaders.
A grand jury in Baltimore, Maryland, has indicted six Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray. Gray’s family says his spine was “80 percent severed at his neck” after he was arrested by police who accused him of making eye contact, then running away. The indictments came nearly three weeks after Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced her decision to bring criminal charges against the officers. We’ll have more on Baltimore after headlines.
Protesters gathered in at least 20 cities across the country for a national day of action to honor women of color killed by police. While names like Freddie Gray and Michael Brown have become household terms, protesters sought to elevate lesser-known names like Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Hundreds gathered in San Francisco, many of them African-American women who protested topless.
Protester: “In America, we kill women, at 2 a.m., with no probable cause and excessive force. In America, we kill women, at 2 p.m., with a gunshot to the head and no last words, no second chance, no final prayers. In America, we kill women. We kill them this way in Oakland, California, in Ferguson, Missouri, in Detroit, Michigan, in Boston, Massachusetts, in Chicago, Illinois. We kill them this way in America.”
In New York, the family of an unarmed African-American man fatally shot in the dark stairway of a Brooklyn housing project has filed a lawsuit against the city. Akai Gurley was 28 years old when he was killed by Officer Peter Liang. Authorities have described his death as a tragic accident, saying he was totally innocent. Gurley’s partner Kim Ballinger’s attorney, Scott Rynecki, said Liang drew his weapon for no reason.
Scott Rynecki: “The officer had absolutely no reason or provocation for having his gun out of its holster, in his hand, and his finger on that trigger. So there’s a lot of things here that must be looked into, both with the training and in the matter — in the criminal case, as well.”
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in Olympia, Washington, after a police officer shot two unarmed African-American men accused of trying to steal beer from a grocery store. Officer Ryan Donald shot and wounded Andre Thompson and his stepbrother Bryson Chaplin, claiming one of them assaulted him with a skateboard. Both men are expected to survive. Officer Donald is on administrative leave.
Thousands of people descended on McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, for a second day to demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the right to unionize. Protesters delivered a petition with 1.4 million signatures in support of worker demands. McDonald’s recently announced it would start paying workers $1-per-hour above the local minimum wage at company-owned stores — only about 10 percent of its locations.
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has fired several top officials amid a corruption scandal which has prompted calls for his resignation. President Pérez Molina said he had dismissed his interior, energy and environment ministers, the intelligence chief and other officials. This week at least 16 people, including the central bank chief and head of the Social Security Institute, were arrested on accusations of rigging a contract for dialysis services in favor of a pharmaceutical firm. A number of patients died after the shift. This follows an earlier probe over a customs fee corruption ring, which prompted the vice president to resign.
And El Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero will be beatified Saturday in San Salvador in a step toward sainthood. Archbishop Romero was known as the “voice of the voiceless,” an advocate for the poor and leading critic of the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military government. He was killed March 24, 1980, by members of a U.S.-backed death squad while delivering mass at a hospital chapel. His assassination was ordered by Salvadoran military officer Roberto D’Aubuisson, a graduate of the U.S.-run School of the Americas. An envoy of Pope Francis will lead his beatification before an expected audience of hundreds of thousands of people.