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Syria: U.S.-Led Coalition Accused of Killing 64 Civilians

May 05, 2015

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has accused the U.S.-led coalition of killing 64 civilians in airstrikes on a Syrian village controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The group said 31 children were among those killed late last week near the northern city of Kobani in Aleppo province, marking what it called the worst civilian loss from a single attack since the United States launched its campaign against ISIL. The Pentagon says it is still assessing whether it should open an investigation, but denied there was any information to suggest civilians were killed. This comes as Amnesty International has released a new report saying Syrian civilians in Aleppo province are “being subjected to appalling human rights violations” by both the Syrian government and many opposition groups.

Nepal Earthquake Toll Tops 7,500; Bodies Found in Langtang

May 05, 2015

In Nepal, the death toll from a 7.8-magnitude earthquake has topped 7,500. Scores of bodies have been discovered in the remote village of Langtang along a popular Himalayan trekking route. It’s believed the entire village was wiped out. Nepali foreign minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey said the death toll could still reach 10,000.

Mahendra Bahadur Pandey: “There may be 10,000 people to be dead, it is supposed. But we wish it not have to be in that number. But the final number will be at the time when we’ll complete to remove the debris and find out what is the result of it.”

Burundi: 4 Protesters Killed as Court Backs President’s Re-election Bid

May 05, 2015

In Burundi, the constitutional court has ruled President Pierre Nkurunziza can run for a third term, as deadly protests against his bid continue into their second week. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the re-election bid unconstitutional. Burundi’s constitution allows presidents to serve only two terms, but Nkurunziza was appointed to his first term by Parliament. The court’s decision to allow his re-election bid comes after the vice president of the court fled the country, telling Agence France-Presse a majority of the court believed the bid was unconstitutional, but the judges had faced “enormous pressure and even death threats” to side with the president. Police reportedly shot four protesters dead on Monday, bringing the death toll to at least 13.

Dozens Reported Drowned in New Migrant Disaster

May 05, 2015

The aid group Save the Children has reported dozens of migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after their boat sank. More than 1,750 people from Africa and the Middle East have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterrean to Europe. Italy says it has rescued thousands of people in recent days.

ISIL Claims Responsibility for Texas Attack as Gunmen Identified

May 05, 2015

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed responsibility for this weekend’s attack in Texas on an anti-Islam event which included a contest for drawing the Prophet Muhammad. It’s unclear whether ISIL actually coordinated the attack. The two gunmen were shot dead outside the event in Garland, Texas. No one else was killed. The gunmen have been identified as Phoenix, Arizona, roommates Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. Simpson, a U.S.-born convert to Islam, had been under FBI surveillance since 2006 and was convicted in 2011 of lying to FBI agents about plans to travel to Somalia. He was sentenced to probation after a judge found federal prosecutors had not proved their argument he planned the trip for the purposes of “violent jihad.” The FBI and Phoenix police had reportedly been monitoring Simpson’s posts about ISIL on social media. The event targeted by the attack was organized by anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller. It came just months after gunmen in Paris, France, attacked Charlie Hebdo newspaper, known for its satirical drawings of the Prophet Muhammad. Alia Salem, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in North Texas, condemned the violence but criticized the event.

Alia Salem: “The Muslim community at large in DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) made a collective decision not to attend or even protest Sunday’s events, in an effort to ignore the hateful actions intended to incite the Muslim community but also to give an unchallenged space for them to have their event. While we in no way condone the behavior of these criminals that opened fire and, as Americans, we absolutely uphold the right to freedom of expression, we must ask ourselves at what point does free speech become hate speech, especially when the intention is so clearly to incite a violent response.”

Report: Israeli “Policy of Indiscriminate Fire” Fueled Civilian Deaths in Gaza

May 05, 2015

A new report based on the testimonies of Israeli soldiers has concluded the massive civilian death toll from last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza resulted from a “policy of indiscriminate fire.” The Israeli veterans group Breaking the Silence released testimonies of more than 60 Israeli officers and soldiers which it says illustrate a “broad ethical failure” that “comes from the top of the chain of command.” More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the assault, the vast majority civilians, while in Israel 73 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. In a video made by Breaking the Silence, a first sergeant, his voice distorted, describes how a commander told him, “There are no innocent civilians,” and to assume anyone within 200 or 400 meters of the Israeli Defense Forces was an enemy.

Israeli first sergeant: “And I quote: 'The rules are: Any person at a distance that could put you at risk, you kill him with no need for clearance.' Meaning, anyone at a distance of 200, 300, 400 meters from us, isn’t an ordinary civilian. According to IDF logic, he must be there for a reason, because an ordinary civilian would flee the area, and so, we must kill him with no need for clearance. For me, it was just spine-tingling.”

New York State Senate Leader and Son Arrested for Soliciting Bribes

May 05, 2015

The Republican leader of the New York State Senate has been arrested along with his son on accusations of extortion, fraud and soliticing bribes. Federal prosecutors have accused State Senator Dean Skelos of soliciting payments for his son from a developer and an environmental company in exchange for political favors. In a recorded conversation, his son, Adam Skelos, acknowledges getting a job as a consultant to the environmental firm, AbTech, which sells stormwater filters, even though he “literally knew nothing about water, or, you know, any of that stuff.” Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, unveiled the charges.

Preet Bharara: “And the complaint in multiple places alleges that Dean Skelos’s support for certain infrastructure projects and legislation was often based not on what was good for his constituents or good for New York, but rather on what was good for his son’s bank accounts. By now, two things should be abundantly clear. First, public corruption is a deep-seated problem in New York state. It is a problem in both chambers. It is a problem on both sides of the aisle. And second, we are deadly serious about tackling that problem.”

Tamir Rice’s Mother in Shelter 5 Months After Police Killed Son

May 05, 2015

The mother of a 12-year-old boy fatally shot by police in Cleveland, Ohio, has moved into a homeless shelter and remains unable to bury her son, five-and-a-half months after he was killed. Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun when police pulled up and fatally shot him within two seconds of their arrival at a park. They failed to provide medical help and tackled Tamir’s sister to the ground as she tried to run to help him. Now, his family has asked a judge to reject the officers’ bid to delay their civil rights lawsuit, pending an investigation by the sheriff’s department. The motion says Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, is living with Tamir’s sister in a homeless shelter “because she could no longer live next door to the killing field of her son.” The family has also waited to bury Tamir, in case more evidence is needed from his body. Samaria Rice and her uncle Mike spoke at a news conference Monday.

Samaria Rice: “Less than a second, my son is gone. And I want to know how long I’ve got to wait for justice.”

Mike Petty: “My niece here has been displaced out of her home as a result of this, had to get emergency shelter as a result of this injustice. What I’m here to do is support her, and we do want to know how long. All of us have seen the video. In less than .78 seconds, two shots was fired. They said that they told him to put his hands up three times. That could not have happened, from what we saw in the video.”

Peaceful protests continue in Baltimore, Maryland, over the death of Freddie Gray of spinal injuries in police custody. During a solidarity protest over Gray’s death in New York last week, a restaurant patron accosted protesters, shouting “White Lives Matter” and telling activist and student Betty Yu he hoped she got raped. The man, Sam Pugliese, was the president of the company which makes Jala brand Greek yogurt. His company said he has resigned “as a result of our core values.”

Former Afghan War Commander Tapped to Lead Joint Chiefs of Staff

May 05, 2015

President Obama is set to nominate Marine Corps commandant General Joseph Dunford to become the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing General Martin Dempsey, who is retiring. Dunford led the U.S.-NATO occupation force in Afghanistan for 18 months starting in 2013, overseeing the drawdown of U.S. troops and purported transfer of security control to Afghanistan. He also led a regiment during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, earning the nickname “Fighting Joe.”

5 Tufts University Students on Hunger Strike to Save Janitors’ Jobs

May 05, 2015

Five students at Tufts University in Medford, Massachuetts, have launched a hunger strike to protest the university’s plans to cut 17 percent of its janitorial workforce in June. The students began their strike on Sunday in a bid to save the janitors’ jobs. Fellow students are camping out in solidarity outside Tufts’ main administration building.

Folk Singer Guy Carawan, Who Introduced “We Shall Overcome” to Civil Rights Activists, Dies at 87

May 05, 2015

And the folk singer Guy Carawan, who popularized the song “We Shall Overcome” for activists in the civil rights movement, has died at the age of 87. Carawan became music director of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in 1959. In a 2004 interview on Democracy Now!, Carawan’s friend, the late, great Pete Seeger, recalled how Carawan helped make the song “We Shall Overcome” a rallying cry.

Pete Seeger: “It was a friend of mine, Guy Carawan, who made it famous. He picked up my way of singing it, 'We Shall Overcome,' although Septima—there was another teacher there, Septima Clark, a black woman. She felt that ’shall’—like me, she felt it opened up the mouth better than 'will,' so that’s the way she sang it. Anyway, Guy Carawan in 1960 taught it to the young people at the founding convention of SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC for short. And a month later, it wasn’t a song, it was the song, throughout the South.”

Guy Carawan died in his sleep at home after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease on Saturday, one day before what would have been Pete Seeger’s 96th birthday. Pete Seeger died last January.

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