In Syria, thousands of civilians are fleeing a government-led offensive against the suburb of Eastern Ghouta outside the capital Damascus. More than 600 civilians have been killed in recent days by Syrian government airstrikes and artillery fire. Human rights activists are accusing the Syrian government of waging a “scorched earth” campaign against civilians in the suburb, which is controlled by anti-government rebels. The Syrian government, backed by Russian air power, is waging the offensive in violation of a U.N. Security Council ceasefire and a daily 5-hour ceasefire brokered by Russia, which is the Syrian government’s main backer. On Sunday, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad said he would continue the offensive.
Bashar al-Assad: “The humanitarian situation, which the West speaks of from time to time, is a very ridiculous lie, as ridiculous as the Western officials who repeat it. … There is no contradiction between a truce and the combat operations. The advancement achieved yesterday and the day before in Ghouta by the Arab Syrian Army took place in the midst of this truce.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein says the Syrian government’s military offensive in Eastern Ghouta likely constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein: “Once again, I must emphasize that what we are seeing in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria are likely war crimes and potentially crimes against humanity. Civilians are being pounded into submission or death. The perpetrators of these crimes must know that they are being identified.”
In the United States, President Trump has praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for consolidating power and doing away with presidential term limits, saying, “He’s now president for life. … I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.” CNN reports Trump made the comments during a closed-door meeting with Republican donors at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The Senate is slated to roll back key financial regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. A new bill, which will come up for a procedural vote this week, would exempt 25 of the nation’s 40 largest banks from being subject to heightened scrutiny by the Federal Reserve. If it passes, it would be the biggest weakening of the Dodd-Frank Act since it was signed into law in 2010.
At Central Michigan University, a 19-year-old student shot and killed his parents inside his dorm room after they had arrived to pick him up for spring break. The shooting sent the campus into lockdown mode. It was the 12th school shooting so far this year. Authorities say the alleged gunman, James Eric Davis Jr., had been sent to the hospital the previous day for erratic behavior.
In Florida, the state Senate met for a rare session Saturday, in which lawmakers voted down a proposal to ban assault rifles in the wake of the February 14 massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 students and teachers were killed. The Florida Senate did vote to spend $67 million to train teachers to carry guns, with the aim of putting 10 armed teachers into every school in Florida. The votes Saturday were on proposed amendments to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The full bill is expected to be passed by the state Senate today and then be sent to the Florida House.
Record-breaking snowstorms battered parts of Europe, Canada and the United States, where at least eight people were killed amid the blizzards. Canada’s eastern province of Ontario saw the heaviest snowfall in nearly two decades. Parts of Europe experienced temperatures colder than at the North Pole, which is currently experiencing unprecedented warm temperatures. Researchers say the extreme weather is likely linked to climate change.
In Italy, voters went to the polls Sunday for a parliamentary election in which far-right populist parties scored big wins. No one party won a majority, however, meaning Italy will now face weeks of negotiations aimed at forming a coalition government.
Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian farmer on his own land in the Gaza Strip, near the border with Israel on Saturday. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., hundreds of people gathered Sunday to protest the annual policy conference held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington, D.C., this weekend.
Back in the United States, schools across West Virginia are closed for an eighth day as more than 20,000 teachers and 13,000 school staffers remain on strike demanding higher wages and better healthcare. The strike, which began on February 22, has shut down every public school in the state. Teachers are demanding a 5 percent raise and a cap on spiraling healthcare costs. We’ll go to West Virginia for more on the strike after headlines.
An exposé by BuzzFeed has revealed more than 300 officers with the New York Police Department have been allowed to keep their jobs despite having committed fireable offenses, including using excessive force against civilians, driving under the influence of alcohol, selling drugs and sexually harassing fellow officers. The investigation is based on hundreds of pages of internal police files, covering offenses committed from 2011 to 2015.
In Slovakia, thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country Friday to protest the killing of prominent investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his girlfriend. At the time of the murders, Kuciak was investigating tax fraud by people associated with Slovakia’s ruling party. Slovakia’s president has called for snap elections in the wake of the killing.
And the 90th Academy Awards were held Sunday night, where the majority of the awards went to white men, despite years of activism demanding increased racial and gender diversity in Hollywood. The awards show came on the heels of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which shook Hollywood when dozens of actresses came forward to accuse Hollywood’s most powerful producer, Harvey Weinstein, of rape, sexual assault and harassment that stretched back decades. During Sunday night’s awards, many presenters celebrated immigrants, diversity and women’s movements. This is Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani, presenting the award for achievement in production design.
Lupita Nyong’o: “Like everyone in this room and everyone watching at home, we are dreamers. We grew up dreaming of one day working in the movies. Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood. And dreams are the foundation of America.”
Kumail Nanjiani: “And so, to all the dreamers out there, we stand with you.”
One of the most powerful moments of the night was when rapper Common and musician Andra Day took to the stage to perform the song “Stand Up for Something” from the film “Marshall,” about the first black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall. This is Common, speaking at the performance’s opening.
Common: “On Oscar night, this is the dream we tell / A land where dreamers live and freedom dwells / Immigrants get the benefits / We put up monuments for the feminists / Tell the NRA they in God’s way / And to the people of Parkland, we say 'Ashe' / Sentiments of love for the people / From Africa, Haiti to Puerto Rico.”
Common and Andra Day were joined on stage by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and legendary civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. But despite the displays on stage, many of the night’s top winners were still white men. Among the exceptions, the film “Get Out,” which won best original screenplay for its writer and director Jordan Peele. The top winner of the night was “The Shape of Water,” which won best picture and the best director award for its Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro. We’ll have more on this year’s Oscars, and why the Oscars are still so white and male, later in the broadcast.