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Six days after New Zealand suffered the worst mass murder in its history, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday her government will crack down on weapons of mass murder like those used by a white supremacist gunman in attacks at two mosques in Christchurch that left 50 people dead and four dozen others injured.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: “Today I am announcing that New Zealand will ban all military-style semiautomatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high-capacity magazines. We will ban all parts with the ability to convert semiautomatic or any other type of firearm into a military-style semiautomatic weapon.”
The ban will take effect immediately to prevent buyers from hoarding outlawed firearms. Ardern said her government would launch a buyback program to allow gun owners to surrender weapons for cash. The announcement came as funerals continued for victims of the March 15 assault. On Thursday, mourners buried 14-year-old Sayyad Ahmad Milne and 24-year-old Tariq Rashid Omar at Christchurch’s Memorial Park Cemetery.
Mozambique has declared three days of national mourning as it struggles to recover from what the World Meteorological Organization is calling the Southern Hemisphere’s worst tropical cyclone on record. Rescue workers in the flooded city of Beira struggled to reach survivors who clung to trees or pleaded for help from rooftops, after Cyclone Idai destroyed 90 percent of the city, home to a half-million people. The death toll from the storm rose to more than 200 in Mozambique and more than 100 in neighboring Zimbabwe Wednesday, with dozens more dead in Malawi, but those numbers are expected to rise. Flooding has disrupted the lives of millions across southern Africa, with the World Food Programme warning of a “major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour.” This is WFP Emergencies Director Margot van der Velden.
Margot van der Velden: “We are confronted with severe flooding and cyclone effects; 600,000 people affected, possibly even going up to 1.7 and more million people affected by cyclone and flooding; communication completely broken; infrastructure severely damaged, particularly in the city of Beira, but also all the roads to Beira have been cut off.”
Cyclone Idai dropped more than two feet of rain in parts of southeastern Africa—nearly a year’s worth of rain in just a few days—an extreme weather event that climate scientists say is consistent with models of climate change.
In the United States, authorities have declared states of emergency in Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa for communities along the Missouri River, as warming temperatures have melted snow from last week’s storms, causing the river to breach levies and overflow its banks. The floods have killed four people over the past week and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.
The extreme weather comes as a federal court has temporarily blocked oil and gas drilling on 300,000 acres of federal land in Wyoming, saying the Interior Department failed to take the impact of climate change into consideration when issuing leases. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington, D.C., wrote, “Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before irretrievably committing to that drilling.”
At The Hague, the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia rejected an appeal by former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic Wednesday and increased his sentence to life in prison, calling his initial sentence too lenient. In 2016, Karadzic became the highest-level figure to be convicted by the tribunal for crimes committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, which left more than 100,000 dead. Karadzic was convicted of genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed during a campaign to kill “every able-bodied male” in the town. He was also convicted of crimes associated with the 4-year siege of Sarajevo.
Back in the United States, the Interior Department’s newly appointed top spokesperson is under fire for her past Islamophobic comments and her denial of climate change. Faith Vander Voort said in a 2017 episode of the podcast “The Word” that the National Security Agency was justified in spying on Americans’ phones and messages because of the threat posed by Muslim communities. She went on to say that Muslims pose a far greater threat than climate change, citing terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.
Faith Vander Voort: “The left is so upset because they genuinely believe that climate change—quote-unquote, 'climate change'—is the biggest threat to our society, which, to me, is ridiculous. Look in Manchester. Look in London. That is the biggest threat to our society, not climate change.”
Faith Vander Voort previously said a Muslim person can never be president. She’s worked for a number of Republican lawmakers, including Iowa Congressmember Steve King, who has openly professed white nationalist views.
The Trump administration has denied visas to dozens of women scheduled to attend a United Nations women’s conference this month. Campaigners say at least 41 women were denied entry to the U.S. to attend the annual Commission on the Status of Women—most of them from nations blacklisted under Trump’s travel ban. The move is an apparent violation of a 70-year-old treaty which obligates the U.S. to allow entry to people attending the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
President Trump claimed Wednesday he’d welcome making special counsel Robert Mueller’s report public. Trump made the claim even though he’s spent months assailing the probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt” and tweeting just last week “there should be no Mueller Report.”
President Donald Trump: “It’s interesting that a man gets appointed by a deputy; he writes a report. You know, never figured that one out. A man gets appointed by a deputy; he writes a report. I had the greatest electoral victory—one of them—in the history of our country. A tremendous success. Tens of millions of voters. And now somebody’s going to write a report, who never got a vote.”
Trump also lashed out at George Conway, the husband of counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway. George Conway is a longtime critic of Trump who’s accused the president of having a mental illness.
President Donald Trump: “Well, I don’t know him. Yeah, I don’t know him. He’s a whackjob. There’s no question about it. But I really don’t know him. He—I think he’s doing a tremendous disservice to a wonderful wife. Kellyanne is a wonderful woman, and I call him Mr. Kellyanne. The fact is that he is doing a tremendous disservice to a wife and family. She’s a wonderful woman.”
On Wednesday, Kellyanne Conway defended President Trump against her husband’s criticisms, telling Politico, “You think he shouldn’t respond when somebody, a non-medical professional, accuses him of having a mental disorder?” President Trump’s comments came ahead of a trip to Ohio, where he held a re-election fundraiser at the Brookside Country Club in Canton. Trump also toured the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, which produces M1A1 Abrams tanks for the Pentagon. During a speech at the factory, Trump attacked the late Senator John McCain over his decisive vote against a Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement.
The Pentagon’s inspector general has launched a probe into whether acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan unfairly favored the weapons contractor Boeing, where Shanahan spent over three decades as an executive. The inquiry comes a week after the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint alleging Shanahan “praised Boeing in discussions about government contracts, said that Boeing would have done much better than its competitor Lockheed Martin had it been awarded a fighter jet contract, and repeatedly ‘dumped on’ the jet Lockheed produced.” Shanahan’s ties to Boeing face renewed scrutiny after the company’s 737 MAX jets remain grounded worldwide following deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, CNN reports the Justice Department has issued multiple subpoenas seeking information on Boeing’s safety and certification procedures, as well as how the company marketed its 737 aircraft, as part of a criminal investigation.
In media news, the Walt Disney Company has closed a $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, cementing the corporation’s status as the largest entertainment conglomerate in history. The deal will reshape the media industry and could spawn a wave of new mergers as smaller studios struggle to compete with Disney.
Kazakhstan’s longtime authoritarian leader has announced he’ll step down as president after three decades in power. Nursultan Nazarbayev has led the Central Asian nation since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, ruling it as a one-party state. Nazarbayev’s government says it will rename Kazakhstan’s capital from Astana to Nursultan to honor the 78-year-old leader, whose 55-year-old daughter Dariga was just elected speaker of the upper house of parliament, making her a possible successor.
The United Nations has convened a new round of talks between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Western Saharan liberation movement known as the Polisario Front, aimed at resolving the 43-year-old conflict. Morocco has occupied Western Sahara since 1975, and no other country on Earth recognizes its sovereignty over the territory. Thousands of Western Sahara’s indigenous people—the Sahrawi—have since been tortured, imprisoned, killed and disappeared while resisting the Moroccan occupation. On Wednesday, Moroccan authorities assaulted a peaceful assembly of women in the streets of the Western Saharan capital Laayoune as they demonstrated in favor of a referendum on the status of the territory. Two years ago, Democracy Now! was able to break the Moroccan media blockade and report from Western Sahara; you can go to our website at democracynow.org to watch our special report, “Four Days in Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony.”
In Costa Rica, hundreds of protesters marched Wednesday in the capital San José, demanding justice after unknown assailants shot and killed an indigenous activist who led a campaign to defend the lands of the Bribrí people. Sergio Rojas was found dead at his home in southern Costa Rica Monday, prompting speculation he was assassinated by non-indigenous ranchers resisting the repatriation of land by indigenous groups. This is human rights activist Gustavo Cabrera.
Gustavo Cabrera: “It’s a crime that threatens, that tries to scare off social movements, particularly indigenous movements, so that they don’t keep on fighting and recovering their land.”
In Guatemala, a judge has ordered the arrest of former attorney general and presidential candidate Thelma Aldana. The 63-year-old—who is currently out of the country—has denied charges of embezzlement, lying and tax fraud, suggesting the case is politically motivated. Aldana previously prosecuted and jailed the former President Otto Pérez Molina over a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal and has worked to impeach Guatemala’s current president, Jimmy Morales. Aldana was the winner of the 2018 Right Livelihood Award for her work with a U.N.-supported anti-corruption commission.
And in Massachusetts, the descendant of two enslaved people who were captured in mid-19th century photographs has sued Harvard, accusing the university of unfairly profiting from their images. Tamara Lanier of Connecticut argues in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that she and other descendants of Renty and Delia—two people held in bondage 169 years ago—should hold the rights to their photographs, not Harvard. Renty and Delia were forced to pose for the photographs in 1850 by a Harvard professor. Their images were used in a recent Harvard conference titled “Universities and Slavery: Bound by History.” This comes after administrators at Harvard and other elite universities have admitted the schools were founded largely through the labor of enslaved African people and profits generated by the slave trade.