WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested. Just hours ago, British police forcibly removed Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has taken asylum since 2012. In a statement, police said Assange was arrested “on a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 29 June 2012, for failing to surrender to the court.”
WikiLeaks said via Twitter that British police entered the embassy at the invitation of the Ecuadorean ambassador and that Ecuador terminated his political asylum “in violation of international law.”
Last Thursday, WikiLeaks warned Assange may soon be removed, tweeting, “A high level source within the Ecuadorian state has told WikiLeaks that Julian Assange will be expelled within 'hours to days' using the #INAPapers offshore scandal as a pretext—and that it already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest.” Earlier in the week, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno accused Assange of leaking private photos of his family and violating the terms of his asylum, but denied the claim of an imminent expulsion after the tweet from WikiLeaks.
Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in 2012 fearing possible extradition by British authorities to the U.S., where he could face prosecution under the Espionage Act. British authorities say the arrest is related to the U.S. extradition request and confirmed cooperation with Ecuador on the arrest, but also pledged that Assange would not be extradited to a country that has the death penalty. We’ll have more on the arrest after headlines.
In Sudan, protesters broke out in celebration after news broke that President Omar al-Bashir has been forced to step down—reportedly deposed by military forces and put under house arrest—ending his three-decades-long authoritarian rule. The news comes after months of protests demanding al-Bashir’s resignation. Protesters have been staging a massive sit-in in the capital, Khartoum, since Saturday.
Over the weekend, demonstrators gathered outside the military headquarters, which is also the residence of al-Bashir, amid reports of tear-gassing and stun grenade attacks by security forces. Reports on the ground say some soldiers began siding with protesters, signaling a loss of military support for al-Bashir.
Rights groups say at least 50 people have been killed since December, while the government has been accused of jailing hundreds of activists and critics of the president, shutting down press outlets and barring foreign reporters from covering the protests.
The Sudanese military has set up a transitional military council to rule the country for two years, according to a televised statement by Sudan’s minister of defense just minutes ago.
At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr told lawmakers he believes intelligence agencies spied on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and that he was ordering a review into the handling of a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and possible Russian collusion. Democratic lawmakers said that Barr’s statements demonstrated partisanship and loyalty to the president, and that he should provide evidence to back up his claims. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she does not trust Barr.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Let me just say how very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails, yesterday and today. He is the attorney general of the United States of America, not the attorney general of Donald Trump.”
The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ron Vitiello, is the latest Homeland Security official to leave the agency. The announcement came Wednesday and follows a string of high-profile exits, starting with DHS head Kirstjen Nielsen’s ouster on Sunday. The departmental “purge” is said be part of a plan by Trump adviser Stephen Miller to steer the administration toward even more hard-line immigration policies. Last week, Trump withdrew Vitiello’s nomination to head ICE, indicating he wasn’t “tough” enough for the role.
Meanwhile, Politico reported Wednesday Trump is considering a former head of an anti-immigrant hate group to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Julie Kirchner previously worked at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which espouses white supremacist views and backs reforms to reduce nonwhite immigration. It has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Kirchner would replace Lee Francis Cissna, who is reportedly in line to be ousted as part of the ongoing purge at DHS.
Congressional Democrats introduced legislation to undo President Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, as well as his efforts to block asylum seekers and refugees from entering the country. The NO BAN Act would revise the Immigration and Nationality Act, imposing certain standards for restricting entry, and giving more power to lawmakers to oversee or reject discriminatory bans. The act aims to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision last year to reinstate Trump’s travel ban.
The ACLU welcomed the legislation, saying, “This president has continually claimed broad executive powers to target Muslims and other marginalized communities he deems unworthy. … While no Congressional action can erase the pain inflicted on Muslim communities by the Muslim ban, Congress can put in place standards and checks and balances to prevent other communities from enduring that same pain in the future.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated his electoral victory Wednesday after his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, conceded. He will serve a record-breaking fifth term in office. Netanyahu’s Likud is expected to form a coalition with other right-wing parties that would most likely give them a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. President Trump congratulated Netanyahu Wednesday.
President Donald Trump: “But everybody said you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians. I think we have a chance. And I think we have now a better chance with Bibi having won.”
Just days before the election, Netanyahu vowed to annex illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he won.
Meanwhile, Haaretz reported Wednesday an Israeli PR company boasted on social media about its role in placing 1,200 hidden cameras at polling stations in Arab neighborhoods, taking credit for the low turnout in those areas.
In India, polls open today in a highly anticipated parliamentary election that is widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a second term in office. India is the world’s largest democracy with 900 million eligible voters. The voting will take place in seven phases through May 19. Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP won a landslide victory in 2014. Modi’s main opponent in this election is Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party. Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great grandfather have all served as prime minister.
Modi’s government has been criticized for a crackdown on civil society, targeting political opponents, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and writers. Human rights groups have also raised the alarm on attacks against vulnerable populations, especially Dalits and Muslims.
Just two days before Britain’s second scheduled departure from the European Union, EU leaders agreed Wednesday to grant Britain an additional extension to avoid a no-deal Brexit—giving Prime Minister Theresa May and British lawmakers until October 31 to come up with a deal that all parties can agree to. This means Britain will most likely have to take part in European Parliament elections next month, which May has sought to avoid. May was warned by EU leadership not to “waste time.” It’s unclear which direction lawmakers will go next, after months of dead-end debate and failed votes on a number of Brexit measures.
Back in the United States, a suspect has been arrested over the recent fires that destroyed three historically black churches in Louisiana. The first blaze occurred at the end of last month, and the two others last week—all in the same community, about 30 minutes north of Lafayette. Authorities say the suspect is a 21-year-old man and the son of a St. Landry Parish deputy sheriff. Police are expected to release more details later today.
House lawmakers passed the Save the Internet Act Wednesday, in a victory for digital rights advocates who have been fighting to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules that were gutted by the Trump administration. The legislation would bar telecom companies from blocking, throttling or otherwise interfering with internet access according to how much customers pay—or based on the websites they favor.
In a statement following Wednesday’s vote, internet freedom group Free Press said, “The energy behind this bill came from the grassroots, not big companies, but there were plenty of industry lobbyists trying to sink it. The overwhelming show of support for the Save the Internet Act proves how important and popular Net Neutrality has become.”
Despite widespread public support, the bill now faces a tough battle in the majority-Republican Senate, where Leader Mitch McConnell earlier threatened to block voting on the act.
And independent Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled his new Medicare-for-all proposal Wednesday. Fellow senators and 2020 hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris are backers of the legislation. The updated legislation adds new provisions to cover long-term care and would eliminate premiums, deductibles and copays. Private insurance would only be able to cover elective surgery not otherwise covered by the government. This is Bernie Sanders addressing press and supporters Wednesday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “We should not tolerate a system which allows the top 10 drug companies to make $69 billion in profits last year, while at the same time—and this is really unbelievable—one out of five Americans who get a prescription from their doctor cannot even afford to fill that prescription.”
Sanders said he would try to pass the bill via the budget reconciliation process if he wins the presidency—allowing him to circumvent the usual 60-vote requirement for passing such a bill. The bill currently has 14 co-sponsors in the Senate.