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HeadlinesMarch 17, 2022

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Ukraine Blames Russia for Attack on Mariupol Theater Where Hundreds Sheltered

Mar 17, 2022

Rescue crews have begun pulling survivors out of the wreckage of a theater in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol after it was hit by a massive explosion on Wednesday. The theater was being used as a shelter by hundreds of civilians who have endured more than two weeks of near-constant shelling by Russian forces, with no water, heat or electricity and dwindling food supplies. Satellite images clearly show the word “children” written in large letters on the ground on two sides of the theater. Another blast in Mariupol hit a swimming pool where pregnant women and young children had gathered. Elsewhere, Russian forces have been accused of killing at least 10 people standing in line for bread in the northeastern city of Chernihiv. Russia has denied responsibility for the attacks on civilians.

The United Nations Development Program on Wednesday estimated Russia’s assault has already caused over $100 billion in damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Asks U.S. Congress for More Weapons

Mar 17, 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress by video link Wednesday, thanking the United States for its military and humanitarian aid but asking for more help in defeating Russia’s invasion. Zelensky spoke in Ukrainian through an interpreter.

President Volodymyr Zelensky: “This is a terror that Europe has not seen, has not seen for 80 years, and we are asking for a reply, for an answer to this terror, from the whole world. Is this a lot to ask for, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much to ask?”

U.S. officials continue to rule out a no-fly zone, which could lead to a direct military confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. But on Wednesday President Biden announced $800 million in new military aid for Ukraine, including over 20 million rounds of ammunition, 100 drones, 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems. Biden also made headlines when he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” — charges the Kremlin called “unacceptable and unforgivable.”

The Financial Times reports Ukrainian and Russian delegates have discussed a 15-point deal under which Russia would withdraw troops in exchange for Ukraine renouncing its ambitions to join NATO and agreeing not to host foreign military bases or weapons.

WHO Warns 6 Million People in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region Face “Unparalleled Health Crisis”

Mar 17, 2022

The World Health Organization is warning of an unparalleled health crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where 6 million people have been sealed off from the outside world for 500 days as separatists battle government forces. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — who is from Tigray — said Wednesday about three-quarters of health facilities in the region have been damaged or destroyed by fighting.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “There is almost no fuel, no cash and no communications. No food aid has been delivered since the middle of December. Eighty-three percent of the population is food insecure. Our partners are running out of what little food they have and the fuel to transport it.”

U.N. Drive for Yemen Aid Falls Far Short of Goal Needed to Avert Catastrophe

Mar 17, 2022

The United Nations expressed disappointment Wednesday after a conference of international donors raised less than a third of the money needed to prevent a widening humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. The U.N. had hoped to raise $4.3 billion; instead, donors pledged just $1.3 billion. Aid agencies warn more than 17 million people in Yemen are in need of food assistance, and more than 160,000 could soon experience famine. This comes more than seven years into the Saudi-led war and blockade on Yemen, supported by the United States and allies, including the United Kingdom.

UK’s Boris Johnson Meets With Saudi Crown Prince, Urging the Kingdom to Pump More Oil

Mar 17, 2022

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to the Saudi capital, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the U.K. looks for alternatives to Russian oil and gas. Johnson spoke to reporters in Riyadh after the meeting.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “I raised human rights, as I’m sure you would expect. But we also talked about what we can do to stabilize oil prices, to fight inflation, to help consumers, to help people at the gas pumps.”

FBI Documents Reveal Saudi Spy Linked to Prince Bandar Assisted 9/11 Hijackers

Mar 17, 2022

Newly released FBI documents reveal a California-based Saudi spy assisted some of the 9/11 hijackers in finding housing in San Diego, and that there was a “50/50 chance” he had “advanced knowledge” of the attack. Omar al Bayoumi had claimed he incidentally befriended the two hijackers but was not involved in their planning. The FBI report found Bayoumi regularly shared his intelligence with Saudi Arabia’s U.S. Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, who was so close to former President George W. Bush that he earned the nickname “Bandar Bush.” The report was written in 2017 but only declassified last week.

Homeland Security Dept. Grants 18-Month TPS to Afghans Who Fled Taliban Takeover

Mar 17, 2022

The Biden administration has granted temporary protected status to Afghans in the United States, shielding them from deportation for the next 18 months. The move affects an estimated 74,000 Afghan refugees who fled to the U.S. during the Taliban’s rapid takeover last August, plus thousands more already in the United States. Advocates for refugees welcomed the move but called on Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would grant Afghans a pathway to lawful permanent status.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff Tests Positive for Coronavirus

Mar 17, 2022

U.S. coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to fall, though more than 1,200 people continue to die of COVID-19, on average, per day. On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris skipped an Equal Pay Day event at the White House after her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, tested positive for the coronavirus. The news came just days after former President Barack Obama also reported a positive test. Both men said they were experiencing mild symptoms. Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin canceled a planned visit to the White House today after he received a positive coronavirus test result while attending a gala in Washington, D.C., that had just been addressed by President Biden.

Fed Raises Interest Rate for 1st Time Since 2018; Six More Hikes Expected in 2022

Mar 17, 2022

The Federal Reserve voted Wednesday to raise the benchmark federal funds rate by a quarter percentage point — the first time the Fed has raised the interest rates since 2018. Chairman Jerome Powell signaled he expects the Fed to raise interest rates six more times by year’s end in order to combat high levels of inflation blamed on the pandemic and rising energy costs from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Colorado House Passes Bill to Protect Abortion and Contraceptive Access

Mar 17, 2022

The Colorado House of Representatives passed a bill Monday codifying the right to an abortion and contraceptive care in the state. The measure is also expected to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. The move comes as Republican-led states around the country are attacking reproductive rights and criminalizing abortion, and as the Supreme Court is weighing a case that could essentially overturn Roe. v Wade.

7.4 Earthquake Off Fukushima Coast Kills 4, Triggers Shutoff of Nuclear Plant Cooling Systems

Mar 17, 2022

In Japan, a powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Fukushima killed four people and injured 100 others Wednesday. A tsunami alert has been lifted. The Tokyo Electric Power Company says the quake forced cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants offline for several hours. The cooling systems are critical to preventing a nuclear disaster like the triple meltdown that followed Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Haitian Health Workers Strike to Protest Spike in Gang Kidnappings

Mar 17, 2022

In Haiti, thousands of health workers, including doctors and nurses, held a three-day strike this week to protest a surge in gang-related kidnappings, shutting down hospitals, clinics and health centers other than for emergency care. Kidnappings in Haiti increased 180% in the past year, though the true number of cases is unknown as many go unreported. Workers with the Association of Owners and Drivers in Haiti said they are launching their own strike to protest gang thefts of vehicles and attacks on public buses.

Michoacán Reporter Armando Linares Becomes Eighth Mexican Journalist Murdered This Year

Mar 17, 2022

In Mexico, journalist Armando Linares was shot dead Tuesday in his home in the state of Michoacán. No arrests have been made in what is now the eighth assassination of a Mexican media worker this year. Just six weeks ago, Armando Linares denounced the murder of his colleague Roberto Toledo, who also worked at the Monitor Michoacán news outlet, saying at the time his team had received death threats.

Armando Linares: “Today the threats were ultimately fulfilled. One of our colleagues lost his life at the hands of three people who shot him in a mean and cowardly manner. We are not armed. We do not carry weapons. Our only defense is our pen.”

Iran Releases Dual British Citizens Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori After Years in Prison

Mar 17, 2022

Two high-profile British Iranian prisoners have arrived back in the U.K. after being released from an Iranian prison Wednesday. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been fighting her detention for six years, denying accusations she was plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. Anoosheh Ashoori was arrested while visiting his mother in Iran in 2017 and accused of spying for Israel and “acquiring illegitimate wealth,” charges he denied. Ashoori said he was subjected to torture while in prison.

Puerto Rico Exits Bankruptcy as Critics Question Fate of Remaining Debt and Continued Austerity

Mar 17, 2022

Puerto Rico officially exited bankruptcy Tuesday, nearly six years after Congress imposed an outside control board, known as PROMESA, to run the island’s economy. In the largest debt restructuring plan in U.S. history, PROMESA reduced the biggest chunk of Puerto Rico’s debt to $7.5 billion from an original $33 billion, but the board’s plan required an upfront cash payment of $7 billion to those bondholders, and it also included a swap for $10 billion in new bonds.

Still to be resolved is the fate of other portions of Puerto Rico’s massive debt, including some $9 billion owed by its electric power authority and $6 billion owed by its highway authority. In addition, the commonwealth government has already had to pay more than $1 billion in legal and professional fees related to bankruptcy, mostly to U.S. firms.

Critics say austerity measures imposed by the fiscal control board will make any economic recovery impossible. Those measures include a nearly 50% cut in the annual budget of the main public university and a requirement that Puerto Rico spend up to $2.3 billion annually to shore up its public employee pension system.

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