German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has begun a two-day visit to Washington, D.C., for confidential talks with President Biden that are believed to be focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. German opposition leaders have accused Scholz of secrecy, after he scheduled no public appearances, no press conferences, and traveled without his usual contingent of journalists. The talks follow tensions over U.S. demands that Germany ship Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, which Germany agreed to in January. The U.S. is also pressuring Germany to speed up production of ammunition. Meanwhile, the head of Russia’s Wagner Group said today mercenaries have almost completely surrounded the besieged city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he pressed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to reestablish the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, during their brief encounter Thursday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi. It was the first face-to-face meeting of high-level U.S. and Russian officials since Russia’s invasion over one year ago.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “I urged Russia to reverse its irresponsible decision and return to implementing the New START treaty, which places verifiable limits on the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Russian Federation. Mutual compliance is in the interest of both our countries. It’s also what people around the world expect from us as nuclear powers.”
Neither the U.S. nor Russia has joined 92 other nations that have signed the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
In Belarus, a court has sentenced pro-democracy activist Ales Bialiatski, a 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and 2020 Right Livelihood laureate, to 10 years in prison. Bialiatski and three other people from the Viasna Human Rights Centre were convicted of financing anti-government protests and smuggling money, Belarus’s government said. He has been in jail since 2020, when wide-scale protests erupted against the reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko.
In Cambodia, opposition leader Kem Sokha has been sentenced to 27 years of house arrest. The former leader of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party was accused of “conspiracy with a foreign power,” treason and encouraging a revolution. This comes amid a heightened crackdown in Cambodia on opposition and the media.
Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian boy Thursday during a raid near the city of Qalqilya. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports the teen, Muhammad Nidal Salim, was shot in the back while two other Palestinians were wounded, including one person who was struck in the chest by gunfire. Israel’s army said soldiers were responding to suspects who hurled Molotov cocktails at them. Israeli soldiers and police have killed at least 65 Palestinians so far this year, a rate of more than one death per day. Thirteen Israelis and one police officer have been killed by Palestinians over the same period.
French President Emmanuel Macron declared Thursday the era of French interference in Africa is over, as he embarked on a four-nation tour of the continent. Last week, Macron pledged to reduce France’s military role in Africa, after recent withdrawals from Mali and Burkina Faso. France’s efforts to stem attacks from Islamist insurgents in the Sahel have largely failed. But Macron said France intends to maintain a presence in its former colonies “with a reduced footprint,” amid Western concerns of growing ties with Russia and China. In the Democratic Republic of Congo — a former Belgian colony — protesters gathered outside the French Embassy in Kinshasa this week. They condemned Macron’s visit and demanded France pressure Rwandan President Paul Kagame to stop supporting M23 rebels in the DRC.
Protester: “France finances terrorist groups here in Africa, in several African states, in the Congo. So, recently, Mr. Macron came to placate us, the Congolese, but the Congolese people are not duped. Never did he point a finger at Mr. Kagame. At no point did he condemn Mr. Kagame.”
Walgreens says it will not dispense abortion pills in some states where the procedure remains legal, after receiving pressure and threats from Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups. The Biden administration approved the sale of the abortion pill mifepristone directly from pharmacies in January, both by mail and in person. Medical abortions are now the most popular method of terminating a pregnancy and can be a lifeline for many people following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. This comes as a Texas judge is poised to deliver a ruling that could halt distribution of abortion pills nationwide.
On Thursday, a group of top human rights organizations and experts asked the U.N. to intervene to stop the destruction of abortion rights in the U.S., saying that with the SCOTUS decision in Dobbs, “the U.S. is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law.”
Meanwhile, reproductive rights groups in Ohio submitted a petition to create a ballot initiative that would let Ohioans vote to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution.
Eli Lilly has announced it is lowering the price of insulin by 70%, capping its out-of-pocket cost at $35, and offering its generic insulin at $25. The move follows years of organizing and pressure from activists, lawmakers, and people with diabetes. In response, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote to the drug companies Sanofi and Novo Nordisk demanding they follow suit. Sanders wrote, “Insulin is not a new drug. It was discovered 100 years ago by Canadian scientists who sold the patent rights of insulin for just $1 because they wanted to save lives, not make pharmaceutical executives extremely wealthy. And yet, as a result of unacceptable corporate greed, the price of insulin has gone up by over 1,000 percent since 1996 causing 1.3 million people with diabetes to ration insulin last year while your companies made billions of dollars in profits.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins in East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a February 3 train wreck that caused a massive release of chemicals. Dioxins are a class of highly toxic contaminants that could have formed in the chemical burnoff of the wreckage. They’re found in Agent Orange and have been linked to some of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, including the poisoning of the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York, in the 1970s. The EPA’s order came as residents confronted a representative for Norfolk Southern at a town hall meeting in East Palestine Thursday evening.
East Palestine resident: “This has touched me on every level. This has touched my family. This has touched my friends. This has touched my farm. This has touched my animals. This has touched my finances. This has touched my home. And it will touch me to the cellular level if I get diagnosed with cancer, ALS or whatever is going to come down the road if I stay in this contaminated, toxic town. And you all know it.”
On Wednesday, union leaders representing rail workers wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and other officials, blasting Norfolk Southern for risking the health of workers at the crash site and not providing personal protective equipment as they clean up. The letter states that workers “continue to experience migraines and nausea, days after the derailment, and they all suspect that they were willingly exposed to these chemicals at the direction of Norfolk Southern.”
On Capitol Hill, the House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into Republican Congressmember George Santos, who’s admitted to lying about his background during his successful 2022 campaign to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District. The committee will probe whether Santos engaged in unlawful activity including failure to properly disclose financial information, whether he violated conflict of interest laws, and allegations of sexual misconduct. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has so far refused to call on Santos to step down.
The Justice Department has argued former President Donald Trump does not have absolute immunity from civil lawsuits stemming from the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Top Justice Department lawyers made the assertion as part of an amicus brief filed on behalf of Capitol Police officers and House Democrats who are suing Trump for physical and psychological harm brought by the insurrection.