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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rescuers Scour Oklahoma for Survivors of Yesterday’s Tornado

Volunteer and professional emergency personnel continued rescue efforts today, hoping to find more survivors of the tornado that tore through parts of Oklahoma City yesterday. According to a medical examiner in the area, at least 24 people were killed, nine of them children. The storm also damaged many buildings, including a hospital and two schools. Gary Bird, fire chief in the heavily affected OKC suburb of Moore, said at least 200 people had worked overnight looking for survivors. “We will go through every damaged piece of property in this city,” he said. Last night U.S. President Obama declared a federal disaster, and said he instructed his administration that “Oklahoma needs to get everything it needs right away.” Several children were pulled from the wreckage of Plaza Towers Elementary School today, even as rain and lingering debris hampered rescue efforts.

Guatemalan High Court Nullifies Ríos Montt Conviction

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court rejected the landmark conviction of General Ríos Montt for genocide, ordering that the case be rolled back to how it stood on April 19, when a complex decision by another judge sent the trial into disarray. By the 19th, the prosecution had rested and the defense was largely done. That testimony still stands. But yesterday’s high court ruling nullifies everything after that date. General Ríos Montt’s conviction was lauded by human rights agencies, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) cited his trial as a “crucial step toward ensuring justice for victims of human rights violations committed during Guatemala’s civil war.” The trial was not without controversy; the powerful trade group CACIF condemned the trial in an op-ed entitled roughly, ‘Time to leave the past behind’, saying the trial undermined the “firm and lasting peace” established by 1996 peace accords.

Nigerian President Discusses Boko Haram Amnesty

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan ordered the release of a number of Boko Haram members from prison today, as a show of good faith to Nigerian citizens in the embattled northeastern state of Borno. “The measure, which is in line with presidential magnanimity to enhance peace efforts in the country, will result in freedom for suspects including all women under custody,” a statement by defense spokesperson Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade said. According to the statement, the release comes as part of recommendations made by an amnesty board Jonathan established last month to seek a political end to the conflict. Yesterday Nurudeen Muhammed, Nigeria’s minister of state for foreign affairs, formally asked Niger for assistance in dealing with the Boko Haram revolt. He spoke on Niger state television, saying, “We currently have military operations under way in Nigeria in three federal states to combat terrorism and we would like to have Niger’s support in the common fight against these terrorists.” Nigeria and Niger share a bilateral defense pact and cannot refuse military assistance. Soldiers from Niger participated in last month’s firefight in the remote Nigerian fishing village of Baga that saw 200 civilians killed and thousands left homeless.

Syrian Factions Discuss Peace

The major factions of the Syrian Rebellion and the Syrian government are preparing to take part in a peace conference in Turkey in the near future. At a meeting of Syrian opposition groups in Madrid today, the former president of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib said, “All the opposition forces want is a solution for the Syrian people. But we are facing unprecedented suffering. Therefore all opposition forces have no objection to finding a political solution, but not at the expense of more bloodshed.” U.N. estimates put the death toll of the Syrian civil war at more than 80,000 people, and says at least 1.5 million people have become refugees during the two year conflict. Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League mediator told reporters, “The Syrian people are building great hopes on the [peace] conference, as the opposition prepares itself to take part and likewise the Syrian regime prepares to take part in this conference.” Opposition groups pledged today that any negotiations with the Syrian government would preclude Assad from having any role in Syria’s future.

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