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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Justice Department Will Challenge States on Voting Rights

After the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act’s ‘preclearance’ requirement for states with a history of passing laws seeking to deter or invalidate minority voters, southern states rushed to restrict voting eligibility and access.  Florida resumed its purge of suspected illegal immigrants (almost none of whom are actually illegal) from its voter rolls and may restrict early voting even more. Meanwhile, North Carolina is set to pass the most restrictive voting law in the nation, including strict voter ID requirements, banning same-day registration and cutting early voting by one week, among others.

The Supreme Court decision still allows mandatory federal preclearance of changes to voting laws, but only if the government targets individual states for recent actions. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will begin to do just that, starting with Texas, using evidence of intentional racial discrimination last year and ”pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities.”

Tunisians Protest Murder of a Second Politician

Two gunmen shot and killed secular politician Mohammed Brahmi, leader of the Popular Current party, in his car outside his home, then sped away on a moped. Brahmi is the second Tunisian politician to be assassinated in five months, in the same manner and from the same coalition. The murder of Chokr Belaid in February began a political crisis that brought down the government of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.

Protesters immediately blamed the government, which is led by the Islamist Ennahda Party, and thousands gathered at the Interior Ministry in the heart of Tunis, calling for its downfall. Protesters swarmed the hospital where Brahmi’s body was taken, mass demonstrations sprung up all around the country and Tunisia’s largest trade unions called for a general strike on Friday, which will shut down the government, public transportation and most shops. In a town neighboring Brahmi’s hometown, also the birthplace of the Arab Spring, crowds burned down Ennahda’s local headquarters.

Drone Program Scaled Back in Pakistan

In response to rising domestic criticism and deteriorating relations with Pakistan, the United States has drastically cut back its drone strikes in Pakistan, now limiting them to high value targets. This year, only 16 drone strikes have occurred so far, as compared to the 122 in 2010. Senior Pakistani army officers had made it clear that the drone strikes could not continue at that rate; Pakistan’s army is the single most powerful institution in the country.

The CIA has also agreed to drop “signature strikes” in which it hits large groups of suspected militants simply based on behavior such as carrying weapons or meeting known militants. The agency agreed to the measure, feeling that the program was under threat of public scrutiny.

Syrian Refugees Face Harassment, No Good Options

An intensive government bombing operation in southern Syria is obstructing roads and pathways in an area where 10,000 Syrians are waiting to cross the border into Jordan. Due to the increased violence, Jordan should hypothetically be seeing more refugees, not less – the slowdown may signal many are either trapped or being prevented from crossing. Jordan has also closed its open-border policy, exacerbating the crisis.

Those who do make it into Jordan find themselves in a limbo – the Zaartari camp was intended as a short-term refuge that could house around 50,000. One year later, 150,000 people currently live there, and it seems more and more as if it may become permanent. In the camp, there are stop-gaps in essential services such as water and electricity, to the point where many of the refugees chose to return to Syria. Syrian refugees in Egypt don’t fare much better, as they are facing harassment and threats of deportation from the new government.

Colombia Report on 58-year Conflict with the FARC

The National Center of Historical Memory, created in 2011 and tasked with identifying victims and returning stolen land, has released a widely-anticipated report on the effects of the conflict for the country. It found that 220,000 Colombians have died as a result, and four out of every five victims were civilian noncombatants. The worst violence occurred during the 1980s, when far-right militias backed by ranchers and cocaine traffickers emerged to challenge FARC.

The report was ordered in advance of the peace talks with the FARC, which have been going on since November. The talks are widely seen to represent the best chance at a peaceful solution that Colombia has had since 1958.


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