Top News Stories for Today – April 11, 2017
Russia knew Syria chemical attack in advance
Russia had advanced knowledge of last week’s chemical attack in Syria, senior US officials have concluded. The attack in the Idlib province killed dozens and prompted President Trump to order a retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian airfield last Thursday.
Officials were initially unsure whether Russia or Syria operated the drone that flew over a hospital where victims of the chemical attack were being treated, but it’s now believed it was controlled by Russia. An official told The Associated Press that “the presence of the drone couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.” The White House has blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the chemical attack.
US Secretary of State Tillerson, attending talk with G-7 foreign ministers in Italy, says he hopes Russia will abandon its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after last week’s deadly chemical attack. The White House on Monday made clear it sees no way that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can stay in power for the long term. The Associated Press, VOA, The Week
Alabama Governor resigns over infidelity scandal
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) resigned Monday amid allegations he abused his powers by using state resources to cover up an affair with one of his top advisers, Rebekah Mason. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has assumed the position of governor.
Bentley was fingerprinted and booked on two misdemeanor charges in a Montgomery County jail Monday afternoon, and later pleaded guilty to charges of not filing a major contribution report and knowingly converting campaign money to personal use. The Alabama Ethics Commission concluded last week that Bentley may have broken ethics and campaign laws, offenses punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The Hill, The Associated Press, The Week
Discrimination in Texas’ voter ID law
A judge Monday again ruled that Republican lawmakers deliberately designed a strict voter ID law to disadvantage minorities and effectively dampen their growing electoral power. It amounted to the second finding of intentional discrimination in Texas election laws in as many months — a separate court in March ruled that Republicans racially gerrymandered several congressional districts when drawing voting maps in 2011, the same year the voter ID rules were passed.
Neither ruling has any immediate impact. But the decisions are significant because it raises the possibility of Texas being stripped of the right to unilaterally change its election laws without federal approval. The Texas law requires voters to show one of seven forms of identification at the ballot box. That list includes concealed handgun licenses — but not college student IDs — and Texas was forced under court order last year to weaken the law for the November elections.
More than two years ago, Ramos said the law is similar to a “poll tax” to suppress minorities. She was asked by an appeals court to look at her findings once again, and on Monday, she announced that nothing had changed her earlier ruling. The Associated Press
8 year-old killed in school shooting
An 8-year-old student and his teacher were shot and killed when the teacher’s estranged husband entered her classroom at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, California, Monday morning and opened fire. San Bernardino Police say Cedric Anderson, 53, checked in with school authorities under the guise of having to drop something off for Karen Smith, 53.
He entered her special needs classroom with a large-caliber revolver and opened fire without saying a word, police said, before he turned the gun on himself. Two students were standing behind Smith when she was shot and were hit by gunfire; both were rushed to local hospitals, and police say Jonathan Martinez, 8, died before he was able to undergo surgery. A 9-year-old student remains hospitalized. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said there were 15 students from the first through fourth grades in the classroom, as well as two adult aides. He also said Anderson and Smith had been married for just a few months. Los Angeles Times
China tops 2016 global executions
China was the world’s top executioner last year, while the United States put to death fewer people than it has in more than two decades, the human rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday. More than 90 percent of the world’s death penalties took place in five countries — China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.
More than 3,000 people in 55 countries were condemned to death last year, marking a 56 percent surge from 2015. China is believed to have executed “thousands” of people, more than the combined figure of at least 1,023 executions in 23 other countries last year, the rights group said. “China now wants to assume a global leadership role. In respect to death penalty it is leading in the worst possible way,” said Amnesty International’s regional director for East Asia, Nicholas Bequelin. VOA
Stockholm suspect admits truck attack
The Stockholm truck attack suspect has confessed to a “terrorist crime”, his lawyer said at a court hearing in the Swedish capital. Rakhmat Akilov, 39 and from Uzbekistan, admitted carrying out the attack in court and was remanded in custody.
Four people were killed when a lorry was driven into a department store on Friday. A number of people were also injured, two critically. A second man is no longer being held as a suspect, according to prosecution authorities, but he will not be released because he already had a deportation order standing against him. BBC
Russia could soon control US oil company Citgo
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sounding an alarm over the possibility that Russia’s government could gain control of a major US oil company, by sendding a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Petróleos de Venezuela, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company used 49.9 percent of Citgo’s shares as collateral for a loan. If Venezuela’s economic crisis continues and the company defaults, Menendez said Rosneft, Russia’s state owned oil company may take control of the shares.
“This could leave Rosneft, a Russian company controlled by oligarchs with close ties to Putin, in control of critical energy infrastructure in the United States,” Menendez told Mnuchin in the letter. “Given Russia’s interference in the US election and ongoing meddling in European elections, not to mention its habit of invading and bullying its neighbors, the last thing the United States should be doing is handing the Kremlin a significant ownership share in a major US energy supplier,” Menendez said in a statement.
Mnuchin serves as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which has the power to review certain foreign investment actions and recommend that President Trump block them. The Hill
North Korea issues a warning over US Navy moves
North Korea has issued a forceful response to the deployment of a US naval strike group to the region, saying it would counter “reckless acts of aggression” with “whatever methods the US wants to take.” In a statement provided to CNN by officials in North Korea, Pyongyang said the “current grim situation” justified its “self-defensive and pre-emptive strike capabilities with the nuclear force at the core.”
“We will make the US fully accountable for the catastrophic consequences that may be brought about by its high-handed and outrageous acts,” the statement said. The Pentagon sent the 97,000-ton USS Carl Vinson with an escort of a guided-missile cruiser and two destroyers after the latest missile test by North Korea last week. CNN
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