The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to impose targeted sanctions on Venezuelan officials responsible for violent crackdowns on anti-government protests that have left at least 42 people dead. The bipartisan bill, should it become law, would allow President Barack Obama to freeze assets, block property and ban US visits by any former or current official of President Nicolas Maduro's government behind the abuse. "The Venezuelan people have sent us a distress signal for help," the bill's author, House Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said shortly before the voice vote that encountered little if any verbalized dissent. "Today, we answer that call by condemning the actions taken by the Maduro regime and showing our support to the people of Venezuela who are seeking liberty, freedom, human rights and justice," she added.
A Nigerian rights activist confirmed Wednesday that ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo hosted talks aimed at brokering the release of more than 200 schoolgirls held hostage by Boko Haram. The talks at Obasanjo's farm last weekend included the former president, "some family members" of Boko Haram fighters and intermediaries, said Shehu Sani, an activist based in the northern city of Kaduna. The mass abduction on April 14 from a secondary school in Chibok in northeastern Borno state has been met with global outrage and drawn unprecedented attention to Boko Haram's five-year extremist uprising. Sani, an expert on religious violence in northern Nigeria, has been involved in several past efforts to negotiate with Boko Haram, including a September 2011 bid with Obasanjo.
US military veterans were subjected to "significant delays" at a government clinic where up to 1,700 of them may have been kept off waitlists, said an inspector's report released Wednesday. With a swirling scandal over treatment of wounded warriors growing into a political timebomb for President Barack Obama, the Veterans Administration launched a rapid response probe into allegations staff manipulated scheduling data and that veterans may have died waiting for treatment at a VA clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. "While our work is not complete, we have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at this medical facility," the preliminary report by the VA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found. The VA "should take immediate steps to reach out to veterans who are currently waiting to schedule appointments and make sure that they are getting better access to care now," he added.
United Nations (United States) (AFP) - New extremist networks in Europe and the Middle East may emerge from the war in Syria as thousands of foreigners fight alongside local militants, the UN Security Council heard Wednesday. A report from the UN's Al-Qaeda sanctions committee raised specific fears of large numbers of A1-Qaeda affiliated foreign fighters teaming up with Syria's branch of Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front. "Ties are established that the monitoring team predicts could lead to new pan-Arab and pan-European networks of extremists," said the head of the committee, Gary Quinlan. "Furthermore, the return of these battle hardened foreign fighters to their countries of origin, or to third countries, with new ideas and skills is a cause for concern," said Quinlan.
On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new rules to crack down on power plant emissions, part of President Barack Obama's efforts to combat global climate change. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report Wednesday that predicted the yet-to-be-announced regulations will cost consumers $289 billion more for electricity through 2030, and crimp the economy by $50 billion a year. The chamber hired energy research firm IHS to model the costs, based on a regulatory approach promoted by the Natural Resources Defense Council which the chamber expects to be the foundation for the new EPA regulations. In March, Sheehan's group, which represents coal mining companies as well as owners of coal-fired plants like American Electric Power AEP.N and Southern Co SO.N, released a report warning that the EPA plan may kill more than 2.85 million jobs.
Fresh from victory in European elections in France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Wednesday she was confident of creating a new eurosceptic group within weeks inside the European Parliament. After driving her National Front (NF) to first place with 25 percent of the vote in France, Le Pen hopes to form and take command of a far-right grouping of parties in the Parliament, a move that would boost both her influence and financial clout. But Le Pen appeared at a press conference in Brussels with allies from only four countries at her side, short of the seven-nation representation required under EU rules to be considered a group. With her were leaders of Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang (VB), the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) and Italy's Lega Nord.
Syria's opposition National Coalition welcomed a pledge from US President Barack Obama on Wednesday to ramp up support for rebels fighting the Damascus regime of Bashar al-Assad. "This additional support highlights the partnership between the United States and the Syrian people in ending the humanitarian disaster and putting Syria on the path to genuine democratic transition," the bloc's US representative, Najib Ghadbian, said in a statement. "I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator," said Obama.
The EU expressed "great concern" Wednesday over tighter restrictions in Sudan since ex-premier Sadiq al-Mahdi was detained in mid-May after reportedly accusing a counter-insurgency unit of abuses against civilians in Darfur. But Mahdi was arrested on May 17 for alleged treason after he reportedly accused the Rapid Support Forces of rape and other abuses of civilians in Sudan's western Darfur region. "The arrest and continued detention of opposition leader Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi in particular risks having an adverse effect on the process of national dialogue.