A national civil rights organization filed an appeal Tuesday on behalf of University of North Carolina students who want to intervene in a settlement that gives $2.5 million and a Civil War commemorative statue to a Confederate heritage group.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed the appeal on behalf of five students and a faculty member who want to intervene in the deal between the UNC Board of Governors and the North Carolina Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans regarding the statue of the Confederate soldier known as "Silent Sam."
They also want to halt any further proceedings in the trial court and prevent disbursement of the $2.5 million pending a review by the state Court of Appeals.
"We have been told repeatedly that this settlement was negotiated in the interest of student safety - but truly what safety is there in empowering a group rooted in racism and violence?" UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore De'Ivyion Drew said in a news release from the Lawyers' Committee.
In December, Judge Allen Baddour of Orange County ruled that the students lacked standing to become involved in the legal case. He signed that order Friday, the news release says.
Baddour did agree to hold a hearing Feb. 12 about whether the SCV had standing to bring the lawsuit regarding Silent Sam.
The UNC board and the Confederate group worked out the consent judgment that turned over the statue. Critics have questioned how the deal was quietly struck in a way that allowed the lawsuit and settlement to be filed in quick succession and then approved by Baddour just before Thanksgiving.
SCV attorney Boyd Sturges declined comment Tuesday, saying he hadn't read the appeal yet. Press Millen and Ripley Rand, attorneys who have represented the Board of Governors, didn't respond to emails seeking comment.
"The factual circumstances surrounding this case are deeply disturbing: the coordination between the parties, the obvious legal defects in the plaintiffs' claims, the rush to finalize this deal and get the court's approval before the public knew anything. We are taking action today because we believe it's critical to stop where we are and have the appellate court review this matter," said Mark Dorosin, a managing attorney for the Lawyers' Committee.
Meanwhile, the student newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill has sued the UNC Board of Governors, saying it violated the state's open meetings laws by secretly negotiating and approving the deal to dispose of Silent Sam. DTH Media Corp., which publishes The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper, sued last week.
Silent Sam stood on the Chapel Hill campus for more than 100 years until protesters toppled it in August 2018. Critics say it symbolized racism and white supremacist views, while supporters argue the statue honored the memory of ancestors who died in the Civil War.
Guatemala swore in Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative physician opposed to gay marriage and abortion, as its new president Tuesday while the country's outgoing leader exited amid swirling corruption accusations.
The ceremony came after a five-hour delay and boisterous protests against ex-President Jimmy Morales.
The 63-year-old Giammattei won the presidency on his fourth attempt in August for Vamos, a party founded in 2017 by politicians, businessmen and military officers on promises of battling poverty and providing better opportunities.
Giammattei was sworn in before several Latin American leaders, among them Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, El Salvador President Nayib Bukele, Iván Duque of Colombia and Lenín Moreno of Ecuador. U.S. Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross met privately with Giammattei before the inauguration.
The U.S. Embassy announced via Twitter that the two countries would sign a memorandum of understanding Wednesday on $1 billion in investment in the private sector to stimulate job creation in Guatemala.
One of the early challenges facing Giammattei will be an Asylum Cooperation Agreement signed by his predecessor with the United States government. There was significant opposition to the deal inside Guatemala. The U.S. began sending Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers to Guatemala under the agreement in November and recently said it would expand it to Mexicans. A similar deal signed with Honduras could send Guatemalan asylum seekers there.
Giammattei inherits a country in which 59% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line, according to official figures, while nearly 1 million children below age 5 are estimated to live with chronic malnutrition.
He has proposed to build what he calls a "Mayan Train," high-speed rail with a line for cargo and another for passengers. The name mirrors a planned train project for neighboring Mexico that will travel between coastal resorts, cities and Mayan ruins in that country's southeast.
Giammattei will be working without a majority in Congress. His party captured 17 seats.
The surgeon suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system, and uses crutches to walk. He has also worked as a business consultant in the private sector.
In 2006, Giammattei was the head of the country's prison system when the interior ministry carried out a raid on the Pavon penal farm to regain control from the inmates. Thousands of police, soldiers and armed civilians raided the prison overnight and several inmates died in the operation.
Authorities, bureaucrats and private citizens were arrested, tried and imprisoned for the raid, including Giammattei. After several months in jail awaiting trial he was acquitted and released.
He takes over from Morales who spent much of his four-year term dodging corruption charges.
The former television comedian who campaigned on a promise of "not corrupt, not a thief" will possibly be most remembered for kicking out a U.N. supported anti-corruption mission that was closing in on him and members of his family.
Hours before the inauguration, Morales said he had left the country "stable" and blamed his detractors for attacking him.
Juan Francisco Sandoval, head of the special prosecutor against impunity office, said he hopes the future will be better without Morales. "He was the roadblock for the fight against corruption and impunity," Sandoval said.
In a farewell speech heavy on nationalist and religious themes, Álvaro Arzú, the outgoing president of Congress, said Morales had "defended the sovereignty of Guatemala."
Former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn filed court papers Tuesday to withdraw his guilty plea, saying federal prosecutors had acted in "bad faith" and breached their deal with him.
The request comes one week after the Justice Department changed its position on Flynn's punishment by recommending that he serve up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI during its investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Prosecutors had earlier said Flynn was entitled to avoid prison time because of his extensive cooperation, but they changed their view after he hired new lawyers, who leveled accusations of misconduct against the government that a judge has since rejected.
In the court filing, defense lawyers said the Justice Department is attempting to "rewrite history" by withdrawing its recommendation that he be sentenced to probation and by suggesting he had not been forthcoming or cooperative.
"Michael T. Flynn is innocent. Mr. Flynn has cooperated with the government in good faith for two years. He gave the prosecution his full cooperation," the lawyers wrote.
"He endured massive, unnecessary, and frankly counterproductive demands on his time, his family, his scarce resources, and his life," they added. "The same cannot be said for the prosecution which has operated in bad faith from the inception of the 'investigation' and continues relentlessly through this specious prosecution."
President Donald Trump defended his decision to kill a top Iranian general and slammed Democrats as weak on national security as the Democratic presidential candidates prepared to take the stage for their final debate before primary voting commences.
Offering his own counter-programming to Tuesday night's debate, Trump appeared in battleground Wisconsin as Democrats gathered next door in Iowa, which holds its kickoff caucuses in less than three weeks on Feb. 3.
In front of a crowd of thousands in downtown Milwaukee — not far from where Democrats will hold their convention this summer — Trump took on the leading Democratic candidates, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
"Bernie and the radical left cannot protect your family, nor can they protect our country," Trump told supporters at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
He criticized former Vice President Joe Biden's tendency to mix up locations, including recently confusing Iran with Iraq.
"When you do that you can't really recover," Trump said.
While Democratic voters try to decide who is their best candidate to take on Trump, the president has been contending with the House vote to impeach him. After weeks of delay, the House will vote Wednesday to send its articles of impeachment to the Senate. Republicans hold the majority in the Senate and there is nowhere near the 67 votes needed for Trump's removal.
In Milwaukee, Trump accused Democrats of wasting America's time with "demented hoaxes" and "witch hunts" while "we're creating jobs and killing terrorists."
Winning back Wisconsin is a key part of Democrats' 2020 strategy — and one of the reasons the party chose Milwaukee to host its national convention in July. Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, cracking Democrats' long-held "blue wall," along with Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump is expected to make frequent return visits in the coming months as he works to maintain his edge.
Vice President Mike Pence warmed up the rally crowd by praising Trump and panning the Democratic candidates as too far left for the state.
"You know, I heard they've got another debate tonight. If it's anything like the other ones, those people are going to be standing so far on the left I think that stage is going to tip over," Pence quipped.
Trump supporters began lining up Monday evening outside the arena to make sure they would be able to get inside.
"I think the Wisconsin vote is very important, very important," said Brenda Stoetzer, 60, from Hickory Hills, Illinois. "And we need to just spread the message here that, you know, Trump is helping the people, the ordinary people. He's not making the rich richer. He's making everyone richer."
"I think he's done right by the whole country," agreed Nancy Freye, 65, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. "He's fighting for all of us every day. I don't know how you can even get anything done, but he does. So good for him and for us."
Trump spent much of the rally defending his record, including his decision to order the strike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, whom he labeled the "world's No. 1 terrorist." Trump's decision came under intense criticism from Democrats and raised questions about whether it really prevented an imminent attack, as some Trump administration officials have claimed.
"The Democrats are outraged that we killed this terrorist monster, even though this monster was behind hundreds and hundreds of deaths," Trump told the crowd, adding that "thousands of people" don't have legs and arms right now "because of this son of a bitch."
Democrats, he said, "should be angry about his crimes, not the decision to end his wretched life."
Trump's rally was interrupted several times by protesters, who also demonstrated oyside.
Meanwhile, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner held an event to highlight the administration's criminal justice reform efforts with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Trump signed the First Step Act, a law designed to overhaul the criminal justice system, reduce the number of people in prison and help former inmates rejoin society. It was a rare bipartisan victory, with backing from black leaders and lawmakers who forged an allegiance with Trump.
Democrats and Republicans are trying to win over black voters in big cities such as Milwaukee that will play a huge role in deciding who will become the next president. Lower African American turnout in 2016 was part of what helped fuel Trump's victory.
One of those organizers in Milwaukee, Angela Lang, said Kushner's event seemed like an attempt to woo minorities. But she said Trump shouldn't assume that all black voters care about is mass incarceration and criminal justice reform.
"Everyone knows when you come to Milwaukee that's code for black and brown voters," she said. "But black voters are more than just single-issue voters."
Wisconsin's primary is April 7.
The trial of a top Cambodian opposition leader charged with treason began Wednesday, more than two years after he was arrested in what is widely seen as a politically motivated prosecution.
Kem Sokha was head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party when he was arrested in September 2017 on the basis of an old video showing him at a seminar where he spoke about receiving advice from U.S. pro-democracy groups.
He could be imprisoned for up to 30 years if found guilty. His party was dissolved by Cambodia's Supreme Court in November 2017 on the same basis.
The actions were seen as intended to ensure victory by long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodia People's Party in the 2018 general election by eliminating the only credible opposition force. Cambodia's courts are considered to be heavily politicized and under government influence.
"I know strongly that I am totally innocent so I have to go to the court and challenge the charge and demand that they drop the case," Kem Sokha told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I have never done anything wrong so the court has to drop the charges."
It was unclear whether the public would get a fair account of Kem Sokha's words, as the court had earlier announced there would be no room for journalists in the courtroom.
The human rights group Amnesty International called for the charges against Kem Sokha to be dropped.
"After two years held in arbitrary detention, the authorities have not presented a shred of credible evidence to support a charge of treason," said Nicholas Bequelin, the group's regional director.
"The non-existent crime was politically manufactured to further the suppression of the opposition party. The Phnom Penh Court must acquit Kem Sokha to bring an end to this mockery of justice," he said.
The trial begins at a politically delicate time for Hun Sen, as Cambodia faces likely trade sanctions from the European Union that could seriously damage its economy.
Hun Sen has been in power for 35 years and has vowed to serve two more 5-year terms in office.
His party swept all the seats in the National Assembly in the 2018 polls, but drew condemnation from human rights groups and Western nations, which charged that the election was neither free nor fair. The U.S. and Germany instituted some diplomatic sanctions against Cambodia.
More significantly, the EU began a process that could result in its withdrawal of preferential duty-free and quota-free status for imports from Cambodia because of deficiencies in labor and human rights. It is due to announce its decision in February.
The threatened action could badly hurt the Cambodia economy, which depends heavily on exports of low-cost textiles and footwear. The EU accounts for almost half of Cambodia's exports.
Cambodia is one of several developing nations with whom the EU has an "Everything But Arms" — or EBA — program granting preferential access to the European market for products other than weapons.
Hun Sen late last year made some gestures at political liberalization, and the courts allowed Kem Sokha to be freed on bail after a period of tightly restricted house arrest. He is still banned from political activity.
The government may be resigned to the EU taking action against it. Hun Sen has publicly said he won't let Cambodia be pushed around and its low-cost export industries can survive without the benefit of the trade privileges.
The trial is expected to take up to three months, meeting twice a week, according to a report by the U.S.-government-funded Voice of America quoting Phnom Penh Municipal Court President Taing Sunlay.
That would be long by the standards of many Cambodian trials, and means the verdict would be delivered after the EU announces its decision.
Although it has been several years since there have been any major street demonstrations in Cambodia, security has been beefed up across the country, especially in the capital and near the court where Kem Sokha is being tried.
Opposition supporters have been warned against provocative activities.