The United Nations warned that a severe humanitarian crisis is gripping Africans fleeing the war-torn Ivory Coast. As many as 1 million residents of the city of Abidjan have fled since fighting erupted over last year's disputed presidential elections: The country's electoral council and the UN certified Alassane Ouattara as winner of the November contest, but President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede, triggering months of fierce fighting between supporters of the two camps.
Aid agencies reported that more than 100,000 Ivorians have fled into Liberia and are living in dire conditions in jungle villages. Thousands remained trapped inside their Ivory Coast homes, running out of food. With banks closed in Abidjan for nearly two months, even residents willing to venture outside didn't have money to buy supplies.
The International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention reported it has evacuated its missionaries from the Ivory Coast until the crisis ends. IMB missionary Jerry Robertson relocated to Ghana, and from there reported on the dire conditions: "The people in Abidjan are going to start starving soon."
The Popular Resistance Committee, a Hamas-linked group in Gaza, claimed responsibility for firing an antitank missile that struck a school bus in southern Israel on April 7. The attack critically wounded a 16-year-old boy. Israel responded by firing artillery and tank shells into Gaza, and a Hamas spokesman said the shelling killed a Palestinian man. Militants then continued firing mortars and rockets from Gaza.
Meanwhile, Sudan's foreign ministry said it would report Israel to the United Nations Security Council regarding a missile attack in the Port of Sudan that killed two people on April 4. Ministry officials said the missile struck a single car in a precision strike, and accused Israel of trying to damage Sudan's reputation by linking it to terrorism. Israeli officials declined to comment on the accusation.
Terror in Brazil
A gunman in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, killed at least 10 girls and one boy at an elementary school on April 7 before killing himself. The gunman, identified by authorities as 23-year-old Wellington Oliveira, had no criminal history but left a note at the scene suggesting he wanted to kill himself. After the shooting began, two students ran up to two police officers two blocks away and told them of the shooting. The officers reportedly sprinted to the school and located the gunman. "He saw me and aimed a gun at me," officer Marcio Alves told the Associated Press. "I shot him in the legs, he fell down the stairs and then shot himself in the head."
An Illinois judge struck down a state law that would require pharmacists to dispense Plan B, a drug that causes abortion by preventing the implantation of an embryo. Pharmacists Luke Vander Bleek and Glenn Kosirog argued that it violated their consciences to dispense abortifacients. A circuit court originally dismissed the plaintiffs' claim, but in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that the court must consider it. On April 5, Sagamon County Circuit Judge John Belz declared that the Illinois law violated the plaintiffs' right to the free exercise of religion. "The government," said Belz, "cannot pressure them to violate their beliefs."
After the spill
Families of oil rig workers killed in last year's Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico said they would participate in flyovers of the doomed site on April 20-the one-year anniversary of the explosion that killed 11 workers and created the worst off-shore oil spill in U.S. history. The families said that officials at Transocean-the rig's owner-offered to fly families over the rig site, and then to Houston for a memorial service.
Other groups have more aggressive plans: Rising Tide North America, a self-described grassroots environmental group, is encouraging activists to stage demonstrations on April 20 to protest oil extraction industries. Suggestions on the group's website include: covering highway billboards with anti-oil messages, demonstrating at oil executives' private homes, placing "Out of Order" signs on ATMs at banks that support the oil industry, and sabotaging gas stations. (A note included information on finding emergency shutdown mechanisms at gas stations.)
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama proposed cutting oil imports by at least one-third over the next decade. The president suggested a combination of drilling, developing alternative energy, and expanding nuclear development. But critics say that the administration has crippled off-shore drilling over the last year with a temporary moratorium and a painfully slow permitting process.
Other industries in the region-including seafood and tourism-say they still struggle from the effects of the spill. BP, the company that leased the oil rig, set up a $20 billion fund for businesses and individuals hurt by the spill. By late March, the company had paid about $3.6 billion in claims.
Choice for taxpayers
The Supreme Court has upheld a government program that allows tax credits for donations to scholarships to religious schools. For the past 13 years, the state of Arizona has allowed taxpayers to get a $500 tax credit for contributing to "school tuition organizations" (STOs) that provide scholarships for schools. The program's critics claimed that it constituted government support of religion. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on April 4 that the plaintiffs did not have the right to challenge the program. Taxpayers generally do not have the right to challenge the way their tax dollars are spent, although a 1968 Supreme Court case allows taxpayers to contest government money that is spent for religious purposes. In the Arizona case, the Court determined that the plaintiffs did not have standing because individual citizens, not the government, make the decision to contribute: "When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to STOs, they spend their own money."
Choice for parents
The House of Representatives revived the D.C. voucher program for low-income students March 30, passing a measure along party lines to reopen and expand the program after Democrats had closed it to new students in 2009. The White House issued a statement before the vote saying it "strongly opposes" the program but didn't threaten a veto. The program has a staunch backer in House Speaker John Boehner, who choked up when he spoke of it on the House floor: "Let's give these kids in our capital city a real chance at success and a real shot at the American dream that they don't have," he said. The D.C. public schools, though improving, are still bottom-ranked in the country. The voucher program succeeded in raising students' reading scores and graduation rates in the first five years of its existence, but Democrats, including President Obama, have continued to say that it has no record of success. The measure now faces its real test in the Democratic Senate, where it has only two vocal supporters from the Democratic caucus: Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The $20 million program would provide $12,000 scholarships to low-income students.
Two suicide bombers who carried out the deadliest attack in Iraq since October 2010 were senior al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders who previously had been detained by U.S. forces but released. The March 29 bombing, which killed 58 Iraqis and wounded nearly 100, took place in Tikrit, 90 miles northwest of Baghdad and the hometown of executed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Militants swarmed into the Salaheddin Province council building after a suicide bomber cleared the entrance. When security reinforcements arrived 20 minutes later, they were met by a car bomb. Then, during a five-hour standoff, the gunmen executed three members of the provincial council and set fire to their bodies in a brutal and defiant display.
Of the reported five militants who carried out the attack, authorities identified via DNA samples two who were wanted because they were senior leaders of al-Qaeda and had committed terrorist acts, said Salaheddin security director Jassem Jabara. "They had been arrested by U.S. forces, then released," he added, without specifying when they were detained or giving other details. It was the worst single attack in Iraq since al-Qaeda militants attacked a church in Baghdad last fall in a bloody hostage siege that left 68 dead. In March, 128 Iraqi civilians and 43 Iraqi Security Forces personnel were killed in continuing attacks by militants.