Nation & World News

Vatican Bishops Scrap Opening To Gays, Divorced Members

By Scott Neuman on October 18th, 2014 | Last updated: October 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Updated at 3:50 p.m. ET

A synod of Catholic bishops gathered at the Vatican has decided to eliminate a landmark opening to gays that had appeared in an interim summary of discussions made public earlier this week that had appeared to signal a possible shift in the tone of the church.

The move to scrap the message about gays, as well as one that would have signaled more acceptance of divorced church members, is seen as a sign of deep division in the ranks of the bishops.

The Associated Press reports:

“The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to gays that stripped away the welcoming tone contained in a draft document earlier in the week.

“Two other paragraphs concerning the other hot-button issue at the synod – whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive communion – also failed to pass.”

According to the BBC: “The Pope said the full draft document, including the rejected paragraphs, should nonetheless be published.

“Correspondents say the text welcoming gay people and remarried Catholics had been watered down in the final version that was voted on – but it appears that they still met with resistance from conservatives.

“Speaking after the vote, Pope Francis told attendees he would have been ‘worried and saddened’ if there had not been ‘animated discussions’ or if ‘everyone had been in agreement or silent in a false and acquiescent peace’, AP news agency reported.”

As The National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent Joshua McElwee told NPR when Tuesday’s preliminary summary was released, the bishops had said they wanted “to reach out to modern society and walk with people as they apply church doctrine alongside mercy.”

But by the time of the their final report today, the language on gays and divorced members was gone.

Meanwhile, NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome that the mayor of the Italian capital, Ignazio Marino, has defied the a law against gay marriage in the country by registering 16 same-sex marriages celebrated abroad.

“Marino said his decision … is an important step in the fight for equal rights for all,” Sylvia reports.

“The move came after the interior minister, Angelino Alfano, sent a notice to local prefects saying registrations of gay marriages would be voided,” Sylvia says. “Registrations had already been under way in several Italian municipalities, including Milan and Bologna.”

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Mars Probes Give Scientists Box Seats For Rare Comet Flyby

By Scott Neuman on October 18th, 2014 | Last updated: October 18, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Mars is about to get a visitor that comes around only once in a million years or so.

The arrival of a “mountain-sized” comet, Siding Spring (C/2013 A1), is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that humans — who were busy refining their stone-tool-making skills the last time such an event might have occurred — now have spacecraft from multiple countries at the Red Planet to see it happen.

“Think about a comet that started its travel probably at the dawn of man and it’s just coming in close now,” Carey Lisse, a senior astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said at a news briefing about Comet Siding Spring last week. “And the reason we can actually observe it is because we have built satellites and rovers. We’ve now got outposts around Mars.”

As the nucleus of the comet passes about 80,000 miles from the Martian surface The nucleus of the comet will make its closest approach to Mars at 1:32 p.m. ET on Sunday, orbiters from NASA, Europe and India are all being repurposed to quickly observe the comet flyby and then beat a retreat before the comet’s tail swings by.

As The Associated Press writes: “The orbiting craft will observe the incoming iceball, then hide behind Mars for protection from potentially dangerous debris in the comet tail. NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will be shielded by the Martian atmosphere. They should have the best seats in the house.”

Emily Lakdawalla, a senior editor for The Planetary Society, says: “There are tons and tons of scientific observations planned by Mars orbiters, Mars rovers, and Earth-based observatories. In fact, most of the facilities that are planning to observe Siding Spring have already begun their work, and will continue observation for days after the encounter.”

Lakdawalla adds: “It’s not like a Mars landing; there won’t be a single moment when a bunch of serious-looking engineers suddenly erupt into cheers. Instead, there’ll be many smaller, non-televised moments as instrument teams receive their data from far-flung spacecraft and telescopes, spread out over the next several days. For the most part, the images of the comet won’t be instant classics; many will show only a single pixel, or a faint smudge. Some of the data won’t even arrive on Earth until the middle of next week.”

As astronomer Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog for Slate, notes:

The NASA comet page says the coma (the big fuzzy cloud of gas surrounding the solid nucleus of the comet) is about 20,000 km across. At closest approach, that means that if you were standing on Mars, the comet would appear to be over 8° across! That means that if you have a big hand, you could just barely block it with your upraised fist.

“That’s astonishing. What a view that would be! And while the astronomer part of my brain is envious and wishes we could see something like that from Earth, the human part of my brain is screaming obscenities at the astronomer part of my brain. In real life, it’s probably best comets keep their distance from us.”

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Hong Kong Activists Clash With Police, Retake Protest Site

By Scott Neuman on October 18th, 2014 | Last updated: October 18, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have retaken parts of a protest camp that authorities had cleared on Friday after scuffles with police clad in riot gear that left dozens of people injured.

The BBC says: “Activists clashed with police, as about 9,000 protesters re-occupied the area. At least 26 people have been arrested.”

The South China Morning Post reports that the protesters today formed new barricades and set up other obstacles in the congested Mong Kok district of Kowloon, on the peninsular portion of the territory. Mong Kok is one of three major Hong Kong protest sites.

Hong Kong Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung broke his long silence on the protests, calling them “unlawful assembly” and accusing demonstrators of charging police cordons and occupying major thoroughfares in Mong Kok, according to the SCMP.

“Such behaviours are neither peaceful nor non-violent,” Tsang, who last made a public statement when the civil disobedience movement started, was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

“The police have been extremely tolerant of the unlawful acts of the demonstrators in the past two to three weeks. We did this in the hope that they can calm down and express their views in an otherwise peaceful, rational and lawful manner. Unfortunately these protesters chose to carry on with their unlawful acts … which are even more radical or violent,” he said.

The protesters have called for the immediate resignation of unpopular Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung and for open elections in 2017 to determine his ultimate replacement. When Hong Kong, a long-time British colony, was handed back to China in 1997, Beijing had agreed to universal suffrage for the territory’s leader 20 years hence. However, China announced earlier this year that it would hand-pick the candidates, angering many Hong Kongers.

The protests in Hong Kong have sparked unpleasant memories of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 in which a huge pro-democracy demonstration was crushed by Beijing, killing hundreds of protesters.

The Hong Kong government announced on Thursday that it would meet with student activists to try to resolve differences, but Leung has also signaled that no deal could come without Beijing’s approval, and that it was impossible that Chinese authorities would relent on the election of the territory’s leader.

Hong Kong’s No. 2, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, said today that the government would meet with protest leaders on Tuesday.

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Hurricane Gonzalo Hits Bermuda; Ana To Skirt Past Hawaii

By Scott Neuman on October 18th, 2014 | Last updated: October 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Update at 4:00 p.m. ET

Hurricane Ana is creeping up on Hawaii, just as Gonzalo is leaving Bermuda behind thousands of miles away in the Atlantic.

Gonzalo, a Category 3 storm when it smashed into the British island territory with winds of 110 mph, knocked out power to half of the island’s 70,000 residents. The storm has now been downgraded to Category 2 as it continues a northeasterly track through the Atlantic Ocean.

The BBC reported just a short time ago:

“Emergency services are waiting for daybreak to assess the full damage wreaked by the second powerful storm to strike the island in less than a week.

“Strong winds and heavy surf continued after the eye of the hurricane moved north into the Atlantic, and tidal surges are still possible.”

Later, Bermuda’s governor, George Fergusson, tweeted that damage, while “not catastrophic” was extensive.

“There are many places in Bermuda where you cannot get cars through … places are completely blocked,” Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva was quoted by the island’s daily, The Royal Gazette.

Meanwhile, in the Western Pacific, Hurricane Ana “was carving a path south of Hawaii early Saturday, producing high waves, strong winds and heavy rains that prompted a flood advisory,” The Associated Press says.

The National Weather Service says that the center of Ana is about 170 miles southwest of the Big Island and about 225 miles from Honolulu.

It says there’s little chance of hurricane conditions on the islands.

A third system, Tropical Storm Trudy, is making landfall on Mexico’s southern Pacific coast, about 75 miles southeast of Acapulco.

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Supreme Court Lets Texas Enforce Voter ID Law For Nov. Election

By Scott Neuman on October 18th, 2014 | Last updated: October 18, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Updated at 2:35 p.m. ET

The Supreme Court has refused to block a Texas voter identification law for the November election after a lower federal court had deemed it restrictive and unconstitutional.

The ruling came just after 5 a.m. on Saturday. Three justices dissented.

The Associated Press writes: “The law was struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold. The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification. Early voting in Texas begins Monday.”

NPR’s Nina Totenberg tells Weekend Edition Saturday the Texas law is probably “the strictest in the country,” but that the Supreme Court fully expects to rule on the constitutionality of the law at a later date.

“For now, the Justice Department has lost a big case,” Nina tells WESAT host Scott Simon. “Because in the state of Texas this is going to go forward to the detriment of, probably, many, many voters.”

Lyle Denniston of Scotus Blog calls the decision “a stinging defeat for the Obama administration and a number of civil rights groups.”

Denniston says: “The Justice Department has indicated that the case is likely to return to the Supreme Court after the appeals court rules. Neither the Fifth Circuit Court’s action so far nor the Supreme Court’s Saturday order dealt with the issue of the law’s constitutionality. The ultimate validity of the law, described by Saturday’s dissenters as ‘the strictest regime in the country,’ probably depends upon Supreme Court review.”

In a statement issued by the Department of Justice later, Attorney General Eric Holder called the decision “a major step backward.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote in the dissent.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, tells NPR that Ginsburg cites the 2006 Supreme Court case Purcell v. Gonzales, which warns against changing voting rules too close to elections.

Ginsberg concludes that the district court’s finding that the Texas law “‘was enacted with a discriminatory purpose [and] operates as discriminatory poll tax’ substantially outweigh, in her words, the minimal ‘risk that the district court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral processes,’” Tobias says.

In her dissent, Ginsburg points out that for about 400,000 Texas voters, they’d have to make a three-hour round trip to get the kind of identification that the state would accept at the polls.

The AP says of the Texas law that it “sets out seven forms of approved ID — a list that includes concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs, which are accepted in other states with similar measures.”

Earlier this month, the high court put on hold a similar law in Wisconsin.

The U.S. District Court ruled the law unconstitutional and compared it to a poll tax in finding that it purposely discriminated against minority voters.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, called Texas’ law “an obstacle course designed to discourage voting.

“A federal court has found that the obstacles erected by Texas were designed to discriminate against Black and Hispanic voters. This is an affront to our democracy,” Ifill said.

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Houston Narrows The Scope Of Controversial Subpoena Of Pastors’ Sermons

By Eyder Peralta on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced on Friday that the city would narrow the scope of a controversial subpoena that asked five local pastors for copies of some of their sermons and communications.

The subpoena — which sits at the uncomfortable intersection of church and state — drew immediate ire from conservatives across the country.

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins wrote a blog post titled “Snoops on the Stoops of the Church,” which decried the city’s “totalitarian tactics.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the subpoena was an “assault against religious liberty.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is in the middle of a gubernatorial run, sent a letter to the Houston city attorney, saying, “whether you intend it to be or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Of course, this is actually more complicated than that: It dates back to when the city passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which provides protections to city’s LGBT community. Led by some of the subpoenaed pastors, organizers collected signatures to try to repeal the ordinance through a referendum.

As The Washington Post explains, “supporters of the repeal reportedly gathered 50,000 signatures, well over the 17,269 needed for inclusion on the November ballot.” But the city threw out thousands of them, saying they were invalid, and that meant the question was removed from the ballots.

A group of Christians sued Houston and in response, the city issued subpoenas for the sermons and communications of five pastors that the city said could help prove their case in court.

The Houston Chronicle reports that after the uproar, the city decided to remove the word “sermon” and narrow the scope, but the gist of the subpoena still stands.

The paper reports:

” ‘We don’t need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston, and it was never the intention of the city of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners,’ Parker said. ‘We don’t want their sermons, we want the instructions on the petition process. That’s always what we wanted and, again, they knew that’s what we wanted because that’s the subject of the lawsuit.’

“Opponents took advantage of the broad original language, Parker said, to deliberately misinterpret the city’s intent and spur what City Attorney David Feldman called a ‘media circus.’ …

” ‘If during the course of the sermon — and I doubt this very much — a pastor took 15 or 20 minutes to go into detail about how the petition process goes, then that’s part of the discovery,’ she said. ‘But that’s not about preaching a sermon on anybody’s religious beliefs, it’s not conveying a religious message, that’s part of the petition process, and all we’re interested in is the petition process.’ ”

Essentially, the city is arguing, if pastors, for example, encouraged their congregations to sign petitions or gather signatures, that type of speech is not protected.

Time explains:

“University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer says the city reached too far in issuing the subpoenas. One subpoena sent to Pastor Steve Riggle, for example, asks for ‘all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.’ However, Linzer says it wouldn’t impinge on the pastors’ First Amendment rights if the city only asked only for sermons or speeches related to the signature drive. ‘Let’s assume they gave instructions to cheat,’ Linzer says. ‘That would be relevant speech and I don’t see how they would have any First Amendment protection for that.’ ”

It’s still not clear whether religious groups will be satisfied with the narrowing of the subpoena. The city of Houston is not enforcing the provision, pending the outcome of litigation.

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How The Florida Governor’s Debate Became #Fangate

By S.V. Dáte on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 6:29 pm

If there’s one thing Charlie Crist is afraid of, it’s sweating in public.

Understand that, and what happened on a Fort Lauderdale governor’s debate stage this week before a live television audience might make a bit more sense.

Viewers who tuned in Wednesday night to watch Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Crist (once a Republican, now a Democrat) instead saw an empty stage, with moderators explaining about “an extremely peculiar situation.” Within seconds Crist strode out and spent the next several minutes lamenting Scott’s absence, and how it was ridiculous to argue over the fan at the base of Crist’s podium when Florida faced so many important issues, before Scott finally joined him and the debate began.

But what TV viewers didn’t know was that Scott’s campaign was so agitated about the fan that it was demanding the event be canceled and that the TV station providing the live feed not proceed with the broadcast.

“Why? Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine,” Wendy Walker, head of one of the debate’s co-sponsors, Leadership Florida, told NPR Friday. “They had a bee in their bonnets about the fan…. I said, guys, do you want the story to be the fan?”

Which is pretty much what happened. Florida media covered actual issues raised in the debate, but nationally the story was the fan. On Twitter it was #Fangate and #Fantrum and #Fanghazi. Predictably, it even made The Daily Show.

Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair said Scott never refused to participate in the debate, and said his delay was based on “confusion” caused by Crist’s violating the no-fan rules. Scott was waiting to see the resolution when he saw the debate had started without him, Blair said.

Crist’s reliance on fans is well known to followers of Florida politics. He hates the idea of sweating at a public event, and for years as education commissioner, attorney general and eventually governor insisted on having a portable fan at his feet as he would give a speech or participate in debates.

Crist’s debate adviser, former state senator and federal prosecutor Dan Gelber, said the debate rules originally sent to the campaign on July 22 banned electronic devices but made no mention of fans. A later version sent out Oct. 6 did prohibit fans, and Gelber said he hand-wrote an addendum saying Crist could have a fan if “temperature issues” made one necessary. He submitted that to organizers and was told it was acceptable, he said.

And that was where things stood until the night of the debate. When Crist went out to test his microphone, he said he felt too warm under the TV lights and requested a fan, which the campaign then set out and plugged in.

It was not long before Brett O’Donnell, Scott’s debate coach, noticed and raised objections. O’Donnell is a giant in the Republican campaign world – the one-time debate coach at Liberty University has tutored George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney as they prepared for presidential debates.

On Wednesday night, Gelber said, just minutes before the scheduled start time, O’Donnell pointed at the fan tucked beneath Crist’s podium and made a big sweeping arm gesture, like an umpire calling someone out, then turned and stomped off.

“The Scott folks went literally berserk. They were just running around screaming at everybody, the station, the people who were hosting the event, Leadership Florida, just going literally nuts, saying they were going to cancel the debate,” Gelber said. “It was just the most bizarre thing we had ever seen.”

Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association released a statement the day after the debate explaining that the rules banned fans, and the temperature on stage was cool enough not to require them. But Walker acknowledged that the interpretation of “temperature issues” was a subjective one, and that she personally was too busy dealing with a third-party candidate’s legal challenge to worry about the possibility of a standoff over a fan.

“Honestly, at the time, it didn’t seem like it was going to be a big deal,” Walker said.

Scott campaign spokesman Blair said the governor is moving past the fan incident and will be talking about Florida’s problems in the remaining days of the race.

The Crist camp, however, seems okay if people think about Wednesday night just a bit longer. The Florida Democratic Party on Friday released an ad featuring the fan.

S.V. Dáte edits congressional and campaign finance coverage for NPR’s Washington Desk.

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Washington, D.C., Pitches New Bridge Park As A ‘Model For Social Equity’

By Franklyn Cater on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 18, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Washington, D.C., moved a big step closer this week toward building its own “bridge to the future.” Two well-known design firms — OMA and OLIN — were selected as the winners of a competition to conceptualize the 11th Street Bridge Park.

The plan is an inventive reuse of old infrastructure that could help to revitalize a long-underserved part of the city. The old crumbling 11th Street Bridge used to carry the I-295 freeway over Anacostia River. It has since been replaced, and the deck of the old bridge has been demolished, leaving only the piers standing in the middle of the water. The city wants to top those old piers with a brand new park and a new bridge intended to support foot traffic and spark new life along the Anacostia.

The proposed new space would not only be a marquee feature in the increasingly vibrant and economically booming nation’s capital, but, as OLIN partner Hallie Boyce puts it, the proposed new cantilever bridge would “knit together two distinct communities to make it really a world class city and act as a model for social equity.”

As the NPR Cities Project reported back when the idea for the new park was first formed, on one side of the river are the Navy Yard and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, areas where there are obvious signs of robust economic life. On the other side is Anacostia, where there’s much more poverty, and where any economic resurgence is very much its infancy. There’s also an underutilized National Park on the Anacostia side.

On the Navy Yard side, says Boyce, “the waterfront has quite a few urban amenities, entertainment and retail amenities that the Anacostia side lacks. At the same time the park side is on the Anacostia side. We’re trying to, in the bridge park, really design the Navy Yard to be more green, and on the Anacostia side, really make it more active.”

Features include a café, boat and kayak launches, a picnic area, and “urban boardwalks” to draw people in from the Anacostia side.

The city and the nonprofit organization that are partnering to bring the park to reality have created a task force to help navigate the difficult issues sometimes created in gentrifying areas of a city.

In this case, Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park, tells NPR there will be a list of policy recommendations, including some on affordable housing, about which some people have expressed concern.

“We are working hard to ensure the 11th Street Bridge Park continues to be an inclusive project, as it has been from the very beginning,” he says. “If successful, [the park] can become an example of how the public and private sectors can invest in and create world-class public spaces in an equitable manner.”

As for the design, OMA partner Jason Long says key design elements on the bridge itself include a main plaza in the middle of the bridge that provides a flexible gathering space, and an overlook providing amazing views of the river and the surrounding area. “That really lets you locate yourself within the city,” he says.

Hallie Boyce points out plans for two waterfalls falling off the new structure, tumbling into the river and helping to aerate the polluted Anacostia. Floating wetlands will be placed around the piers, helping to filter water. Part of the mission of the bridge will be environmental education, using these features to draw attention to the need for stewardship of this urban waterway.

“Currently, the fish are not edible” in the Anacostia, says Boyce. “They have cancerous tumors. That’s how dirty this water is. It’s a very interesting project from the standpoint of ecological health and public health.”

Supporters are hoping the financial approach to the Bridge Park will become a model of public-private partnership. So-far, the city has earmarked more than $14 million to get the park started, and private donations have now reached nearly $1 million, according to Kratz.

An initial estimate of construction costs came in at $27 million, though the bridge also will need an endowment for upkeep.

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Florida ‘Loud Music’ Shooter Michael Dunn Gets Life In Prison

By Scott Neuman on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 2:28 pm

A Florida man convicted of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a teenager during an argument over loud music has been sentenced to life in prison.

Michael Dunn, 47, was convicted last month in his second trial, after the first trial ended in a deadlocked jury. He was charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Prosecutors said Dunn, who is white, fired 10 times into an SUV carrying four black teenagers, including Davis, in December 2012.

“Mr. Dunn, your life is effectively over,” Circuit Court Judge Russell Healey said at the sentencing. “What is sad is that this case exemplifies that our society seems to have lost its way.”

Dunn testified at both trials that he was acting in self-defense and that he fired after Davis rolled down the vehicle’s window and flashed what Dunn thought was a gun. He continued to fire as the vehicle sped off.

Prosecutors said Dunn never called 911 and instead went back to his hotel after the shooting, made himself a drink, ordered a pizza, walked his dog and went to sleep, according to The Associated Press.

At Friday’s sentencing hearing, Dunn told Davis’ parents that he regretted what happened.

“If I could roll back time and do things differently, I would,” he said. “I am mortified that I took a life whether it was a justified or not.”

In February, Gene Demby of NPR’s Code Switch blog took a detailed look at the outcome of the original trial and its overtones.

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Nigerian Truce With Boko Haram Raises Hopes For Schoolgirls’ Release

By Scott Neuman on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Nigeria’s army has reportedly reached a cease-fire deal with the extremist group Boko Haram that could lead to the release of more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted in April and whose release quickly became an international cause.

According to NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Nigeria’s official news agency is quoting the country’s defense chief, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, as saying a truce has been reached. Badeh announced the truce and ordered his troops to immediately comply with the agreement, according to The Associated Press.

“I wish to inform this audience that a cease-fire agreement has been concluded,” Badeh said in a statement after three days of talks with the militant group, Reuters says.

At a news conference in the capital, Abuja, Mike Omeri, the government spokesman on the insurgency, said Boko Haram negotiators had assured the government “that the schoolgirls and all other people in their captivity are all alive and well.”

“Already, the terrorists have announced a cease-fire in furtherance of their desire for peace. In this regard, the government of Nigeria has, in similar vein, declared a cease-fire,” Omeri said.

According to AP, Omeri “confirmed there had been direct negotiations this week about the release of the abducted girls. Another official said the talks took place in neighboring Chad. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to reporters.”

However, as Ofeibea notes: “Many Nigerians remain skeptical about the reported truce, because earlier such announcements have amounted to nothing.”

By way of background, AP writes:

“Boko Haram — the group’s nickname means “education is sinful” — attracted international condemnation with the April 15 kidnapping of 276 girls and young women writing final examinations at a boarding school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok.

“Dozens escaped on their own in the first couple of days, but 219 remain missing. Their plight drew protests around the world with demands that the military and government get them free.”

Updated at 1:50 p.m. ET: Officials Says Deal For Girls’ Release

Presidential aide Hassan Tukur tells the BBC that he took part in the talks with Boko Haram negotiators and that the deal does includes release of the schoolgirls kidnapped six months ago.

“They said as far as they know, the Chibok girls are well and they will be handed over,” Tukur said. “When we meet in the next one week, two weeks – the details will start to emerge.”

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