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News Wrap: Ukraine president announces week-long cease-fire

June 20, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The president of Ukraine announced a one-week unilateral cease-fire today. Petro Poroshenko ordered government forces to put down their weapons against pro-Russian separatists, but he said, if fired upon, troops could fire back. Rebel leaders immediately dismissed the cease-fire, and so did Russia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said it has information Russia is accumulating tanks and artillery near the border with Ukraine and has redeployed forces there.

The number of people in the world who are living as refugees has passed 50 million, for the first time since World War II. A U.N. report found by the end of last year the number of refugees had jumped by six million over the previous year to 51.2 million. The massive increase was driven largely by the civil war in Syria.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says conflicts are multiplying around the world, with few solutions in sight.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, UN High Commissioner for Refugees: There is a general sense of impunity. Conflicts emerge, dramatic violations of human rights appear, and the international community has lost much of its capacity to prevent conflict situations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Afghanistan still accounts for the highest number of refugees in the world, and neighboring Pakistan hosts more refugees than any other country.

Three U.S. troops were killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan today. A U.S. defense official said the bomb went off in Southern Afghanistan, and the troops’ military dog was also killed.

In Syria today, a truck loaded with about three tons of explosives killed at least 34 civilians. More than 50 others were wounded. The Islamic Front claimed responsibility. The rebel group posted a video online showing a ball of fire rising into the sky overnight near the city of Hama. Daylight revealed a large crater in the ground and damaged buildings.

The latest round of nuclear talks with Iran ended in Vienna today with uncertainty. The leader of the U.S. negotiation team, Wendy Sherman, said there’s a working document, but it’s heavily bracketed because of outstanding disagreements. Iran’s representative, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters the demands were excessive.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF,
Foreign Minister, Iran: We have started putting everything on paper, not agreeing on anything, but at least having in rather black-and-white form what each side believes should be done.

From our perspective, what we have put forward is a resolution, not a repetition of our position. We believe that if other side does the same, we will reach a common position and hopefully resolve this issue by July 20.

JUDY WOODRUFF: July 20 is when an interim agreement with the six world powers expires. Under that deal, Iran scaled back parts of its nuclear program in exchange for fewer economic sanctions.

Heavy flooding and torrential rains paralyzed parts of Bulgaria today. At least 12 people were killed, and an unknown number of others are still missing. In the Black Sea resort town of Varna, cars sat on top of each other and the streets were blanketed with thick mud. The amount of rain that fell in the last 24 hours was roughly what they’d see in a month.

The medical group Doctors Without Borders warned today that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now — quote — “totally out of control.”  The epidemic has already claimed more than 300 lives across Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. There is no cure for the deadly virus. Medical officials say they’re struggling to meet the high demand for treatment, especially now that the disease has spread to densely populated areas.

Two hundred and nineteen Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing more than two months after being kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The brigadier general who heads the Nigerian government’s investigation gave that update today. The girls were taken from their secondary school in the village of Chibok back in mid-April; 57 others who were taken have been reunited with their families.

In Washington, a congressional hearing with IRS commissioner John Koskinen turned into a shouting match over the issue of thousands of lost e-mails. Last week, the IRS acknowledged that an unknown number were permanently lost due to a series of hard drive crashes. Some were from former IRS executive Lois Lerner, who has been accused of holding up applications from Tea Party and other conservative groups for tax-exempt status.

Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin accused Koskinen of lying in the probe.

REP. PAUL RYAN, Chair, House Budget Committee: Hard drives crashed. You learned about this months ago. You just told us. And we had to ask you on Monday. This is not being forthcoming. This is being misleading again. This is a pattern of abuse, a pattern of behavior that is not giving us any confidence that this agency is being impartial.

JOHN KOSKINEN, IRS Commissioner: I have a long career. That’s the first time anybody has said they do not believe me. I am…

REP. PAUL RYAN: I don’t believe you.

JOHN KOSKINEN: That’s fine. We can have a disagreement. I am willing to stand on our record.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats at the hearing repeatedly objected to Republicans who interrupted the commissioner before he could answer. Some of them gave up their own question time to give Koskinen a chance to respond to the Republicans’ accusations.

The Obama administration expanded a range of federal marriage rights to same-sex couples today. The Labor Department announced a new rule that allows eligible employees to take off work to care for their spouses, even in states where their marriages are not recognized. It’s the latest in a series of changes since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today raised the number of workers who may have been exposed to anthrax. The agency now believes that 84 scientists and staff members in Atlanta could have come in contact with the live anthrax bacteria after it was improperly handled. So far, no illnesses have been reported and more than 50 workers are taking precautionary antibiotics.

There were more milestones for stocks on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 25 points to close at 16,947. The Nasdaq rose more than eight points to close at 4,368. The S&P 500 added three points to close above 1,962. For the week, the Dow gained about a percent. The Nasdaq and S&P rose more than a percent as well.