March 21, 2018

Forty-four African nations have signed an agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a deal that could eventually unite all 55 countries in the African Union in the biggest free trade accords since the World Trade Organization was formed in 1995, CNBC reports. The deal would link some 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion.

"The promise of free trade and free movement is prosperity for all Africans, because we are prioritizing the production of value-added goods and services that are made in Africa," said Rwandan President Paul Kagame, as reported by Bloomberg Politics. "The advantages we gain by creating one African market will also benefit our trading partners around the world."

Africa has low intra-continental trade compared to other regions in the world, at about 16 percent. For example, in Latin America intra-continental trade makes up 19 percent of the continent's total, and that number is 51 percent in Asia. "Increasing intra-African trade, however, does not mean doing less business with the rest of the world," emphasized Kagame.

There were some notable absences from the agreement, including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, whose cabinet has approved the deal but who wants to "allow more time for input from Nigerian stakeholders." Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo blasted Buhari's hesitation, saying: "I am surprised that any African leader at this time would be doubting or debating the benefits of what is going to be signed here and fail to show up." Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza also did not attend the summit, Bloomberg Politics reports.

The agreement only requires ratification by 22 countries to go into effect. Jeva Lange

1:30 a.m.

When visiting the toy factory run by Tiny Tim's Foundation for Kids, you can leave your wallet at home.

The West Jordan, Utah, toy factory makes small wooden cars, but doesn't charge a penny for them. In 2002, retired barber Alton Thacker and his wife, Cheryl Thacker, decided to open the factory after making several trips to small villages in Mexico to donate eyeglasses and medical equipment. Together, they saw "the important role toys played in helping little minds to grow," Alton Thacker told The Washington Post.

The toy cars are distributed free of charges to charities, churches, shelters, and children's hospitals, with some being delivered to kids as far away as Iraq, Russia, Brazil, and Ghana. More than 30 people regularly volunteer to carve and sand the wooden cars, with inmates at the Central Utah Correctional Facility painting them. Because lumber yards and cabinetmakers donate the wood, it only costs around $2 to build each car, and in 2018, the factory's one millionth wooden toy was made. "We have a small army of volunteers who want to get every one of our cars into the hands of a child," Thacker said. Catherine Garcia

12:38 a.m.

It's a movie that's been bringing audiences to tears since 1942, and now, a Missouri man convicted of illegally killing hundreds of deer has to watch it once a month while sitting in his jail cell.

Earlier this month, a judge in Lawrence County, Missouri, sentenced David Berry Jr. to one year in jail for illegally killing hundreds of deer over the course of several years. While serving his time, he must also watch Bambi — the Disney tear-jerker about a deer whose mother is killed by a hunter — once a month. "If Bambi gets the point across to him, I don't have a problem with it," Lawrence County Prosecutor Don Trotter told BuzzFeed News.

The Missouri Department of Conservation said David Berry Jr., David Berry Sr., and other members of their family killed hundreds of deer, took their heads for taxidermy purposes, and left the bodies behind to rot. Anyone who tried to stop them was threatened, Trotter said. The investigation into one of the state's largest poaching cases took several years, with Berry Jr. and Berry Sr. arrested in August. Defense attorneys asked the judge for a light sentence because Berry Jr. has a new baby, but he was unmoved. "You can watch Bambi and think about your own child when you do that," Trotter said. Catherine Garcia

December 17, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller became a target of Russian disinformation teams not long after he was appointed in May 2017 to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, researchers from Clemson University said.

The team found that Russians working for the Internet Research Agency troll farm posted false claims about Mueller on several social media platforms, tweeting about him more than 5,000 times; they claimed his investigation was "fake," that he should be fired, and that he had once worked with "radical Islamic groups."

Two reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee released Monday show that Russians launched disinformation campaigns to help get President Trump elected, with their efforts starting earlier and lasting longer than previously thought. After analyzing more than 10 million posts, researchers found that Instagram was used more than any other platform. The report compiled by New Knowledge, Columbia University, and Canfield Research states that Russians posted 116,000 times on Instagram, more than Twitter and Facebook combined, and generated 187 million comments, likes, and other reactions.

"We hope that these reports provide clarity for the American people and policymakers alike, and make clear the sweeping scope of the operation and the long game being played," New Knowledge research director Renee DiResta told The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

December 17, 2018

Clashes broke out in the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah just minutes after a ceasefire took effect at midnight Tuesday.

Hudaydah is a port city 90 miles east of the capital of Sanaa. Houthi rebels took control of Hudaydah in late 2014, and since June, the city has been under assault by the Saudi-led coalition that supports the government, BBC News reports. The ceasefire was agreed to last Thursday in Sweden during talks sponsored by the United Nations, but was delayed when fighting broke out on Friday.

Yemen's civil war has been raging for almost four years. More than 22 million Yemenis need aid, and Hudaydah is a crucial entrance point for food, medicine, and other supplies. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 16 million Yemenis do not have safe water to drink, 25 percent of children are not attending school, and two million people have been displaced from their homes. Catherine Garcia

December 17, 2018

Roger Stone, one of President Trump's longtime friends and a campaign adviser, settled a defamation suit on Monday filed by an exiled Chinese businessman who said Stone made false and misleading statements about him on Infowars, a website that peddles right-wing conspiracy theories.

Guo Wengui filed the suit in Florida this March, seeking $100 million in damages. Guo is a critic of Beijing, and has accused several politicians and businessmen in China of being corrupt. In his suit, Guo said Stone called him a "turncoat criminal who is convicted of crimes here and in China," and claimed he violated election laws by donating to Hillary Clinton. During an interview last month, Guo said Bruno Wu, a Chinese-American media tycoon, paid Stone to talk about him on InfoWars. Wu, who has been accused of being a Chinese spy by Guo, has since filed a defamation lawsuit against Guo.

As part of the settlement, Stone has to publish a retraction on social media and take out ads in several major newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, apologizing for his remarks about Guo. By doing this, Stone does not have to pay damages. The settlement describes Wu as being "the apparent source of the information" about Guo, which was passed along to Stone by Sam Nunberg, a former member of the Trump campaign.

In a text to the Journal, Stone said he was "irresponsible" and "solely responsible for fulfilling the terms of the settlement." It's been reported that Stone is being looked at as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and this defamation suit is a completely separate issue. Catherine Garcia

December 17, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Monday evening filed FBI notes from January 2017 detailing an interview two agents had with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Last December, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the 2016 presidential election and before President Trump's inauguration. The heavily-redacted notes were filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., one day before Flynn's scheduled sentencing.

The notes say that Flynn was asked several times if he spoke to Kislyak about Russian sanctions or tried to influence Russia's vote on a pending United Nations vote condemning Israeli settlements, and he said no. At one point, Flynn said he "has no particular affinity for Russia," but Kislyak "was his counterpart, and maintaining trusted relationships within foreign governments is important." Read the notes here. Catherine Garcia

December 17, 2018

Therese Okoumou, the activist who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July, was found guilty on Monday of misdemeanor charges of trespassing, interference with an agency's function, and disorderly conduct.

Okoumou said she was protesting the separation of families at the southern border, and wanted to "send a strong statement that children do not belong in cages." U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein said motivation aside, what Okoumou did was against the law, and if he didn't find her guilty it would "violate the oath of my office."

Okoumou was born in Congo and is a naturalized U.S. citizen living on Staten Island. While leaving the courthouse, she said she is standing "on the right side of history. I am not a bit discouraged today." Her sentencing is scheduled for March 5, and she could receive up to 18 months in prison. Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads