Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reportedly collapsed and briefly lost consciousness yesterday raising new concerns about his health. Last night Palestinian officials said Arafat was fighting for his life but today aides said he is in stable but serious condition. He reportedly peformed morning prayers today and ate a light breakfast. He sent a message from his bedside saying he was QUOTE "OK." The 75-year-old Arafat serves as the president of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He has been the international face of the Palestinian resistance for over three decades. Family members, colleagues and doctors have rushed to his Ramallah compound where he has been holed up for the past three years due to travel restrictions put in place by the Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has now agreed to permit Arafat to be flown abroad for medical treatment. but questions remain if Israel would allow Arafat to return. Numerous questions have been raised as to who would succeed Arafat if he becomes incapacitated or dies. He has refused to name a successor. Some news organizations report a three-person panel has been empowered to temporarily run the Palestinian Authority. According to the BBC, the Palestinian Authority’s constitution calls for the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Rawhi Fattuh, to succeed him. But the constitution has yet to be fully ratified.
In election news, as many as 58,000 absentee ballots have gone missing in the heavily Democratic Broward County in Florida. The ballots were said to have been mailed two weeks ago but many have disappeared. The county is blaming the postal service but the post office denied it is at fault. Now county officials are attempting to get ballots sent out in time to voters. In the 2000 presidential elections Al Gore won 67 percent of the vote in Broward County.
In Ohio, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the Republican Party from challenging the voting rights of 35,000 people ahead of the election. Local election boards were preparing to hold hearings in the next few days to decide on the eligibility of the voters in question. The Democratic Party hailed the decision. The head of its Voter Protection Program said, "The Republican assault on tens of thousands of Ohio voters was an unprecedented effort to intimidate voters, especially minorities, but it has backfired." But Republican attorneys said the party will now be forced to challenge the voters on Election Day at the polls in order to prevent voting fraud.
In Colorado, the Denver Post has been deluged with complaints from readers after the paper endorsed President Bush in its Sunday edition. According to an editor’s note that appeared in the paper, more than 700 readers contacted the paper about the endorsement — and every letter sent to the Post was critical of the paper’s endorsement of Bush.
In other election news, a Florida man has been arrested for attempting to run over Congresswoman Katherine Harris in her hometown of Sarasota Florida. Harris is the former Republican Sec. of State who played a major role in the Florida recount. The driver, Barry Seltzer, denied trying to kill her but he did drive his Cadillac up onto the sidewalk near where she stood. He said "I was exercising my political expression. I did not run them down, I scared them a little."
Meanwhile the Sun Sentinel reports another Florida man was arrested yesterday after he put a screwdriver to his girlfriend’s throat and threatened to kill her because she was supporting John Kerry.
Four former British detainees held at Guantanamo sued the U.S. government yesterday alleging they were tortured at the military prison. They are each seeking $10 million in damages.
UN Criticizes Bush Administration on Torture Policy
Meanwhile the United Nations official charged with monitoring incidents of torture, has sharply criticized the Bush administration and its so-called war on terrorism. Theo van Boven yesterday presented a report that stated " "The absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill treatment means that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture." It went on to say "No executive, legislative, administrative or judicial measure authorizing recourse to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment can be considered as lawful under international law." The report did not name the United States but the New York Times reports the message was aimed squarely at the Bush administration. The UN report comes a day after Amnesty International issued a scathing report that found that that "war mentality" of the Bush administrations had led the government to torture detainees and commit other human rights abuses. Amnesty said the violations of international law were "due to a failure of human rights leadership at the highest levels of government."
In news from Iraq, the website Iraq Body Count has released a study that estimates that as many as 616 Iraqi civilians were killed in April during the U.S. siege of Fallujah. A total of about 800 Iraqis died in the U.S.-backed attack. Until now no group has attempted to calculate the civilian cost of the siege. Meanwhile at least three people died in Fallujah today in a U.S. bombing that destroyed several houses. Meanwhile the New York Times is reporting a major new U.S.-led attack on Fallujah is imminent. The Times said the offensive will likely be the largest and potentially the riskiest operation in Iraq since the end of major combat.
In other Iraq news some 800 British forces are heading to Baghdad at the request of the U.S. to help fight the Iraqi resistance. By patrolling parts of Baghdad, the British troops will allow some U.S. forces to leave that area to fight in Fallujah. Also today, Al Jazeera aired a new video that showed a Polish woman who allegedly has been taken hostage in Iraq. The Iraqi group that seized her demanded the release of all Iraqi female prisoners and for Polish troops to leave Iraq.
The Washington Post is reporting The American Chemistry Council has given the Environmental Protection Agency $2 million to study the impact of pesticides and household chemicals on young children. The council represents nearly 150 chemical and plastics manufacturers. The Environmental Working Group has protested the Council’s actions. The group’s President Kenneth Cook has argued against allowing an industry lobbying group to fund a government study.