More than 23,000 people have died across southern Asia after a massive earthquake in the ocean set off a series of tsunamis. More than one million people have been left homeless. Scientists said the earthquake registered at a magnitude of 9.0 making it the world’s largest earthquake in four decades.
Hardest hit were Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. More than a thousand died in Malaysia, Maldives, Bangladesh. At least nine people even died in the eastern coast of Somalia some 3,000 miles from the earthquakes epicenter.
The earthquake generated waves as high as 40 feet that swept across the Indian Ocean.
Some scientists say the catastrophic death toll might have been reduced had India and Sri Lanka been part of an international warning system designed to warn coastal communities about potentially deadly tsunamis. The Wall Street Journal reports a tsunami of this size is unprecedented in the Indian Ocean.
In Ukraine, opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has claimed victory in the rerun of the country’s presidential election. Exit polls showed Yushchenko winning by between 15 and 20 percentage points.
Speaking in Kiev’s Independence Square, Yushchenko told supporters "We have been independent for 14 years but we were not free. Now we can say this is a thing of the past. Now we are facing an independent and free Ukraine."
The election marks a major defeat for the pro-Kremlin Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych who appeared set to become president a month ago following the first presidential vote. But international monitors and Yushchenko supporters claimed the vote was rigged and forced a revote.
In Baghdad a car bomb exploded earlier today outside the home and office of one of Iraq’s top Shiite political leaders, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim. At least 13 people died. Dozens were injured in the blast that also destroyed 30 nearby cars. The building is the former home of Tariq Aziz. Abdel Aziz al-Hakim heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Al-Hakim’s party is expected to poll well in next month’s election.
Meanwhile a small number of residents of Fallujah have been allowed to return to what’s left of their homes. The residents who have returned report Fallujah was mostly destroyed by the U.S. military. Homes have been leveled. Corpses remain in houses. The city is without water or electricity. The city’s water treatment plants have been bombed. And the stink of dead bodies still lingers in the air. While the US has allowed some residents to return, the military remains in control of the city. Men entering Fallujah are fingerprinted and must undergo retina scans. One man who lost his home said, "Would Allah want us to return to a city that animals can’t live in? Even animals who have no human sense and feelings can not live here." And fighting continues in the city. Reuters reported U.S. troops shelled neighborhoods in the south and northwest of the city on Thursday.
The two French journalists who were held hostage in Iraq for four months have revealed their captors wished for the re-election of President Bush because they believed it could help build the Iraq resistance movement. One of the journalists cited one of their captors as saying "We want Bush because with him the American troops will stay in Iraq and that way we will be able to develop."
The Jerusalem Post is reporting the Bush administration is contemplating sending troops into Syria in an attempt to kill or capture Iraqi Ba’athists who may be backing the Iraqi resistance. A senior U.S. administration official said, "If I were Syria, I’d be worried." Last week the Jerusalem Post reported the Bush administration had provided Syria with a list of people it would like to see detained. But Syrian authorities have reportedly been unresponsive so far. President Bush also warned last week that he may level new sanctions on Syria.
The White House has announced President Bush intends to re-nominate 20 candidates to federal judgeships even though they all failed to win Senate approval during his first term. One of the candidates is William Haynes II. As general counsel of the Pentagon, he helped set the legal groundwork for military interrogators to torture detainees in Iraq and elsewhere by arguing the president may not be bound by anti-torture laws. Another one of the candidates, Priscilla Owen, has been widely criticized for her right-wing judicial advocacy, even from fellow conservatives. The attorney general-select Alberto Gonzales once accused her of "unconscionable judicial activism." The editors of the New York Times described her like this: "Owen reflexively favors manufacturers over consumers, employers over workers and insurers over sick people. In abortion cases Justice Owen has been resourceful about finding reasons that... women should be denied the right to choose." Incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid criticized Bush for resubmitting such "extremist judicial nominees."
Martha Stewart has taken on a new cause — prison reform. Stewart, who is serving a five-month sentence for insider trading has posted a holiday message on her website urging her fans to take up the issue of prison reform. She writes, "I beseech you all to think about these women — to encourage the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking."
The Chinese government issued a new policy paper on national defense today in which it threatens to crush any move toward independence by the island of Taiwan. The paper charges that the possibility of an independent Taiwan marks the "biggest immediate threat" to China’s sovereignty and to peace and stability in the region. The Chinese government also criticized the U.S. for increasing its arms sales to Taiwan.
The Israeli government has charged a 28-year-old Israeli activist with assisting the enemy during wartime. The pro-Palestinian activist, Tali Fahima, has been detained for the past four and half months. She was also charged with passing on information to the enemy and for weapons possession. The Israeli government allege that she illegally helped Zakaria Zubeidi the head of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin. She faces up to life in prison.
Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was detained again by Israeli police on Christmas Eve. He was picked up as he attempted to attend Christmas mass in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Since his released from jail in April, Vanunu has been barred from leaving Israel
In Haiti, the U.S-backed interim government has released three former aides of the ousted president Jean Betrand Aristide. The men had been jailed since October. They are former Senate president Yvon Feuille, ex-national assembly president Roudy Heriveaux and Lesly Gustave. Hundreds of other Aristide supporters remain imprisoned including the country’s former prime minister Yvonne Neptune. He was jailed shortly after a US-backed coup overthrew Aristide’s democratically elected government in February.
Cal State San Bernardino has become the 21st college to kick Taco Bell off its campus in protest. Three years ago the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Student Farmworker Alliance called for a boycott of the fast food giant to protest the treatment of tomato pickers in Florida.