Tsunami 'Confirmed' Death Toll Climbs to 140,000

The confirmed death toll from the Indian Ocean earthquake continues to rise more than a week after the disaster first hit. According to the United Nations, nearly 140,000 people have died and officials say that number is likely to rise well above 150,000. The worst-hit country to date is Indonesia, whose government now says more than 94,000 people have died. In Aceh, the most devastated area under Indonesian control, the situation remains extremely dire with humanitarian officials accusing the military of preventing aid distribution. In a moment, we will hear from an Acehnese human rights activist.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka — the hardest-hit nation after Indonesia — aid efforts have been hampered by continuing heavy rains and flash flooding. But the BBC is reporting that in the main town under rebel control in the north of the country, Tamil Tiger rebels have set up a joint task force with the government to try to oversee aid distribution. In India’s remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, survivors are being inoculated against cholera and typhoid to prevent the spread of disease. But in some islands riots have been reported, stemming from what many believe is a slow pace of the aid effort, where Delhi is anxious to control access by aid groups due to the presence of an Indian air force base.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said over the weekend it could take more than a decade for areas hit by the Tsunami to recover. Annan will travel to Indonesia on January 6 to take part in a meeting of world leaders to discuss further aid. The United Nations says $2 billion has now been raised in aid for the victims, including up to $500 million in emergency assistance pledged by Japan. US Secretary of State General Colin Powell and Florida governor Jeb Bush are touring the region as representatives of the Bush administration.

Suicide Bomber Hits Near Allawi’s Office After Weekend of Violence

In Iraq, there has been a huge explosion near the headquarters of the political party of the country’s unelected Prime Minister Iyad Allawi after a suicide bomber drove a taxi into a police vehicle at a security checkpoint. At least 2 people were killed and 23 wounded. And the attack happened just minutes before Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord bloc was due to announce its election candidates.

The latest bombing comes a day after suicide car bombers struck a bus packed with Iraqi National Guard troops north of Baghdad, killing 26 people. It was the deadliest assault on Iraqi security forces since October, when insurgents gunned down about 50 Guardsmen at a fake checkpoint. The car bomb went off as the bus passed a U.S. base in Balad in the so-called Sunni Triangle.

White House Prepares to Detain Terror Suspects 'Indefinitely'

The Washington Post is reporting that White House officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries.

According to the paper, the Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts. This policy would also affect those expected to be captured in the course of future counterterrorism operations. One proposal under review is the transfer of large numbers of Afghan, Saudi and Yemeni detainees from the military’s Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center into new U.S.-built prisons in their home countries. The prisons would be operated by those countries. As part of a solution, the Defense Department plans to ask Congress for $25 million to build a 200-bed prison to hold detainees who are unlikely to ever go through a military tribunal for lack of evidence.

The administration considers its toughest detention problem to involve the prisoners held by the CIA. The CIA has been scurrying since the Sept. 11 attacks to find secure locations abroad where it could detain and interrogate prisoners without risk of discovery, and without having to give them access to legal proceedings. The CIA is believed to be holding most, if not all, of the top captured al Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Abu Zubaida and the lead Southeast Asia terror suspect known as Hambali.

CIA detention facilities have been located on an off-limits corner of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, on ships at sea and on Britain’s Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean. The Washington Post reported last month that the CIA has also maintained a facility within the Pentagon’s Guantanamo Bay complex, though it is unclear whether it is still in use.

After Uprising, Peruvian Group Says It Will Lay Down Arms

The leader of a nationalist armed group which occupied a remote Andean police station says the group will surrender. Former army Major Antauro Humala told a local radio station his followers would publicly lay down their arms on Monday as long as their safety was guaranteed.

This comes after mediation efforts, but also after rumors spread of an impending assault on the rebels. Four policemen and one rebel died on Sunday in an exchange of fire in the town of Andahuaylas. The government had declared a regional state of emergency after the 150 reservists seized the police station on Saturday, taking 10 officers hostage. Maj Humala had previously demanded the resignation of President Alejandro Toledo. Toledo has become deeply unpopular amid corruption allegations, with consistent approval ratings of about 9%.

California Congressmember Robert Matsui Dies

California Congressmember Robert Matsui, died on New Year’s day at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 63 years old. He had pneumonia, a complication of a rare stem cell disorder with which he was diagnosed in recent months. At his death, Rep. Matsui was the third-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and among the highest-ranking Asian Americans in House history. He represented Sacramento in the Congress since 1979 and was a major force on trade and Social Security issues. As an infant, he was interned in a detention camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. Later, as a member of Congress, he shepherded legislation in 1988 that formally apologized for the internment of Japanese Americans and provided token financial compensation for the survivors. Matsui had just won reelection in November.

First African American Woman Elected to Congress Dies

Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress and a 1972 presidential candidate, has died at age 80. She died Saturday night in Florida. Chisholm was known as an outspoken advocate for women and people of color during seven terms representing New York City in the U.S. House. She was raised in a predominantly black New York City neighborhood and was elected to the House in 1968. She went to Congress to represent New York the same year Richard Nixon was elected to the White House and served until two years into Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president. She also was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969.

Third Taser Death in a Month in Florida

At least three people died in the Florida in the month of December after being struck with Taser stun guns by law enforcement officials. The latest incident occurred on December 28 when a teenager died after he was zapped with a Taser gun and doused with a substance similar to pepper spray during a fight with Collier County sheriff’s deputies. Nineteen-year-old Christopher Hernandez died several hours after officials say he attacked deputies, kicking and ripping their uniforms. Taser stun guns zap suspects with 50,000 volts of electricity, incapacitating them. Arizona-based Taser International says its weapons are safe to use to subdue violent individuals, and are a nonlethal alternative to shooting a suspect.

Hernandez’s relatives say he was badly beaten by the law enforcement officials and when they saw him at the emergency room his head was swollen, his eyes were "blood red" and his arms and face had road rash.


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