At least 20,000 people have died in Pakistan and India in a massive earthquake Saturday. Hardest hit was the area around the Pakistani Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad. It is believed to be the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history. The official death toll stands at about 20,000 but officials fear the final number could exceed 40,000. Entire towns have been destroyed. Roads remain blocked. Schools and hospitals have been leveled. Thousands of children are believed to have died after their schools collapsed. A Pakistani military spokesman said "It is a whole generation that has been lost in the worst affected areas." Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made a plea for international help Agence France Press reports survivors are facing an array of problems —- freezing overnight temperatures, rain, landslides, scarce food, little shelter, no communications networks and almost non-existent healthcare. The earthquake’s epicenter was close to the dividing line between the Indian— and Pakistani-controlled zones of Kashmir. We’ll go to Pakistan for a report in a few minutes.
Meanwhile in Central America, at least 760 people have died in a series of mudslides and floods caused by Hurricane Stan. But the death toll is expected to soar. In Guatemala, about 1,400 people are feared to have been buried alive after mudslides overran two Mayan villages. Guatemalan officials said they would have to abandon these communities and declare them mass graveyards. Widespread damage has also been reported from the storm in El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica. Officials say nearly 4 million Guatemalans and Mexicans have lost homes or livelihoods and will need aid.
On Capitol Hill, House Democrats began chanting "shame, shame, shame" on Friday after the Republican leadership pushed through a bill to make it easier for oil companies to build new domestic refineries. The bill passed 212-210 but only because the house leadership extended the vote by 40 minutes during which time two Republicans switched their vote. The legislation will streamline government permits for refineries, open federal lands for future refinery construction, weaken environmental protections, and offer subsidies to build refineries even though oil companies are making record profits Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts called the legislation the "leave-no-oilman-behind bill." The bill would also limit the power of community or citizen groups because if they filed a lawsuit to challenge the location of a refinery they would be required to pay an oil company’s legal costs whether they win or lose the lawsuit. The New York Times reported that during the extra 40 minutes of voting House Speaker Dennis Hastert, majority whip Roy Blunt and former Majority Leader Tom Delay all pressured other Republicans to change their votes. After the Republicans extended the vote, Democrat Henry Waxman asked from the floor, ’’Doesn’t this make the House a banana republic?’’ Then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took the floor.
In New Orleans–three city police officers are facing charges in connection to the beating of a 64-year-old African-American man and the assault of an Associated Press television producer. On Saturday night, the police began hitting a man accused of public intoxication outside a French Quarter bar. The man–64-year-old Robert Davis–was hit at least four times in the head and was dragged to the ground when another officer kneed him in the back. The incident was caught on tape by a crew from the Associated Press. Once the police realized they were being videotaped they ordered the AP to stop shooting. When the AP producer held up his press credentials, an officer grabbed him, leaned him backward over a car, jabbed him in the stomach and started screaming at him to leave the scene. Meanwhile on Friday, state authorities in Louisiana announced they were investigating allegations that during Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans police broke into a car dealership and made off with nearly 200 cars–including 41 new Cadillacs.
A number of environmental groups and activists are criticizing the Nobel Peace Prize committee for awarding this year’s Prize to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief Mohammed ElBaradei. The French group, Sortir du Nucleaire (Get Out of Nuclear) criticized the IAEA for "promoting" civilian nuclear plants. British commentator George Monbiot said the prize to the IAEA and its boss was a "reward for failure in an age of rampant proliferation." Greenpeace also criticized the selection.
A hunger strike at the U.S.-run prison camp at Guantanamo Bay has entered its third month. At least 22 detainees have been hospitalized and are being force fed through nasal tubes and IVs. The number of detainees taking part in the hunger strike is in dispute. The Center for Constitutional Rights estimates 210 detainees are on hunger strike. The U.S. military says that as many as 130 took part in the strike but that only 26 are still refusing to eat.
In Los Angeles, thousands gathered on Saturday for a silent peace march led by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King Jr. Among those in attendance was Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq last year.
Meanwhile here in New York, protests are scheduled at today’s Columbus Day Parade against the invitation of an Italian cabinet minister who once fought for Benito Mussolini. The official — Mirko Tremaglia–is one of the honored guests at today’s parade along with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Tremaglia is a member of the right-wing National Alliance Party and is a former member of the pro-fascist Italian Social Movement. Last year he was strongly condemned by gay rights groups when he publicly said "Poor Europe, the faggots are in the majority."