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In Iran, a powerful earthquake has killed at least 500 people and injured over one thousand more. The death toll is expected to rise. The earthquake struck earlier today near the town of Zarada less than 200 miles from Bam. A year ago a devastating earthquake struck Bam killing over 30,000.
In other news on Iran, the Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli Air Force said Monday that Israel must be prepared to carry out an air strike on Iran in light of its alleged nuclear activity. This according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Major General Eliezer Shakedi made the comments during a meeting with reporters. Shakedi would not say whether he thought Israel was capable of carrying out such an attack alone. In 1981 Israeli forces bombed an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad.
President Bush called on Iran Monday to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program. He also refused to rule out using force in Iran but said "Iran is ... different from Iraq. We’re in the early stages of diplomacy."
President Bush also used his trip to Europe to send a message to Syria. He said Monday "Syria must also end its occupation of Lebanon." Bush’s comments came as tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters took to the streets of Beirut to call for Syria to leave Lebanon.
While in Brussels, Bush also challenged Europe to put aside its differences with the United States over the Iraq war and become a "strong partner" in "advancing freedom in the world." He also called on Russia to "renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law." We’ll have more on Bush’s trip to Europe in a few minutes.
U.S. forces have launched a major new offensive in the Sunni city of Ramadi codenamed Operation River Blitz in an attempt to weaken the Iraqi resistance fighters. US and Iraqi forces have surrounded Ramadi in preparation for an expected full-scale attack on the city.
A new report by Amnesty International has found that Iraqi women are no better off now than under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Two years ago the Bush administration promised that the overthrow of Saddam would free the Iraqi people from years of oppression. The report states, "The lawlessness and increased killings, abductions and rapes that followed the overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein have restricted women’s freedom of movement and their ability to go to school or to work." The report also charges that Iraqi women have been subjected to sexual threats by members of the US military and that some Iraqi women have been sexually abused and possibly raped while being detained by U.S. forces.
Meanwhile the United Nations is warning that Afghanistan could fall back into chaos because the country is still suffering extreme poverty. The UN now ranks Afghanistan as the world’s sixth poorest country. The illegal drug trade fuels the economy and Afghanistan has become the world’s leading producer of opium. On the education front, the UN has determined Afghanistan has the worst schooling system in the world. Adult literacy is under 29 percent. Meanwhile the country’s life expectancy is only 44 years–at least 20 years lower than neighboring country. A new report by the United Nations warns "without mincing words, the fragile nation could easily tumble back into chaos." The report goes on to state "The basic human needs and the genuine grievances of people — the lack of jobs, health, education, income, dignity and opportunities for participation for the Afghan people — must be met, and international aid must be tightly controlled." The UN report also found that the United States military campaign has helped create a climate of "fear, intimidation, terror and lawlessness.’’
In business news, the company ChoicePoint is notifying almost 145,000 people across the country that it accidentally sold personal and financial details about them to fraud artists apparently behind a nationwide identity theft scheme. ChoicePoint sold them thousands of electronic reports containing names, addresses, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, credit histories of individuals across the country. Officials in California say as many as 500,000 people could be affected by the security breach and at risk of identity theft. Since forming in 1997, ChoicePoint has collected personal data such as property records, financial data and driver’s license information on millions of consumers. It then sells the information to businesses and government agencies for background checks and other purposes. The company claims it now has a collection of 19 billion records.
This new from Bolivia: the country’s former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his ousted cabinet have been formally charged with genocide. In 2003 de Lozada’s government was toppled after between 60 and 80 persons died protesting his free-market economic policies. One of his most controversial plans called for the shipment of Bolivian gas to the United States via a five billion-dollar pipeline through Bolivia’s archrival, Chile.
Conscientious Objector Sgt. Camilo Mejia has been released from military prison after serving a nine-month sentence for refusing to return to fight in Iraq. The 28-year Sergeant applied for objector status after witnessing the killing of civilians and the abuse of detainees in Iraq. Upon his release Meija said "I certainly want to continue to lend my voice to the movement for Peace and Justice, of which I feel privileged to be a part."
And the active-duty Army is now in danger of failing to meet its recruiting goals, and is beginning to suffer from manpower strains like those that have dropped the National Guard and Reserves below full strength. This according to a report in the Washington Post. For the first time since 2001, the Army began the fiscal year in October with only 18.4 percent of the year’s target of 80,000 active-duty recruits already in the pipeline. That amounts to less than half of last year’s figure and falls well below the Army’s goal of 25 percent.