Up to 2,000 Die In Indonesian Earthquake

As many as 2,000 people have died in Indonesia after a massive earthquake hit the region Monday. The quake occurred near the epicenter of December’s earthquake that triggered the devastating tsunami that killed 280,000 people across 11 countries. Monday’s earthquake registered at a magnitude of 8.7. The epicenter was near the Indonesian island of Sumatra. "The hard hit population of Western Sumatra have again been struck by very large earthquake. This is not an after shock, it is one of those earthquakes you call a great earthquake because it is between 8 and 9 on the richter scale," said Jan Egeland, the Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations. "It has created a lot of panic in Sumatra, all over the island, it was easy to feel how big it was. We do not have reports of any tsunami yet anywhere and also only limited reports of damage." Officials believe the worst hit area was the Indonesian island of Nias where hundreds of buildings have been destroyed. While no tsunami resulted from the earthquake a series of warnings were issued for the Indian Ocean region. The U.S.-run Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii warned that all coastal areas within 600 miles of the epicenter be evacuated without delay. The warnings were withdrawn after no giant waves appeared. In Aceh, tens of thousands of people abandoned their tents and temporary homes in fear. The area was devastated by the December 26th tsunami. As many as 100 aftershocks have shook the region since December but Monday’s earthquake was by far the strongest.

Ex-Diplomats Criticize Selection of Bolton As UN Ambassador

A group of former U.S. diplomats are publicly calling for the Senate to reject John Bolton’s nomination to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. 59 former diplomats have signed an open letter outlining their views to Senator Richard Lugar. Lugar is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which will hold hearings on Bolton’s nomination on April 7. Bolton has been one of the fiercest critics of the United Nations within the Bush administration. In 1994 Bolton said '’if the UN secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.’’ He has also called for the US to stop paying dues to the United Nations.

Iraq’s Parliament Meets, Still No Government Formed

In Iraq, the nation’s new parliament is meeting today for only the second time since elections were held two months ago. The Shiite majority is still trying to form a coalition government with the Kurds. The media was banned from covering today’s assembly in part because reporters have criticized the politicians for delaying the formation of a government.

Iraq Gov’t Minister Warns Against Protests

Meanwhile Iraq’s interior minister warned citizens Monday to not hold any public protests saying they were an invitation for a large-scale attack. The warning came a day after government bodyguards opened fire on a group of government employees demanding a pay raise. At least one protester died in the shooting.

Soldier Sentenced to Seven Months In Jail For Refusing Orders

A 23-year-old Army mechanic has been sentenced to seven months in jail for refusing to carry out his duties. Specialist Blake Lemoine spent a year in Iraq but has since condemned the invasion and occupation. He once said "Iraqi civilians are often treated worse than animals." After a year in Iraq, Blake Lemoine returned to Germany last May. He then started refusing to perform duties citing religious reasons. "I did volunteer and I do agree with the principal that a country has the right to wage war if it is a justified and wise war, I do believe that. I support the United States’ right to go to war," said Lemoine. "However, should someone decide that they do not wish to help they should be able to quit."

New Documents Show FBI Helped Saudis Leave Post 9/11

Newly released FBI documents provide new evidence that the agency helped a group of Saudis leave the United States days after the Sept. 11 attacks. The documents show the F.B.I. gave personal airport escorts to two prominent Saudi families who fled the United States. A total of 160 Saudis–including members of Osama Bin Laden’s family–left in the week after the attacks. According to the New York Times, the F.B.I. documents left open the possibility that some departing Saudis had information relevant to the Sept. 11 investigation but were never questioned. 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were from Saudi Arabia. One FBI memo from 2003 read '’Although the F.B.I. took all possible steps to prevent any individuals who were involved in or had knowledge of the attacks from leaving the U.S. before they could be interviewed. It is not possible to state conclusively that no such individuals left the U.S. without F.B.I. knowledge.'’

Youth Arrested in Minnesota Connected to School Shootings

In Minnesota, federal officials have arrested a youth in connection with last week’s shootings that left 10 dead at the Red Lake Native American reservation. Until now investigators have said the shooter–16-year-old Jeff Weise–acted alone. Weise killed himself on the day of the rampage. Police have not said what role the arrested youth had in the killings. The New York Times identified the youth as Louis Jourdain, the teenage son of the Red Lake Chippewa’s tribal leader Floyd Jourdain Jr.

Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Jurors

In Colorado, the state Supreme Court has vacated the death sentence of man convicted for rape and murder because jurors consulted the Bible during deliberations. The court ruled that jurors are not allowed to consider outside material that has not been admitted into evidence, let alone use such material to convince other jurors to convict. During deliberations members of the jury had studied Biblical verses such as "eye for eye, tooth for tooth."

James Baker To Head Election Reform Commission

One of the closest allies of the Bush family–James Baker–has been named to co-chair a private bipartisan commission to investigate the federal election system. Baker served as Secretary of State under the first President Bush. He later served as chief legal advisor for George W. Bush during the 2000 election campaign and oversaw the contested Florida recount. Baker will co-chair the commission with former President Jimmy Carter.

McDonalds To Pay Rappers For Mentioning Big Macs

The magazine Advertising Age is reporting McDonalds is hoping to gain some street credibility and increase sales by reaching out to the hip hop generation. The restaurant chain is offering to pay big-name hip-hop artists if they include references to Big Macs in their rhymes. The fast food company is reportedly willing to pay rappers up to $5 each time songs with the plug are played on the radio. McDonalds has hired the same marketing firm that successfully got five hip hop artists to namedrop Seagram’s gin last year in their songs.

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