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Funeral services were held today in Rome for the Italian intelligence agent shot dead by US forces in Iraq. The agent, Nicola Calipari, was escorting Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been released by hostage takers in Baghdad. Sgrena is a reporter for the Communist daily Il Manifesto. She was hit with shrapnel in the shoulder during the attack by US forces. Calipari, who is the international operations chief of Italy’s military intelligence service, was reportedly killed as he tried to shield her from the bullets. In a vivid account, published by her newspaper il Manifesto, Segrena described how Calipari, was shot in the head, writing, "I heard his last breath as he died on top of me." Thousands of Italians lined the streets today as the funeral procession moved through Rome. Sgrena, is recovering in a Rome hospital and said she was very sad not to be able to attend the ceremony.
Meanwhile, outrage at the US continues to build in Italy as more details emerge on last Friday’s incident. The U.S. military said the car carrying Sgrena and the Italian agents was speeding to the airport as it approached a checkpoint. A statement issued by the military said that soldiers shot into the engine block after trying to warn the driver to stop "by hand-and-arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car." But Sgrena said that version is absolutely false, telling an Italian television channel "there was no bright light, no signal," and adding that the car was traveling at "regular speed." Sgrena said she believes she may have been targeted because of US opposition to Italy’s policy on hostage negotiations, which many believe involves the paying of ransoms. The Italian government has virtually admitted a ransom was paid, with a senior official saying it was "very likely." An Iraqi Member of Parliament told Belgian state television on Saturday that a $1m ransom was paid. But Italian media reports spoke of a payment of up to $8m. Sgrena says that before she was released her hostage-takers had warned her that the US did not want her to return to Italy alive. She said she just took that as one final threat from her captors, until the convoy started making it’s way to the airport. She says that without warning or provocation, US troops opened fire on the car.
Bolivian President Carlos Mesa has announced he is resigning from office, amid threats of widespread protests against corporate and government abuse of Bolivia’s natural resources. Mesa has only been in office some 17 months after his predecessor Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada fled the country following large scale protests in October 2003. Mesa himself has faced hundreds of protests over his government’s policies on water, natural gas and other resources. In the days preceding Mesa’s announcement, a nationwide mobilization was underway for large-scale protests aimed at forcing changes in rules governing Bolivia’s vast natural gas resources. Mesa said the protests would force the country to its knees. Already there are blockades in various areas of the country and there have been clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators.
This news from Iraq. A series of attacks today across the country have left scores of people dead and dozens wounded. A suicide bomber blew up his car outside the house of an Iraqi army officer in Balad, north of Baghdad, killing at least 15 people. Several nearby houses were also damaged by the blast. Balad is on the road between Baghdad and the resistance stronghold of Samarra. Guerrillas have mounted frequent attacks in the area. There were more deaths in Baquba, where resistance fighters launched a series of apparently coordinated attacks that killed seven soldiers and five police officers. The attacks included a car bomb, three roadside bombs and small arms attacks. Monday’s violence came a day after politicians set March 16 for the opening of the country’s parliament as a deal hardened Sunday to name Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani to the presidency. The day marks the anniversary of the 1988 chemical attack on the northern Kurdish town of Halabja, which reportedly killed 5,000 people.
The Lebanese defense minister said that the redeployment of Syrian troops in Lebanon will begin today. Abdel Rahim Mrad said forces will pull back to the eastern Bekaa Valley, beginning a two-stage withdrawal. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets his Lebanese counterpart today to discuss the details. The US said the redeployment did not go far enough, while Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement has denounced what it called "foreign intervention" in Lebanon. Hezbollah called for a "massive popular gathering" on Tuesday against a UN resolution demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon. The head of Hezbollah said the group would not lay down its arms because Lebanon needed it as a defense against Israel. President Assad announced the redeployment on Saturday after weeks of intensifying international pressure to withdraw. It is estimated the first step of the redeployment involves up to 5,000 soldiers, then some 15,000 thousand troops would pull back to the border itself.
Now to the ongoing prisoner abuse scandal. Internal Army records released on Friday show that an Army intelligence sergeant who accused fellow soldiers in Samarra, Iraq, of abusing detainees in 2003 was in turn accused by his commander of being delusional and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in Germany. This despite a military psychiatrist’s initial judgment that the man was stable. According to The Washington Post, the soldier had angered his commander by urging the unit’s redeployment from the military base to prevent what the soldier feared would be the death of one or more detainees under interrogation. He told his commander three members of the counterintelligence team had hit detainees, pulled their hair, tried to asphyxiate them and staged mock executions with pistols pointed at the detainees’ heads. In another case detailed in the Army files, soldiers in a Florida National Guard unit deployed near Ramadi in 2003 compiled a 20-minute video that depicted a soldier kicking a wounded detainee in the face and chest in the presence of 10 colleagues and soldiers positioning a dead insurgent to appear to wave hello. The video was found in a soldier’s computer files under the heading "Ramadi Madness," and it initially prompted military lawyers to recommend charges of assault with battery and dereliction of duty for tampering with a corpse. These cases were among 13 described in more than 1,000 pages of Army criminal records released at the Pentagon under the order of a New York federal judge. They detail the Army’s investigations of other allegations by U.S. military personnel in Iraq of abuse, rape and larceny by fellow soldiers.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday he had evidence that the United States was planning to assassinate him. On a visit to New Dheli, Chavez said, "If anything happens to me, the person responsible will be the president of the United States." On February 20, Chavez said the United States was plotting to kill him, and his foreign minister said three days later that U.S. accusations against Chavez were a sign of an impending attack. Washington dismissed the allegations calling them "wild charges." On Friday, Chavez said his country would not stop supplying oil to the United States unless "the U.S. government gets a little bit crazy and tries to hurt us." During a speech in India on Saturday, Chavez cited a report by Iraq’s health ministry that claimed that US forces in Iraq had used mustard gas and nerve gas during their assault on the town of Fallujah last year. Chavez condemned the US for its continuing occupation.
Victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami plan to sue the United States government for failing to warn tourists of the disaster as it swept across Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other countries. The legal papers filed in Manhattan federal court accuse the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration- which measures earthquakes, tsunamis, and other earth movements–of being asleep as thousands perished Dec. 26. The petition was filed by the Tsunami Victims Group, consisting mostly of Austrian and German families who lost loved ones in one of the world’s worst natural disasters. The Texas-based hotel chain the Accor Group and the Kingdom of Thailand are also listed as possible defendants. To date, more than 273,000 people are believed dead or missing.
Prior to Martha Stewart’s release from federal prison last week, there was a lot of speculation about Stewart’s physical appearance after her time behind bars. But one magazine took the speculation a bit further. On its cover this week, Newsweek magazine features what appears to be a photo of Martha Stewart but is actually an image combining a photo of her face and one of a model’s body. An editor at the magazine said the idea was to portray Stewart as she may have appeared when she emerged from prison. The editor said that a credit on Page 3 with the table of contents of the magazine made clear that the image on the cover was a composite. Newsweek labeled it a "photo illustration."