Former President Gerald Ford Dies at 93

Former President Gerald Ford has died at the age of 93. Ford assumed the presidency after Richard Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate scandal. He was the only president to have never been elected to either the presidency or vice presidency. At his inauguration, Ford famously declared "the long national nightmare is over" — but pardoned Nixon just one month later. He ordered the final pullout of U.S. troops from Vietnam and later offered amnesty to Vietnam era draft resisters. Less well known, and not included in the Washington Post or New York Times obituary, is Ford’s role in the genocide in East Timor. Ford was in Indonesia the day before the invasion that led to the deaths of over 200,000 East Timorese. Along with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Ford gave Indonesian dictator General Suharto explicit approval to launch the invasion.

Saddam Loses Death Sentence Appeal

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein has lost an appeal of his death sentence for crimes against humanity — setting the stage for his execution likely within the next thirty days. Saddam was convicted last month for ordering the killing of 148 Shi’ites in the town of Dujail in 1982. He has been sentenced to death by hanging. There are rising fears his execution could intensify Iraq’s sectarian fighting between Iraqi Shiites and pro-Saddam Sunni groups. Meanwhile, human rights groups that have previously criticized Saddam Hussein’s human rights abuses are also arguing he was denied a fair trial. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said the Iraqi government should not implement the death sentence because the trial was marred by political interference.

3,500 Troops Head to Kuwait for Iraq Deployment

In other Iraq news, the Pentagon announced Tuesday plans to send an additional thirty-five hundred troops to Kuwait to stand ready for use in Iraq.

Nigerian Oil Explosion Kills 269, Injures 160

In Nigeria, the confirmed death toll from Tuesday’s oil pipe explosion in Lagos has reached at least 269. Another 160 were hospitalized with burn injuries. Crowds of people had gathered to scoop oil from the pipeline after it was punctured by armed residents. Most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Lagos Police Commissioner Emmanuel Adebayo: "The information I have is that there was a burst pipe with that, we sent policemen there, to control it and we contacted NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Company) who are to put it off from the source, once they put it off from the source there will be no more fuel coming out and we will put the fire off; it has been switched off."

The explosion occurred in a poor area home to low-income and casual workers. Over the past few weeks, Nigerians have faced long queues at gas stations across the country because of shortages from the national oil company.

UN Calls for End to Somalia Fighting

In Somalia, at least 800 people have been wounded and thousands displaced in ongoing clashes between Islamic fighters and forces backing the Somali government. On Tuesday, the UN envoy to Somalia Francois Lonseny Fall called for an immediate end to the fighting.

UN Envoy to Somalia Francois Lonseny Fall: "The crisis in Somalia has escalated dangerously as the hostilities between the Transnational government and the Union of Islamic Courts have now expanded across a 400 kilometer-wide front. The conflict now involves foreign forces and use of heavy weapons and aircraft. The deteriorating situation in Somalia has no doubt dealt a serious blow to efforts aimd at the early resumption of peace talks. The fighting has also compounded an already serious humanitarian crisis resulting in additional displacement of populations."

Both sides have refused to lay down arms. Ethiopian troops are in Somalia backing the government.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi: "…We have a mission to do. We have done more than half of our mission already. As soon as we complete the other half — and it won’t take us long — we will be out of there so they won’t have a target to fight against."

The State Department said Tuesday it is backing Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia.

Israel to Build New West Bank Settlement

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has announced plans to build a new settlement inside the West Bank. Israeli officials say the settlement will house up to one-hundred families who lived in the Gaza Strip until Israel’s withdrew settlements there last year. The plans would violate Israel’s previous pledge to freeze new settlement activity under the US-backed road map.

Truce in Doubt as Israel, Palestinians Trade Attacks

Meanwhile, the already-tenuous one-month truce is on shakier ground. Israel announced today it will resume strikes on Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. The announcement came after Palestinian rocket fire seriously injured two Israeli teenagers in the town of Sderot. Meanwhile, Israeli troops shot and seriously wounded a Palestinian farmer working near the barrier separating Gaza from Israel.

Archbishop of Canterbury Criticizes West Bank Separation Wall

Meanwhile, Israel’s West Bank separation wall has come under criticism from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. Visiting the town of Bethlehem on a Christmas pilgrimage, Dr. Williams said: "Justice and security is never something which one person claims at the expense of another or one community at the expense of another. We are here to say that security for one is security for all."

Surgeon: Castro Does not Have Cancer

In news from Cuba, there is a new update on the condition of President Fidel Castro. On Tuesday, a Spanish surgeon who examined Castro last week said Castro does not have cancer and is in good spirits. José Luis García Sabrido’s comments come after months of speculation Castro is suffering from terminal cancer. The Bush administration recently predicted Castro would die within the next few months.

Reservist Upset by Iraq Deployment Dies in Police Shootout

Back in the United States, a Maryland army reservist who was to be deployed to Iraq next month has died after a fourteen-hour standoff with police. Army Reservist James E. Dean had already served eighteen months in Afghanistan when he was told last month he would be sent to Iraq. A neighbor says the deployment order sent Dean into a spiral of depression because he didn’t want to go back to war. The standoff began after Dean barricaded himself inside his home with several weapons. He was shot after exchanging gunfire with police.

Afghanistan Heroin Blamed for Rising Addiction, Overdose

In California, an influx of high-potent heroin from Afghanistan is being blamed for an increase in addiction and overdoses in Los Angeles. Heroin-related deaths have increased 75% in the past three years. Over nearly the same period, the share of Afghanistan heroin on the US market has doubled to 14%. Thousands of Afghan farmers were forced to turn poppy production following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. A spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s told the Los Angeles Times heroin from Afghanistan is the single biggest rising threat in the fight against narcotics.

Justice Dept. Database Criticized Over Data Collection

Civil rights and privacy groups are voicing concern over a massive new Justice Department database that gives police departments around the country access to millions of case files from several law enforcement agencies. The database is known as "OneDOJ." Stored information includes in the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets — even those who have not been arrested or charged with any crimes. Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, says: "Raw police files or FBI reports can never be verified and can never be corrected… The idea that they’re creating another whole system that is going to be full of inaccurate information is just chilling."

Body of James Brown to Lie “In Stage” at Apollo Theatre

And finally here in New York, a crowd of people gathered outside the B.B. King Blues Club Tuesday to pay tribute to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Brown passed away Monday at the age of seventy three. He had been scheduled to perform at B.B. King’s on New Year’s Eve. James Brown fan Michael Cason spoke outside the club.

Michael Cason: "What you’ve got to realize about James Brown coming back up during the sixties, during a lot of racial tension, James Brown, say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud, gave a lot of African-American Negroes, back during that time, a lot of pride."

On Thursday, James Brown’s body will lie in state — or rather, lie in stage — at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre. The Apollo is credited as the theatre that gave Brown his show business start. Fans will be able to file past Brown’s casket on the Appolo stage for one last look at the man who revolutionized popular music. The Reverend Al Sharpton will be officiating Brown’s funeral. Rev. Sharpton said: "His greatest thrill was always the lines around the Apollo Theater. I felt that James Brown in all the years we talked would have wanted one last opportunity to let the people say goodbye to him and he to the people."

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