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In Pakistan, a suicide bombing targeted hundreds of people in the northwestern town of Hangu earlier today. The attack came at a gathering celebrating the Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashoura. At least 22 people were killed and dozens injured. The attack set off an angry response, with Shiites burning shops and cars and clashing with local police.
In Nepal, government forces are clashing with angry protesters calling for the ouster of King Gyanendra, who seized power in a widely criticized coup last year. The clashes come one day after most Nepali citizens observed a country-wide boycott of municipal elections that critics charged were an attempt by King Gyanendra to legitimize his rule. In Kathmandu, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters gathered around the royal palace. The protesters chanted: "We don’t want a murderer government. You can’t kill people."
In the United States, the Bush administration has backed down under bi-partisan pressure and agreed to brief congressional committees on some details of its warrantless domestic spying program. On Wednesday, White House officials briefed members of the House Intelligence committee, and said it would do the same for the Senate committee. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Arlen Specter said he was sponsoring a measure that would hand authority over the spy program to national security FISA courts. Specter said: "The president should have all the tools he needs to fight terrorism, but we also want to maintain our civil liberties."
In other news, recent e-mails from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff indicate his ties to the White House are far greater than President Bush has admitted to. Excerpts from the e-mails were published on ThinkProgress.org. In one message to Kim Eisler, national editor of the Washingtonian magazine, Abramoff writes he was personally invited to Bush’s Crawford ranch for a fundraising event, but could not attend. At a January 26 thpress conference, President Bush said "You know, I, frankly, don’t even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don’t know him." But in the e-mails, Abramoff wrote quote: "The guy saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids. Perhaps he has forgotten everything. Who knows."
The New York Times is reporting authorities at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have resorted to a series of tough measures to force-feed hunger-striking detainees. Dozens of detainees have held the fasts to protest their prison conditions. Prison guards have strapped detainees into "restraint chairs" for hours and force-fed them with tubes down their throat. The Times says over two dozen detainees quit their hunger strikes after "having their feeding tubes inserted and removed so violently that some bled or fainted." Thomas Wilner, a lawyer for several detainees said: "It is clear that the government has ended the hunger strike through the use of force and through the most brutal and inhumane types of treatment."
The news comes as a new study based entirely on Pentagon data shows that of 500 Guantanamo detainees whose cases were reviewed, fewer than half of them have been accused of committing violent acts against the United States or its allies. The study, carried out by lawyers for two detainees, found that the government has identified only 8% of the detainees as al Qaeda fighters. Of the rest, the study found that 40% have no connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban. Meanwhile, 60% of the 500 detainees have been detained "merely because they are 'associated with' a group or groups the US government asserts are terrorist organizations."
In other news, the Washington Post is reporting the World Trade Organization has ruled against a six-year European ban on genetically engineered crops, saying it violates international trade rules. The ban was challenged by the United States, Canada and Argentina and opposed by numerous farming and agricultural companies. Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, denounced the WTO for attempting to: "force Frankenfoods on the rest of the world regardless of what consumers and their elected representatives say."
Meanwhile, one of the world’s most famous critics of corporate globalization and bio-technology — French farmer Jose Bove — has been barred from entering the United States. He was detained last night by U.S. officials after flying into Kennedy Airport in New York and then sent back to France. It remains unclear why Bove was denied entry. Bove was scheduled to speak at a conference in New York put on in part by Cornell University and the Rockefeller Foundation called "Global Companies — Global Unions, Global Research — Global Campaigns." In 2002 Bove made international headlines when he helped destroy a McDonald’s under construction in France to protest trade policies that hurt small farmers. He has also been a leading opponent of genetically modified crops.
This news on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — the New York Times is reporting that of 135,000 requests for trailers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has received from displaced families, slightly more than half have been filled. The news comes one day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered the evictions of thousands of people from government-paid hotel rooms.
On Capitol Hill, over 200 people, including nine senators, were evacuated from their office building Wednesday after a security sensor detected traces of a nerve agent. Later tests on the building proved negative.
In military news, the Charlestown Gazette is reporting a West Virginia soldier injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq has been forced to pay for the body armor that was removed from him while he was being treated. Last week, 1st Lt. William "Eddie" Rebrook IV was forced to pay $700 dollars after he was told the army had no record the armor was taken from him. Rebrook said: "If a soldier’s stuff is hit by enemy fire, he shouldn’t have to pay for it… There’s a complete lack of empathy from senior officers who don’t know what it’s like to be a combat soldier on the ground." His mother, Beckie Drumheler, added: "It’s outrageous, ridiculous and unconscionable. I wanted to stand on a street corner and yell through a megaphone about this."
And in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has lashed out at British Prime Minister Tony Blair after Blair suggested Chavez had failed to meet the rules of the international community.
Chavez went on to call a Blair a "pawn" attempting to curry favor with President Bush, who Chavez called "Hitler Danger Bush Hitler— the number one mass murderer and assassin that there is on this planet." Chavez went on to say: "Go right to hell, Mr. Blair."