In Iraq, dozens of police officers are feared dead after their convoy was bombed north of Baghdad earlier today. At least six officers were killed. In other violence, at least eleven construction workers were murdered after they were abducted in Basra. Today’s deaths come a day after violence killed at least 52 people around Iraq. In Thursday’s deadliest incident, at least 15 people were killed and 25 wounded in car bombing of a market in a Shiite area of Baghdad.
In Nepal, embattled King Gyanendra pledged today he would hold national elections, but did not give a specific timetable. Opposition groups said the King’s message was nothing more than a vague repeat of previous promises that have gone unfulfilled. The King’s announcement comes just two days after he returned from a two-month vacation to the capital of Katmandu amidst massive protests against his rule. On Thursday, Louise Arbor, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, criticized what she called the government’s excessive use of force and use of arbitrary detention against protesters. Also Thursday, Police fired on a demonstration attended by dozens of lawyers outside the Supreme Court. At least 70 people were arrested.
In Chad, the government is claiming it has repeled a rebel attack on its capital. The rebel group the United Front for Democratic Change has vowed to overthrow President Idriss Déby before elections are held on May 3rd. Déby has accused the Sudanese government of backing the rebels in an attempt to destabilize his government. Sudan has leveled a similar charge in return. At the UN, Secretary General Koffi Annan and Security Council members condemned the rebel attack. "What is happening today in Chad has a direct link or relation to what is happening in Darfur," French Ambassador Jean-Marc De La Sabliere said."There is a relation between the situation in Darfur and the situation in Chad. Those rebels were coming from Darfur and this is a continuation of attacks which took place also in, earlier in March and in December also, 18th of December."
In a story that could mark a major development in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Al Jazeera is reporting the Hamas-led Palestinian government is willing to recognize Israel if Israel agrees to fully withdraw from the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem. The stance would mark a significant shift for Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last summer but maintains full control over its borders and airspace. It has rejected calls for a full withdrawal from the West Bank, where it continues to expand settlements deep into Palestinian territory.
Meanwhile at the United Nations, the US has blocked a proposed Security Council statement that expressed concern over Israel’s ongoing shelling of the Gaza Strip. At least 16 Palestinians have been killed in the attacks. In the most widely-publicized incident, an eight-year girl was killed and seven of her siblings injured when an Israel shell hit their home. Israel says it will continue the shelling until militants halt launching rockets at bordering Israeli towns. Israel has been accused of carrying out a harsh response because the rockets have not caused any injuries. US Ambassador John Bolton said the UN’s draft statement was unfairly critical of Israel. But supporters of the resolution said it had also called on Palestinians to prevent rocket attacks and suicide bombings. Referring to the US, Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour said: "It was obvious they did not want the Security Council to have a position."
In Britain, a doctor in the Royal Air Force has been sentenced to eight months in jail for refusing to go to Iraq. Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith maintained he is refusing his assignment in order to not take part in an illegal war. "Now more so than ever he feels that his actions were totally justified and he would not if placed in the same circumstances seek to do anything differently," Justin Hugheston-Roberts, the lawyer representing Kendall-Smith, said after the sentencing.
In Pakistan, tens of thousands of people turned out Thursday for funeral prayers honoring several top Sunni leaders who were among the victims of Tuesday’s suicide attack in Karachi. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 57 people.
Here in the United States, another high-ranking retired military commander has publicly called for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In an interview with the New York Times, Major General Charles Swannack Jr. said: "I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq." Up until 2004, Swannack was the commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He is now the sixth retired general to call for Rumsfeld’s resignation in recent weeks. On Thursday White House spokesperson Scott McClellan defended Rumsfeld, saying he is doing a "very fine job."
Meanwhile, for the second straight day Thursday, White House spokesperson Scott McLellan could not tell reporters when President Bush or other administration officials were informed a Pentagon fact-finding mission had found no mobile biological weapons labs in Iraq. The timing of the fact-finding mission’s report has come under intense scrutiny. Just two days after it was submitted, President Bush cited the trailers as proof the US had discovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The President and other administration officials continued to make the faulty claim for more than a year–and never once said their claim had been disputed.
In an update on a story we have been tracking, a major California television station has announced it will no longer use material from video news releases in any news reports. Last week the Center for Media and Democracy revealed at least 77 TV stations around the country have been caught airing corporate-sponsored propaganda disguised as news releases in the past 10 months. One of these stations was KCBS, Channel 2 in Los Angeles. On January 27 the station aired an edited video news release promoting the child-safe Internet search engine for the company NetTrekker. The station used part of the script and video provided by the company without revealing its source. On Wednesday the management at KCBS announced it was barring the use of video news releases.
A coalition of groups advocating for immigrant rights are calling for a massive one-day job and economic boycott to take place May 1st. Some are calling the event "A Day Without Immigrants." Organizers are calling on immigrants to refuse to work or spend any money on May Day to protest moves in Congress to criminalize undocumented workers. In recent weeks millions of immigrants and their supporters have taken to the streets in an unprecedented wave of protests.
A new audit from the Department of Homeland Security has determined FEMA misspent at least one billion dollars after Hurricane Katrina in attempts to secure temporary housing for evacuees. $900 million dollars was lost when FEMA bought 25,000 manufactured homes that were too big or unsafe in flood zones. The audit also criticized FEMA for spending over $850 million dollars to put up evacuees in hotels and on cruise ships for months at a time at rates far above the cost of private apartments. The spending has left FEMA short of funds to deal with other matters. Last week Democracy Now visited a FEMA trailer park in Baker, Louisiana where residents complained FEMA had just stopped providing free meals due to lack of funding.
In other news from New Orleans, the state of Louisiana announced Thursday it would allow a new construction landfill to open in a largely Vietnamese neighborhood of east New Orleans. Community groups have opposed the landfill because of its potential environmental impact and because it might derail the Vietnamese community’s efforts to create the country’s first Viet-town.
And finally, a federal judge has criticized the Bush administration for delaying a decision on a visa permit for Swiss theologian Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan is one of Europe’s most prominent Muslim scholars. He was denied entry to teach at the University of Notre Dame two years ago. On Thursday, US district judge Paul Crotty said: "There is not a clarity within the government as to what procedures to follow. I find that very troubling." Judge Crotty’s comments came during a hearing for a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on Ramadan’s behalf.