Meanwhile in Iraq, the US military has announced the deaths of four US marines in fighting in the Anbar province. The latest fatalities bring the US death toll in Iraq to 2,512.
Meanwhile, the US Senate is expected to resume debate today on two competing Democratic proposals on withdrawing US troops. One proposal calls for a withdrawal by July 2007. The other does not set a firm deadline.
In other Iraq news, at least fifty of more than eighty workers have been released or freed since being kidnapped from a state-owned factory on Wednesday. Seventeen of the workers were freed in a police raid on a farm north of Baghdad earlier today.
For the second time in as many days, an Israeli air strike has killed Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. On Wednesday, a woman and her brother were killed when an Israeli missile struck their home in the town of Khan Younis. The woman, Fatima Barbarawi, was seven months pregnant. Two of her children, aged one and two years old, were among thirteen wounded. The one-year old is in critical condition with shrapnel wounds to the head. Israel says it was targeting Palestinian militants traveling in a nearby vehicle.
The strike comes one day after three children were killed in an Israeli strike on a Gaza refugee camp. Israel has now killed up to 24 civilians in four attacks on Gaza in the last month.
In other news from the region, a senior Palestinian negotiator has told the Guardian of London that Hamas has backed off its rejection of Israel and accepted a document that endorses a negotiated two-state settlement. The two-state issue has come to the forefront of Palestinian politics following President Mahmoud Abbas’ threat to put it to a national referendum.
Meanwhile, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met earlier today in Jordan. It was the leaders’ first meeting since Olmert took office in January.
In Afghanistan, four US troops were killed Wednesday in what the military says were clashes with Taliban insurgents. The fighting comes as the US and other foreign troops are engaged in "Operation Mountain Thrust" — the largest military offensive since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
In Austria, at least 15,000 people gathered in Vienna Wednesday to protest the visit of President Bush. The President is in Austria for talks with European Union leaders. A group of protesters wore orange jump suits similar to those worn by detainees at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. European leaders have used the meeting to call for Guantanamo’s closure.
Back in the United States, the Senate rejected a measure Wednesday that would have raised the minimum wage for the first time in nearly a decade. The proposal called for a 40 percent increase from the current wage of Five Dollars and Fifteen cents an hour. A study released this week by the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the real-dollar value of the minimum wage is now at its lowest level in more than fifty years. But Congress has not rejected all federal pay hikes: last week, House lawmakers voted to increase their salaries by more than Three Thousand Dollars. It was their seventh straight pay raise.
In other news from Washington, the House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to ask the Bush Administration to disclose its role in approving the National Security Agency’s collection of the phone records of millions of US citizens.
In Florida, two people were killed Wednesday when government officials tried to arrest six guards at a Tallahassee prison. The guards are accused of giving female prisoners alcohol, drugs and money in exchange for sexual intercourse. Five of the guards had been detained when a sixth pulled his gun on the arresting officers. The sixth guard, Ralph Hill, and Justice Department agent Buddy Sentner were killed in the ensuing firefight.
In Miami, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to prevent the Miami-Dade County school district from removing a series of children’s books from its libraries. The books include a volume about Cuba that the board says does not adequately depict life under Fidel Castro. The board also wants to remove similar books on Greece, Mexico and Vietnam.
On Capitol Hill, House Republican leaders have put off a measure to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The decision was made following complaints from southern Republican lawmakers that the reauthorization unfairly targeted their states. The law was originally passed to reverse years of disenfranchisement of African Americans. On Wednesday, NAACP President Bruce Gordon criticized the Republicans’ delay, saying: "Their actions would return us to a time when the rights of racial and ethnic minority Americans–specifically the right to vote — were not protected or enforced."
And here in New York, a collection of sermons, books, notes and speeches by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has gone on display ahead of an auction at the end of the month. The King family hopes to raise at least $30 million dollars for the collection, which will be sold as a single lot. The set includes a draft of Dr. King’s 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech and his acceptance address upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize one year later.