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Mexico’s electoral commission has announced conservative candidate Felipe Calderon has won the presidential election by a razor-thin margin. His populist rival, Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, says he will challenge the result in the courts and is urging his supporters to attend large rally on Saturday in Mexico City. Lopez Obrador maintains the vote was marred with fraud and is repeating his demand for a ballot-by-ballot recount. The Mexican newspaper El Universal is reporting ten ballot boxes and a polling station report were found in a garbage dump in a poor neighborhood in Mexico City.
The former US soldier charged with raping a young Iraqi woman and killing her and three family members has pleaded not guilty. Former private Steven Green appeared in a Kentucky courtroom Thursday. Green is accused of raping and murdering Abeer Qasim Hamza, and then burning her body in an attempt to hide the crime. Hamza may have been as young as fifteen years old. Green is also accused of murdering Hamza’s mother, Fakhriya Taha Muhsen; her father, Kasim Hamza Rasheed; and her five-year old sister Hadel. Four other soldiers are also under investigation. New details continue to emerge about the case. Family cousin Abu Firas Janabi told the Los Angeles Times he was the first person to enter the house after the attack. Janabi says the father’s head had been "smashed into pieces" and the young sister’s arm visibly broken. He said Abeer Qasim Hamza lay naked and burned, her head smashed in "by a concrete block or a piece of iron." And according to Janabi, the family’s two young sons returned from school to see their home on fire and their family members burning inside. Janabi also says that three days before the attack, Abeer Qasim Hamza’s mother had complained to him that US soldiers were constantly searching her house and that she believed her daughter was the target. Janabi says he suggested that the family move into a vacant home beside his but the parents insisted they’d be safe. Janabi says the family’s two sons are now with their uncle in a nearby village. Meanwhile, the military is investigating whether the recent abduction and beheading of two US troops in a nearby town is linked to the case. The dead Privates — Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker — were from the same military unit as Steven Green and the four other soldiers. Investigators now believe the two soldiers may have been slain as an act of revenge for the rape and killings.
The Hamas government has ordered Palestinian security forces to fight back as Israel widens its assault on the Gaza Strip. Clashes on Thursday led to the deadliest day of violence since Israel withdrew from Gaza last year. At least twenty-four Palestinians have been killed in air strikes and clashes with soldiers. The dead include a reported six Palestinian civilians in a missile strike near the town of Beit Lahiya. An Israeli soldier was also killed in the fighting. Meanwhile, Israeli forces invaded the West Bank town of Jenin, killing a 16-year-old Palestinian and wounding several others. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat appealed for international help.
Israel says its launched the offensive to recover the captured soldier Gilad Shalit and to halt rocket attacks that have hit neighboring Israeli towns. On Thursday, Israel rejected a new offer from Shalit’s captors to free him in return for the release of all Palestinian females inside Israeli prisons. Israel says it will not negotiate and has vowed to continue the offensive. Meanwhile at the United Nations, the recently-created Human Rights Council voted Thursday to demand Israel end its assault. And in a correction to a story we reported Wednesday, Democracy Now wrongly identified the country that condemned Israel for carrying out collective punishment in Gaza. The country is Switzerland, not Sweden.
In other news, the European Parliament voted Thursday to demand financial institutions and member states disclose how much they knew about the secret US program to spy on international banking. The Parliament also voted to endorse the findings of a Council of Europe report that accused leading European countries of complicity in the CIA’s program of extraordinary rendition.
Meanwhile, an apparent victim of a CIA kidnapping has come forward to reveal the story of his abduction and torture. In an interview with the New York Times, the victim, Laid Saidi, says his ordeal began three years ago. In May of 2003, Saidi was expelled from Tanzania and handed to US agents. He was then flown to Afghanistan, where he spent sixteen months in a prison he believes was run by Americans. Saidi says he was left chained for five days without food or clothing. He says his interrogators beat him, doused him with cold water, spat on him, gave him dirty drinking water and told him he would die at the prison. He was eventually released in August 2004 and sent to Algeria. Saidi says he was held in the same prison as Khalid el-Masri, the German citizen who tried to sue the CIA for illegally kidnapping him two and a half years ago. According to the New York Times, two Pakistani detainees held at the same Afghan prison are now being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Back in the United States, the highest courts in two states issued rulings Thursday that set back efforts of gay and lesbian couples to win marriage rights. The New York Court of Appeals rejected same-sex couples’ bid to marry and the top court in Georgia upheld a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state.
The Bush administration has agreed to exempt millions of Medicaid recipients required by a controversial new law to prove their citizenship to continue to receive health care. The White House decision came as a federal judge was about to rule on a challenge to the law in a hearing slated for today. The new exemption will apply to seniors and people with severe disabilities. But health advocates warn millions of people, including the homeless and foster children, will likely be unable to provide the necessary documentation.
In military news, the Southern Poverty Law Center is warning the Pentagon’s recruiting difficulties have allowed "large numbers of violent neo-Nazis and skinheads extremists" to join the armed forces. The Center says the numbers could reach into the thousands. Pentagon investigator Scott Barfield said graffiti advocating the Aryan Nations has appeared in Baghdad. He said commanders are not taking action even after being notified of the presence of extremists or gang members amidst their ranks. Barfield added: "They don’t want to make a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they’ll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."
In media news, a new study shows the percentage of people of color in US radio newsrooms has plunged by nearly two thirds in the last eight years. According to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, under 7 percent of workers in radio newsrooms are people of color, down from 16 percent in 1998.
Here in New York, the FBI is claiming it has uncovered a plot to bomb the Holland Tunnel. Investigators told the New York Daily News suspects planned to detonate enough explosives to destroy the tunnel and send floodwaters through lower Manhattan. Lebanese authorities have reportedly detained one suspect in Beirut at the request of US officials.
And today is the first anniversary of the four London suicide attacks that killed fifty-two people. The anniversary is being marked with several events, including a two-minute moment of silence across Britain. This week, Al-Qaida released a video suicide note by one of the bombers. On the video, the bomber, Shehzad Tanweer, warns of further and more deadly attacks. Tanweer also says the attacks are justified because of the British government’s policies against Muslims in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya. Al-Qaida’s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also says on the tape that Tanweer and another bomber had been trained at the group’s camps. The tape’s release comes as a secret police document prepared by anti-terror specialists warns the war on Iraq has had a motivating effect on British Muslims planning acts of violence inside the country.