Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf is vowing to shed his military uniform by the end of the month. The move comes amidst increasing unrest following his declaration of emergency rule.
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf: "I have already declared that, so we must have elections. I must handle the uniform issue. I cannot be a president without — in uniform now. The choice after that is whether I should stay at all; that option is available to me."
Musharraf’s term officially ends today along with the Pakistani Parliament, but he will stay in office indefinitely under his emergency decree. Aides say he will await court rulings on challenges to his crackdown and election win last month. He’s widely expected to win both cases after having fired several judges who had shown independence. Meanwhile, Pakistani journalists continue their peaceful protests against Musharraf’s bans on critical media coverage. Ansar Abbasi of the News International says Musharraf is losing credibility by the day.
Ansar Abbasi: "President Musharraf seems to have lost his confidence and also trust on media. And what was previously — what was the previous perception about President Musharraf, that he is quite a tolerant person, that has absolutely gone in the air."
In Somalia, heavy fighting continues to displace scores of people in the capital Mogadishu. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee in the clash between U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces and Somali fighters. Mohamed Yusuf Hassan, head surgeon at a Mogadishu hospital, says doctors are struggling to treat the wounded.
Mohamed Yusuf Hassan: "They get wounded far away from the hospital, and because of clashes on the streets, they cannot take the patients in time. So they have to wait many, many hours, and the patients will get complicated and most of the times get infected, that can — whatever you do, it’s difficult to make them recover. That’s another problem, another challenge, that we’re managing somehow to overcome."
In Burma, at least two leading opposition activists have been detained in an ongoing crackdown. U Gambira and Su Su Nway are the latest to be arrested in the junta’s repression of a pro-democracy uprising that broke out in September.
The State Department’s top oversight official has recused himself from all matters relating the private military firm Blackwater after admitting his brother served on the company’s advisory board. Inspector General Howard Krongard announced the move Wednesday just hours after initially denying that his brother, Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, is a Blackwater board member. The State Department has already come under criticism for its lax oversight of Blackwater since the September 16th killing of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards. Howard Krongard has previously been accused of thwarting probes of contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid embarrassing the White House. Krongard is said to have refused to send investigators to Iraq and Afghanistan to probe $3 billion in contracts.
The House has approved a war funding bill ordering President Bush to withdraw most troops from Iraq by the end of next year. The $50 billion measure amounts to around one-quarter of President Bush’s request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush has promised a veto if the bill makes it past the Senate.
The House is expected to vote today on a bill reauthorizing the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. House Democrats have excluded an amendment that would grant retroactive immunity to major telecom companies involved.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will also take up its version of the bill today with the immunity provision included. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin says he’ll introduce a measure removing the immunity. In a statement, Feingold said: "This program was one of the worst abuses of executive power in our history, and the courts should be able to rule on it once and for all."
The congressional votes come amidst a renewed Justice Department investigation into the program’s legality. The probe was reopened just days into the new term of Attorney General Michael Mukasey. On Wednesday, Mukasey took a ceremonial oath of office at the Justice Department.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey: "We do law, but the result is justice. And that is why our ultimate client, the people of this country, can and do rest secure in the knowledge that our unswerving allegiance is to the law and the Constitution, and that the result of faithful performance of our duty is justice."
Mukasey was narrowly confirmed last week over objections to his refusal to condemn waterboarding as a form of torture.
The American fruit giant Chiquita has been hit with a new lawsuit on behalf of victims of Colombian paramilitaries. Earlier this year, Chiquita admitted to paying $1.7 million to a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group on the U.S. terrorist watch list. On Wednesday, nearly 400 Colombian plaintiffs filed a civil suit seeking almost $8 billion in damages. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jonathan Reiter said Chiquita should be held accountable for the killings it helped fund.
Jonathan Reiter: "The principle on which this lawsuit has been brought is that when you put money into the hands of terrorists, when you put guns into the hands of terrorists, then you are legally responsible for the atrocities, the murders and the tortures which those terrorists commit."
Chiquita says it fell victim to an extortion attempt and made the payments only to protect its employees. But a private investigator hired by the plaintiffs disputed Chiquita’s denials. The investigator, William Acosta, says his findings leave no doubt over Chiquita’s complicity.
William Acosta: "Most of the victims during our interviews in Colombia always mention Chiquita as being the party which sends people in to threaten them."
Chiquita is already facing another lawsuit from relatives of 144 people killed by Colombian paramilitaries. The company has paid a $25 million fine to the U.S. government, but none of the money has gone to the victims’ families.
Here in New York, more details have been released in Monday’s fatal police shooting of an unarmed African-American teen. Eighteen-year-old Khiel Coppin died in a hail of 20 police bullets. He was carrying only a hairbrush. Coppin’s mother had called the police for help following a violent argument with her son. But newly released transcripts of the call show the mother, Denise Owens, told police dispatchers that her son was unarmed. Owens also said the same to police officers when they arrived on the scene. Police say they opened fire after Coppin claimed to be holding a weapon. It turned out to be a hairbrush.
A leading conservation group is accusing polluter nations of censoring a forthcoming United Nations report on global warming. The World Wildlife Fund says vital facts have been deleted from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s study set for release on Saturday. The deletions are said to include warnings of more destructive hurricanes, the warming of the Pacific Ocean and the loss of glaciers in the European Alps. The report will predict that a third of the world’s species face extinction if greenhouse gas emissions continue apace.
Meanwhile, a new study has ranked the world’s worst utility companies for global warming pollution. According to the Center for Global Development, one Southern Company plant in Georgia emits more carbon dioxide every year than Brazil’s entire industrial sector. Australia is the worst per capita polluter. Power plants there emit 10 tons of carbon dioxide per person — five times as much as China. The U.S. remains the worst overall polluter, producing 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.
In California, city officials in San Francisco have granted initial approval to a plan to issue ID cards to any city resident regardless of legal status. The move puts San Francisco on track to become the largest city in the nation to grant ID cards to any resident requesting one. Supporters of the measure say it will help undocumented immigrants otherwise prevented from accessing services because they lack ID.
In Washington state, 43 people were arrested at the Port of Olympia late Tuesday trying to block a shipment of military gear from Iraq. The protests were organized by the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, which aims to stop the U.S. military from using the port to ship equipment to Iraq. Police used pepper spray to disperse a crowd of more than 150 people. It’s the second straight week of protests at the port.
And government investigators have exposed what critics are calling a gaping hole in the nation’s airport security. Undercover officials were able to smuggle all the bomb components needed to cause major airplane damage through screening checkpoints at 19 airports across the country. The Government Accountability Office is calling for harsher screening measures of passengers as a result.