The Bush administration has announced it will hold a long-awaited Mideast peace conference next week. The White House says it’s invited more than fifty countries and institutions to convene in Annapolis, Maryland. State Department Spokesperson Sean McCormack says the US expects the one-day gathering to kick-start final-status talks to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
State Dept. spokesperson Sean McCormack: “This conference will signal international support for the courageous efforts of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas and will serve as a launching point for negotiations with an eye towards establishing an Israeli and Palestinian state.”
The White House is indicating its top concern ahead of the conference will be to convince Arab nations to attend. A senior administration official told the New York Times, “We’re trying to rally the Arab world for support of this process, and they are master fence-sitters.” But the Bush administration has refused to endorse a five-year-old Arab League-Palestinian plan offering Israel full peace in return for a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Israel has essentially rejected the deal, claiming it would only agree to unspecified elements. Israeli leaders have long vowed to hold on to the West Bank’s major settlement blocs and water resources.
In Pakistan, a government crackdown continues despite official claims of freeing thousands of jailed dissidents. Earlier today, Pakistani authorities arrested former Supreme Court judge Wajihuddin Ahmed. He was the only candidate to run against President General Pervez Musharraf in last month’s election. The Pakistani government says it’s released more than 3,000 prisoners.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Javed Iqbal Cheema: “The federal and provincial authorities have already released 3,416 detainees, including political workers and lawyers. Another 2,000, still under detention, would also be released soon. Some of the detainees, however, are facing criminal charges, and the courts will decide about their bail applications as and when these are moved.”
A Western diplomat told the New York Times the number of freed prisoners could be closer to 1,000.
Meanwhile, President Bush has issued his strongest support for Musharraf since the crisis began. In an interview with ABC News, Bush said Musharraf “hasn’t crossed the line” and “truly is somebody who believes in democracy.”
The Pentagon is forcing thousands of wounded veterans to return signing bonuses they received for joining the Army. The military says the injured soldiers aren’t entitled to the money because they didn’t complete their full tour of duty. Jordan Fox of Pennsylvania left the military three months early after being hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He sustained back injuries and lost all vision in his right eye. Earlier this month he received a Pentagon letter asking him to return some $3,000 in sign-up bonuses. Fox and his mother had recently started a program to send thousands of care packages to servicemembers in Iraq.
In Singapore, a group of Burmese student activists gathered Tuesday to protest leaders meeting at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ annual summit. The students criticized what they called regional inaction at the Burmese junta’s crackdown on the ongoing pro-democracy uprising.
Student protester: “The Burmese people are so discontented, you know. We will fight for our people, and we will strive to get the desired outcome that all the Burmese people want.”
The protest came one day after the summit canceled a planned briefing from UN envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari.
The international aid agency Oxfam is criticizing the Bush administration for what it calls a lack of aid to Afghanistan. In a new report, Oxfam says, “As in Iraq, too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and subcontractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs.” The US spent $4.4 billion on aid to Afghanistan last year — less than one-eighth of its military spending there. Oxfam also says urgent action is needed to avoid a humanitarian crisis "comparable with sub-Saharan Africa." Afghanistan is in the midst of record violence, with more than 6,000 deaths this year.
In Cambodia, a high-ranking Khmer Rouge official who oversaw the torture of thousands of people in the 1970s appeared in court Tuesday. Kaing Khek Iev, also known as Duch, is the first Khmer Rouge leader to appear in public before a UN-backed tribunal investigating the Pol Pot regime’s atrocities. Duch is accused of crimes against humanity for his role heading a prison known as S-21. As many as 16,000 people were tortured there before they were taken away for execution.
Saudi Arabia is facing an international outcry over the sentencing of a nineteen-year-old gang-rape victim to six months in prison and 200 lashes. The Shiite Muslim woman was convicted of violating Sharia law on contact between men and women. A Saudi court upheld the ruling this week. The Bush administration has refused to directly criticize the Saudi judiciary. On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack would only imply that the Saudi government should change the ruling, saying it causes “a fair degree of surprise and astonishment.”
The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on whether the Constitution protects an individual’s right to carry a firearm. The result could have broad implications on gun control laws across the country. It’s been seventy years since the Supreme Court has taken up the meaning of the Second Amendment’s stance on gun ownership. The move comes in a case challenging a handgun ban in Washington, DC.
A federal judge is warning she may order a new trial for a convicted Islamic scholar if the government refuses to turn over evidence possibly obtained from warrantless spying. The scholar, Ali Al-Timimi, was sentenced to life in prison two years ago for urging Muslims to join the Taliban in Afghanistan and fight US troops after the 9/11 attacks. Al-Timimi has long denied the charges and claims he may have been illegally wiretapped. His lawyers have been barred from a series of secret court appearances by intelligence officials arguing against his appeal.
In Florida, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was greeted with a hostile reception Monday at his first public lecture since stepping down. Speaking at the University of Florida, Gonzales was repeatedly heckled with calls of "liar" and "criminal." Just minutes into his talk, two students climbed the stage dressed in Guantanamo Bay prison jumpsuits and hooded masks. The students were led away and arrested. At least a dozen audience members stood with their backs to Gonzales during his hour-long speech. He did not take questions from the audience. Gonzales was paid $40,000 for the appearance.
And in Colorado, debate is rising over a proposed amendment that would grant legal rights to fertilized human eggs. Supporters are trying to put the measure on the ballot next year. Voters would be asked whether inalienable rights, due process rights and equality of justice rights should be granted to “any human being from the moment of fertilization.” Legal experts interviewed by the New York Times call it the most sweeping language in the nation about the rights of the unborn.