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17 Killed in Alabama, Georgia Tornadoes

At least seventeen people have been killed in a storm carrying powerful tornadoes through the south and Midwest. Seven have died in Alabama with another nine deaths reported in Georgia.

Army Fires Walter Reed Commander

The Army has fired the general in charge of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Major General George Weightman’s dismissal comes more than a week into the fallout over the disclosure the army’s top medical facility is in a state of major decay. Weightman had headed Walter Reed for only six months. The Army’s current surgeon general — Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley — will serve as a temporary replacement. Kiley is also a former commander of Walter Reed. His appointment has raised questions amid complaints he was made aware of the problems at Walter Reed more than three years ago but failed to make any improvements.

House Subpoenas Fired US Attorneys

On Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas to four of the eight US attorneys who lost their jobs in a wave of dismissals from the Bush administration. The subpoenas come as part of an investigation into whether the attorneys were forced out for political reasons. The House move marks the Democrats’ first major use of their new subpoena authority. The four prosecutors have been called to appear before a hearing next Tuesday.

18 Kidnapped in Iraq

In Iraq, eighteen government workers and soldiers have been kidnapped in what’s being called a retaliation for the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated police. Meanwhile in Baghdad, US troops are continuing a series of raids in Shiite areas.

Shiite leader Sayyid Abbas: "We will demonstrate, men, women and children, demanding the withdrawal of the occupiers from Iraq. As long as the occupiers are in Iraq, they will destroy Islam and Iraq. We will die, we will give everything we have just for the sake of letting the occupiers to withdraw from Iraq."

Last British Charity in Iraq Ends Operations

Meanwhile the last major British charity in Iraq has announced its pulled out its entire staff and ended its presence there. Save the Children UK had been in Iraq since the first Gulf War. The group says the security situation has made it impossible to continue operations. Save the Children says it can’t protect staff members nor reach the Iraqi children it wants to help.

Pakistan Claims Arrested of Ex-Taliban Minister

The Pakistani government says its arrested a former Taliban defense minister and key insurgent leader. The man, Mullah Obaidullah, would be the most senior Taliban member to be captured since the US invasion of Afghanistan. The arrest comes amid new tensions over the Bush administration’s call on Pakistan to crack down on Al Qaeda fighters. On Thursday, Pakistan’s US ambassador, — Mahmud Ali Durrani — was asked if increasing pressure and threatened aid cuts could bring down Pakistani president General Pervaz Musharaf.

Pakistan Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani: "I don’t know possibly–it could bring him down. It could destabilize the whole country. It could cause mega-problems there. That is possible."

House Passes Union Bill Over GOP Objection

Back in the United States, the House has passed a bill that would make it easier for workers to join unions. The Employee Free Choice Act would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. President Bush has promised to veto the bill while Senate Republicans say they will filibuster.

Bush Visits Gulf Coast

President Bush paid a visit to the Gulf Coast Thursday, visiting towns in Louisiana and Mississippi. It was his first trip to areas hit by Hurricane Katrina in six months.

Australian to Be First Gitmo Prisoner Tried Under New Tribunal Law

The Pentagon has announced David Hicks will be the first Guantanamo prisoner tried under the new US law authorizing military trials of alleged enemy combatants. Hicks is an Australian citizen accused of helping the Taliban fight US troops in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors: Padilla Interrogation Video Lost

Meanwhile there is more news from the Jose Padilla hearings. Military prosecutors are claiming a video recording of Padilla’s last interrogation at a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina — has been lost. Defense lawyers had requested the video in an effort to prove Padilla’s harsh treatment and confinement has helped cause serious psychological damage making him unfit for trial. A judge rejected the defense argument on Wednesday. A trial is set to begin in two weeks.

Poll: Universal Health Care Americans’ Top Priority

A new poll from the New York Times and CBS News shows continued support in this country for universal health care. Fifty-five percent of Americans say universal access to health insurance is the nation’s top domestic priority. Sixty-percent say they would pay more taxes if that would mean guaranteed insurance for everyone. Eighty-percent say granting universal access is more important than extending President Bush’s tax cuts.

Argentina Rejects IMF Role in Debt Payment

In Argentina, President Nestor Kirchner has announced his government will reject any involvement of the International Monetary Fund in Argentina’s debt payment. Kirchner made the comments during his state of the union address.

Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner: "In the Paris Club they tell us: 'You must have an agreement with the International (Monetary) Fund to be able to pay the debt.' We say to them: ’Sirs, we are sovereign. We want to pay the debt but no way in hell are we going to make an agreement again with the IMF."

The IMF helped push through a series of economic policies that many believe helped bring Argentina’s economy to collapse in 2001.

Admin: No Need for NATO Consent over Missile Shield

The Bush administration is vowing to continue with its controversial missile defense system in Eastern Europe regardless of approval from NATO allies. Under the plan, Poland would host a battery of up to ten ballistic missiles while the Czech Republic would host a radar facility. The proposals have set off protests across Europe. On Thursday, Missile Defense Agency director Lt. General Henry Obering said the US has other alternatives if current plans are rejected.

Missile Defense Agency director Lt. General Henry Obering: "We are still in discussions with the United Kingdom they are participants in our programme and have been for quite a while. The door is not closed on that in terms of those discussions. We are certainly still talking to the United Kingdom; but the Czech Republic and Poland are the optimum locations for this. If for some reason, but we have every reason to believe that these discussions will be successful; but if for some reasons they are not there are other alternatives we can go to; but they are not the optimum."

Ex-Hostage Returns to Lebanon to Call for Cluster Ban, Israeli Reparations

In Lebanon, a Belgian physician who survived a lengthy kidnapping in Lebanon two decades ago has returned to bring attention to the effects of Israel’s use of cluster bombs. The doctor, Jan Cools, spent thirteen months in captivity beginning in 1988. On Thursday, Cools called for a cluster ban and said Israel should compensate Lebanon for dropping hundreds of thousands of cluster bomblets during its attack last year.

Jan Cools: "I think that it is a good thing that the mines will be cleared, nobody would argue with that, and the Belgians are quite good at doing that. And the question can be asked, who is going to pay for all this? this is one of the claims that we put forward. We think that it is up to the Israelis to pay for the cost of clearing the cluster bombs. We can also ask Israel to pay the money to reconstruct Lebanon."

Ahmadinejad to Visit Saudi Arabia

The Iranian government has announced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Saudi Arabia Saturday for a rare meeting with King Abdullah. It will be Ahmadinejad’s first state visit to Saudi Arabia amid a time of increasing tensions with the US. Meanwhile in Madrid Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki renewed calls for negotiations.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki: "We should be allowed back to the negotiating table to put forward our arguments before the media and the people. The U.S. reasoning that they can have nuclear weapons and others can’t have nuclear energy is not valid."

Ex-Rep. Ney Reports to Prison

And finally, former Republican Congressmember Bob Ney has reported to prison to begin a thirty-month sentence. Ney was convicted for lying about his dealings with convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. For years, Ney traded his political influence for gifts, vacations, campaign contributions and, in one case, fifty thousand dollars in gambling chips. He will serve his jail term in a minimum security prison in West Virginia.


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