Britain has rejected Iran’s demand that Britain admit 15 captured sailors were in Iranian waters before they can be freed. Iran made the demand as it released the first video of the sailors since their detention earlier this week. On the tape, sailor Faye Turney is shown saying the British ship had trespassed. British officials denounced the footage and said Turney’s comments were coerced. Meanwhile, the British government released satellite-positioning coordinates it says prove the ship was seized inside Iraqi waters. Iran has indicated Turney will be released because she is the group’s lone female sailor. Iran also says it will allow British officials to meet with the captives. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for increased international pressure to secure the sailors’ unconditional release.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "There was no justification whatever, therefore, for their detention; it was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal. We had hoped to see their immediate release. This has not happened. It is now time to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure in order to make sure that the Iranian government understands their total isolation on this issue."
The developments come as the U.S. military launched a new exercise in the Gulf. It was the first time the Pentagon used a second aircraft carrier in a Gulf exercise since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iran is warning it may boycott a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next month unless six Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq are released. The meeting on Iraq’s future follows a lower-level summit earlier this month in Baghdad.
One of the Bush administration’s closest allies in the Middle East has issued his harshest words to date on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Speaking at a meeting of Arab leaders in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia’s King Abdullah called the occupation "illegitimate." Abdullah also called for an end to the U.S.-led boycott of the Palestinian government.
Saudi King Abdullah: "[Fatah and Hamas] succeeded in putting an end to their disputes and agreeing on a national unity government. In light of this positive develop, it is important to end this crippling blockade which has been imposed on the Palestinian people."
Abdullah’s comments come amid news he also turned down a state dinner at the White House for next month.
Meanwhile, the Arab League is preparing to renew its peace offer to Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Israel rejected the overture when it was made five years ago. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Israelis and Palestinians to take steps toward a settlement.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "I encourage the new Palestinian unity government to take action which demonstrates a true commitment to peace through a negotiated two-state solution. And I encourage Israel to do the same by (stopping) settlement activity and barrier construction in the West Bank and engaging in serious dialogue with President Abbas on a political horizon for a final settlement."
The Senate is expected to vote today on its version of the war spending bill granting more than $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nonbinding measure calls for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by March of next year. On Wednesday, President Bush repeated his vow to veto any bill calling for a withdrawal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on President Bush to negotiate, saying, "Calm down with the threats. There is a new Congress in town. We respect your constitutional role. We want you to respect ours."
The New York Times is reporting Alberto Gonzales faced tough criticism earlier this week at a private meeting with a group of federal prosecutors in Chicago. Gonzales was told the controversy around the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys has undermined morale and raised new questions about his leadership.
News of the meeting comes as Gonzales’ former chief of staff is to appear today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In prepared testimony released last night, D. Kyle Sampson defends the attorney dismissals and says there was nothing wrong with firing them from "a political perspective." Sampson says: "The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial."
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has apologized for inaccuracies in a letter to Congress last month. That letter claimed Karl Rove did not play a role in his former deputy’s appointment as interim U.S. attorney in Arkansas.
In Zimbabwe, a leading opposition figure has been detained just two weeks after his widely publicized beating and jailing. Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change was arrested in a raid on Wednesday. His detention comes as regional leaders gathered for a meeting on Zimbabwe’s political turmoil.
The Sudanese government and the United Nations have reached a deal on granting humanitarian workers access to Darfur. Sudan says it will give out speedier visas.
Manuel Aranda da Silva, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official in Sudan: "Making these issues very specific, that is the difference between this agreement and previous agreements. It’s very specific, there’s no vague language. I can give example: On visas, we say 48 hours we issue visas, stop, all over."
In Nigeria, officials have announced at least 89 people were killed this week in an oil tanker explosion. The victims were trying to take oil from an upturned tank.
In Chile, the late dictator Augusto Pinochet is once again under investigation, more than three months after his death. Authorities are probing whether Pinochet ordered the 1982 poisoning of ex-President Eduardo Frei Montalva. An autopsy has found traces of poison in Frei Montalva’s remains. The investigation also uncovered evidence unidentified doctors removed most of Frei Montalva’s organs just minutes after his death.
Back in the United States, New Hampshire’s state Legislature has approved a nonbinding resolution calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Similar measures have been introduced in at least 20 states.
In Florida, at least 100 people landed on a beach north of Miami Wednesday after arriving on a sailboat fleeing Haiti. At least one person died before the boat reached ashore. Authorities are expected to deport the Haitians under long-standing U.S. policy that bars them while accepting fleeing Cubans.
In environmental news, San Francisco has become the first major American city to issue a ban on plastic checkout bags. The ban will take effect for six months at large supermarkets and a year at large pharmacy chains. Stores will be allowed to use compostable bags made of corn starch or of recyclable paper.
And in Texas, several protests are being held this week for a jailed teenager who has already served one year of a seven-year sentence. Her crime: shoving a teacher’s aide in her school hallway. Supporters say 15-year-old Shaquanda Cotton is being unfairly punished because she is African-American and because of her mother’s previous involvement in a group that fought discrimination against black students. Shaquanda was convicted on one count of assaulting a public servant last year. The teacher’s aide was not injured, and the incident’s details are under dispute. Shaquanda’s detention facility is under investigation for allegations staff members have committed physical and sexual abuse. The judge in the case, Chuck Superville of Lamar County, has been accused of double standards after he sentenced a 14-year-old white arsonist to probation. Shaquanda’s seven-year sentence was recently extended because authorities found her with unapproved possessions — an extra pair of socks and a plastic foam cup.