The United States is defending a plan to construct a 12-foot-high concrete wall through parts of Baghdad to divide Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. is walling off at least 10 neighborhoods despite opposition from Iraqi leaders. On Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the construction of the controversial walls to be halted, but the U.S. military has given no indication it plans to change course. U.S. forces are also planning to use biometric technology to track residents in Baghdad. Troops are compiling a neighborhood census by recording the fingerprints and eye patterns of residents. The deputy commander of American forces in Baghdad, Brigadier Gen. John Campbell, defended the measures. He said, "This is an area where we need to monitor people coming in and people coming out ... and it is the only way we could do it."
In other Iraq news, at least 60 people died across the country on Sunday. In the deadliest incident, Sunni gunmen assassinated 23 members of a religious sect known as the Yazidis. The 23 Yazidis were traveling on a bus from their job at a government textile factory. A group of gunmen stopped the bus and pulled the passengers out. The Yazidis were then lined up against a wall and shot.
In Fallujah, the chair of the City Council was assassinated on Saturday. Sami Abdul-Amir al-Jumaili is the fourth chair of the Fallujah City Council to be killed in the past 14 months. He took the job a month ago.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces killed eight Palestinians over the past two days, including a 17-year-old girl and a Palestinian police officer. Six of the Palestinians were killed on Saturday, making it the deadliest day so far this year in the Occupied Territories. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas condemned the killings
Ismail Haniyeh: "I express the condemnation of the government to the crimes of assassinations, killings and liquidations conducted by the Israeli occupation forces. This is a new proof on the brutality of the occupation and the continued desire to shed Palestinian blood."
The 17-year-old Palestinian girl, Bushra Barghish, was killed after being shot in the head while she stood at her window in Jenin refugee camp. The girl’s mother described what happened.
Mother of Bushra Barghish: "I am calling her name, Bushra, and within seconds I found her dead in pool of blood underneath her."
Israeli troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas at a nonviolent protest against the separation wall near the West Bank village of Bilin. Several protesters were injured including Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, who was shot with a rubber bullet. The Puerto Rican peace activist Tito Kayak was arrested at the protest after climbing an Israeli military communications tower to hoist a Palestinian flag. Israel has detained Kayak since Friday. Seven years ago Kayak scaled the Statue of Liberty and draped a Puerto Rican flag over the statue.
Memorial services were held across the country this weekend for the 32 victims of last week’s mass shooting at Virginia Tech. In Richmond, Virginia, mourners filled the Grove Avenue Baptist Church for the memorial service for Rachael Elizabeth Hill. This is her mother, Tammy Hill.
Tammy Hill: "With all the years we had with Rachael, she had so many very close friends — all of you guys down here and so many others. I just count it a privilege that I was able to be so close with my daughter."
Rachael Hill was 18 years old.
Classes are resuming today for the first time in a week. On Sunday, the Virginia Tech student government asked all journalists to leave the campus by this morning.
Meanwhile, the family of the gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, has issued its first public statement. Cho’s sister Sun-Kyung said, "We feel hopeless, helpless and lost. This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn’t know this person. … He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare." Cho’s sister Sun-Kyung works as a contractor for the State Department’s Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.
The Vermont state Senate has voted in favor of impeaching President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. By a 16-to-nine vote, the Vermont Senate urged the state’s congressional delegation to introduce and support articles of impeachment. The Vermont Senate is the first state legislative chamber in the country to call for impeachment.
In Nigeria, two leading opposition candidates and election monitors are challenging the legitimacy of Saturday’s election to replace outgoing Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Transition Monitoring Group said that no election was held at all in parts of Nigeria. There were also many reports of ballot-box stuffing and polls opening late. The group called for the election results to be cancelled. Opposition candidates said the vote was rigged to elect Umaru Yar’Adua, who Obasanjo had picked to be his successor. This is election monitor Pierre-Richard Prosper of the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute.
Pierre-Richard Prosper: "The system, as designed, did not work. You can look at some of the issues, irregularities that some of you witnessed on your own, some of which were articulated today. You can see that there were many people that were denied the opportunity to vote."
Nigeria’s Electoral Commission claimed the election went smoothly despite some problems.
Meanwhile, voters headed to the polls in France this weekend, as well. France’s right-wing former interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, won the first round, receiving about a third of the vote. Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal came in second. Royal is attempting to become France’s first female president. The two will face each other in a runoff in two weeks.
In Somalia, fierce fighting between U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces and backers of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union has entered its sixth day. On Sunday, at least 51 people died. The death toll over the past week has now reached more than 219. The United Nations says more than 319,000 Somalis have fled the capital of Mogadishu since February.
Pressure is intensifying on Paul Wolfowitz to resign as president of the World Bank. A group of 42 former World Bank executives has urged him to immediately step down because his actions are undermining the ability of the institution to carry out its work. Wolfowitz has been at the center of controversy after it was exposed that he had ordered a major pay increase and promotion for his longtime companion, Shaha Riza.
A jailed Chinese activist has sued the Internet company Yahoo for aiding and abetting human rights violations committed by the Chinese government. The activist, Wang Xiaoning, was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for emailing electronic journals advocating democratic reform. The Chinese government’s case against him was aided by information provided by Yahoo. Last year Amnesty International accused Yahoo, Microsoft and Google of being complicit in efforts by the Chinese government to silence government critics.
Australia is facing its worst drought on record in what has been described as the first climate change-driven disaster to strike a developed nation. The drought has struck southeastern Australia, where 40 percent of the country’s agriculture is produced. The Independent of London is reporting that the Australian government has announced it is planning to take the drastic measure of cutting off water supplies for farmers if there is no significant rainfall in the next six to eight weeks. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said there will soon be only enough water for drinking supplies.
John Howard: "We should all pray for rain because the situation for the farmers of Australia in the irrigation area of this country in the Murray-Darling Basin is crucial, and we must all hope and pray there is rain."
If the water supply for irrigation is cut off, crops such as rice, cotton and wine grapes will fail. Citrus, olive and almond trees will die. Livestock will die from starvation. Farmers say they will lose all of their crops if the water supply is cut off. The water ban will likely result in financial ruin for thousands of farmers.
Ian Singleton, farmer: "If there’s no rain, it’s just a big black hole we’re looking into."
Here in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg marked Earth Day by outlining a series of plans to make the city more environmentally sustainable. Proposals include the planting of more than one million trees over the next decade, the construction of new bike paths, and an $8 congestion fee on every car that enters Manhattan during the day.
And Democratic Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald of California has died after being diagnosed with cancer. She was 68 years old. She was the first African-American woman to chair the House Administration Committee.