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Obama, Clinton Hold Final Debate Before Key Primaries

Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sparred last night in their final debate before next week’s key primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island. Obama received a boost Tuesday when Democratic Senator and former presidential hopeful Christopher Dodd endorsed his campaign.

Sen. Christopher Dodd: "And I am here to express my strong support for the candidacy of Barack Obama. This is a moment of unity in our country, a time when we need to come together as a Democratic Party and to get behind a candidacy that expresses the aspirations, the hopes, the ambitions of millions and millions of Americans. And I believe that Barack Obama has shown that, demonstrated that, not only in the campaign, but also in his service to his state and to his country."

Senate Votes to Debate Iraq Withdrawal

The Senate has voted to begin debate on a measure that would withdraw troops from Iraq within four months and cut funding for battlefield deployments. The bill is sponsored by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Feingold drew more Republican support than Democratic, with forty-three senators joining him from across the aisle in favor of the debate. Republicans say they want to use the debate to highlight what they call the achievements of the so-called troop surge in Iraq.

7 Palestinians Killed in Israeli Airstrike

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, at least seven Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Several others were wounded. Israel has killed more than 200 Palestinians in Gaza since peace negotiations resumed in November.

Israel Clears Military in 2006 Killing of 21 Civilians

Meanwhile, the Israeli military has announced there will be no prosecutions over a November 2006 attack that killed twenty-one Palestinian civilians in a Gaza residential building. Sixteen of the dead were members of the same family. Seven of them were children, including an eighteen-month-old girl. Six other victims were women. Another nineteen family members were wounded, including four children who lost limbs.

Bolivian Minister to Lobby Congress on US Destabilization

A top Bolivian official is planning a visit to Washington to present evidence that US aid programs have tried to destabilize the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales. Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana would visit just weeks after it was revealed a top US embassy official told a group of Peace Corps volunteers to spy on the Cubans and Venezuelans they came across in Bolivia. Quintana says he will meet with Congress members on US efforts to support Bolivia’s wealthy opposition.

New York Orchestra Performs in North Korea

North Korea was treated to a rare concert Tuesday from the New York Philharmonic. The orchestra played for ninety minutes in front of top North Korean officials and a national television audience. The concert opened with the national anthems of both countries. Conductor Lorin Maazel said he hopes the concert would lay ground for normalizing American-North Korean ties.

Lorin Maazel: "There may be a mission accomplished here. We may have been instrumental in opening a little door. And we certainly hope that if that’s true, that in the long run it will be seen as a watershed, you know, a moment in history by then others will follow, and there will be a normalization over maybe two decades. These things never happen at once. It may be three years before there’s some kind of a positive result. You never know. But the groundwork has been laid. There is no question about it."

Annan Halts Kenya Mediation Talks

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has shut down mediation talks in Kenya’s ongoing internal conflict. Annan has been trying to broker a deal between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. Kibaki beat Odinga late last year in a widely disputed vote. On Tuesday, Annan said the two leaders need to be more engaged.

Kofi Annan: "I believe it is important that I suspend the negotiations, not as an act of desperation or giving up, but suspend the negotiations and take the matters up with President Mwai Kibaki and Honorable Raila Odinga. The leaders have to assume their responsibility and become directly engaged in these talks."

More than 1,000 people have been killed in nearly two months of post-election violence. Thousands more have been wounded and 300,000 displaced.

Supreme Court to Rule on Exxon Oil Spill Damages

The Supreme Court is expected to hear opening statements today in a nearly twenty-year battle over the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Exxon is appealing a ruling ordering it to pay $2.5 billion in damages to Alaskan residents affected by the spill. Two years ago, the company won a ruling halving the initial $5 billion claim. In Washington Tuesday, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin accused Exxon of corporate negligence.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin: "That more than 32,000 Americans have suffered and continue to suffer from the devastating effects of the worst oil spill in our nation’s history. As the high court prepares to hear oral arguments in this case, I’m going to remind them that it was almost nineteen years ago that the Exxon Valdez tanker struck that reef, spilled eleven million gallons of crude oil on 1,300 miles of Alaska’s majestic, resource-rich coastline."

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has excused himself from the hearings because he owns ExxonMobil stock.

Texas Youth Jail Sued for Sexual, Physical Abuse of Children

In Texas, a government-run youth detention jail is facing new allegations of sexual abuse and physical beatings of immigrant children. A lawsuit says nine children were molested at the Texas Sheltered Care center in the town of Nixon. The suit says the jail’s administrators ignored complaints from the children and worked to cover up their allegations. The detention center was closed down last year after sexual abuse allegations first surfaced.

Czech Republic, US Meet on Missile Plans

A Czech Republic delegation is in Washington this week to finalize plans for a US missile system in Eastern Europe. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said his government would ignore Russian objections.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek: "But we do not want to belong again to the sphere of Russian influence. We don’t want to belong to a group of countries which have to ask Russia for permission if they want to insure their own defense. Having the anti-missile defense elements placed on our territory thus strengthens our strategic significance and geopolitical position."

The US wants to install at least ten missiles in Poland, along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. Public opinion polls continue to show majority opposition to the missile shield in both countries. The administration calls the shield a defense measure against a potential attack from Iran, but it’s widely seen as a first-strike weapon.

Ashcroft to Testify on No-Bid Contract

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft has agreed to testify before Congress on a lucrative no-bid government contract. Under the deal, Ashcroft’s consulting firm would receive as much as $52 million to monitor out-of-court settlements between prosecutors and corporations. Ashcroft was awarded the contract by New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor, Christopher Christie. Ashcroft was Christie’s boss during his stint as Attorney General.

Soldier Plans Own Shooting to Avoid 2nd Iraq Deployment

And a US servicemember in California has admitted to deliberately getting himself shot to avoid service in Iraq. Police say the unnamed twenty-year-old soldier from San Bernardino County had a friend shoot him in the leg in a faked robbery. Under questioning, he finally admitted to staging the shooting so he could avoid returning to Iraq for a second deployment.


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