The death toll from Burma’s Cyclone Nargis continues to rise. The military junta’s official toll is at 38,000, with another 28,000 missing. The Red Cross says the toll is far higher, with between 68,000 and 128,000 dead. On Wednesday, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said up to 2.5 million people are in desperate need of aid.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: "We can’t simply force people to accept what we’d like them to do, and that’s essentially the problem we’re grappling with, and it’s also the reason why we’re trying to work particularly closely with ASEAN and other neighbors, who may have better bilateral influence on Myanmar and better bilateral links with Myanmar than any particular multilateral organization, to increase the pressure on them to accept what is clearly needed and everybody agrees is needed, which is greater willingness to accept international help."
The Burmese junta continues to come under criticism for delaying and hoarding international aid.
Meanwhile in China, state media is now reporting the toll from this week’s earthquake in Sichuan province has reached nearly 28,000. The number is expected to soar with an estimated 26,000 trapped beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings and roads. Rescue efforts have been hampered by poor weather, and officials say there’s little hope of finding many survivors.
In Iraq, at least twenty people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suicide bombing west of Baghdad. The victims were attending a funeral. Meanwhile, the ongoing US-led assault on Sadr City continues to claim Iraqi lives. At least seven people were killed and nineteen wounded in overnight clashes. The injured included three women and three children.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinians are marking the sixtieth anniversary of what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes during the war around Israel’s creation in 1948. Israel’s celebration of its sixtieth anniversary began last week in accordance with the Jewish calendar. President Bush is in Israel taking part in the festivities. On Wednesday, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said Bush is celebrating Palestinian suffering.
Mahmoud al-Zahar: "He is here to celebrate our bloodshed since sixty years, our bloodshed since sixty years, our deportation, living in abnormal condition, confiscation of our national rights."
Meanwhile, marking its sixtieth in Jerusalem, Bush praised Israel as a model for Middle East democracies.
President Bush: "You know, here we are in the heart of a thriving democracy, and yet that democracy, as are other democracies, are being challenged by extremists and terrorists, people who use violence to try to advance their dark vision of the world. I happen to believe it’s an important role of the United States to stand with democracies and to stand strong against terrorists.”
Violence continues to flare around the Gaza Strip. On Wednesday, at least fourteen Israelis were injured when Palestinian rockets hit a mall in the Israeli town of Ashkelon. The missile strike followed an Israeli attack that killed five Palestinians, including two civilians, in Gaza.
In Lebanon, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government has rescinded two measures targeting the Shia group Hezbollah that led to the worst domestic violence since the end of the fifteen-year civil war. Dozens have been killed since the Lebanese cabinet outlawed Hezbollah’s telecommunications network and dismissed the head of airport security for his alleged ties to the party.
On the campaign trail, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards has endorsed Senator Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential race. Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton have heavily courted Edwards since he dropped his bid for the nomination in January. Appearing at an Obama rally in Michigan, Edwards said Obama’s seemingly insurmountable lead had sealed his choice.
John Edwards: "There is one man. There is one man who knows and understands that this is a time for bold leadership. There is one man that knows how to create the change, the lasting change, that you have to build from the ground up. There is one man who knows in his heart that it is time to create one America, not two, and that man is Barack Obama."
Obama, meanwhile, thanked Edwards for his support and urged Democrats to unite behind his candidacy.
Sen. Barack Obama: "For the last eight years, they’ve
been told, you’ve been told, that there’s nothing this country can do to help you, that the best we can do is keep giving more and more of those with the most and tell everyone else to fend for themselves. That’s what George Bush has done for the last eight years, and that’s what John McCain is offering for the next four. Well, John Edwards and I believe in a different America. Hillary Clinton believes in
a different America. The Democratic Party believes in a different America.”
Obama has also picked up support from the influential abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. NARAL had previously endorsed Clinton throughout her career.
And after years of legal wrangling, the Bush administration has finally listed the polar bear as an endangered species. Making the announcement, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the loss of Arctic sea ice could bring about the bears’ extinction within decades.
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne: "Today’s decision is based on three findings. First, sea ice is vital to polar bear survival. Second, the polar bear’s sea ice habitat has dramatically melted in recent decades. Third, computer models suggest sea ice is likely to further recede in the future. Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are, in my judgment, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future — in this case, forty-five years."
The move marks the first time the Endangered Species Act has been invoked to protect an animal mainly threatened by global warming. But despite acknowledging that threat, Kempthorne stressed the move will not open the door to policy changes on reducing emissions of greenhouse gas. Kempthorne says the endangered species designation will only translate to bans on hunting of polar bears. Greenpeace climate expert Kert Davies criticized the Bush administration’s stance.
Kert Davies: "They basically took the teeth out of the law. We know they could have done better. A different administration might have done better with this law. And the notion that there is no way that the government — that US actions on global warming can affect the Arctic is also ridiculous, because the US’s 25 percent of global emissions and the thought that nothing we can do in this country will positively affect the polar bear is outrageous."
The endangered species designation came one day before a court-ordered deadline in a case brought by environmentalists to force the White House to take action on the polar bears’ survival.