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A war between Russia and the US-backed nation of Georgia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia appears to be widening after four days of intense fighting. Russia estimates more than 2,000 people have been killed in South Ossetia, and the Red Cross said at least 40,000 have been forced to flee their homes. So far, the fighting centers on the autonomous region of South Ossetia, a section of Georgia that declared its autonomy in 1989. In March, South Ossetia asked the world to recognize its independence from Georgia following the West’s support for Kosovo’s secession from Serbia. On Friday, Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali to retake the breakaway region. Ten Russian peacekeepers were killed when they were shelled by Georgian forces. In response, Russia launched an air, land and sea assault on Georgia. Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, accused Russia of using indiscriminate force.
Irakli Alasania: "For the last twelve hours, inhuman and indiscriminate aerial bombardments of the Georgian territory continued. The scale of devastating destruction and loss of innocent lives has yet to be assessed. Russian ground troops’ armed invasion transformed already in a full-scale occupation of parts of Georgian territory the process of extermination of Georgian population."
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitali Churkin, blamed the outbreak of violence on Georgia.
Vitali Churkin: "What is taking place now is not unexpected. The Russian Federation, as you recall, on many occasions drew attention to the dangerous situation which was evolving around South Ossetia. The Russian Federation, on many occasions, drew attention to the fact that Georgia was increasing at an increasing rate its offensive weapons. Georgia is the world record holder in the increase of its military budget, which over recent years has grown by thirty times, and now we understand what the purpose of all this was."
Georgia is a close ally of the United States, which has been pushing for Georgia to join NATO. Over the weekend, the US military began airlifting 2,000 Georgian troops stationed in Iraq back home. Last month, 1,200 US troops took part in military exercises in Georgia. Both the US and Israel have helped arm Georgia’s military. Georgia also plays a pivotal role in the supply of oil from the Caspian region to the West as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline runs through much of the country.
Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said Sunday the United States must provide a "very clear timeline" to withdraw its troops from Iraq as part of an agreement allowing them to stay beyond this year.
Hoshyar Zebari: "Definitely, there has to be a very clear timeline. Timeline, OK?"
The foreign minister’s statement was the strongest public assertion yet that Iraq is demanding a plan for US troops to withdraw.
A new article in the Atlantic magazine has revealed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s top strategist had urged her to target what he described as Barack Obama’s lack of American roots because he was raised in Indonesia. In a memo dated March 30, the strategist Mark Penn advised Clinton to criticize Obama for having a limited connection to “basic American values and culture.” Penn wrote, “I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has claimed an easy victory in a recall. The recall pitted Morales against governors who have pushed for autonomy for their resource-rich provinces. Unofficial exit polls said Morales secured more than 60 percent of the vote — more than the 54 percent he won when elected in December 2005. Morales plans to proceed now with his agenda of nationalizing Bolivia’s energy resources and giving more power to the poor.
Evo Morales: "What the Bolivian people have expressed today is the consolidation of change. We’re here to move forward with the recovery of our natural resources, the consolidation of nationalization."
In Olympic news, police in Hong Kong threw two pro-Tibet protesters out of the city’s Olympics equestrian arena early on Saturday. The pair had smuggled a Tibetan flag into the venue but were forcefully dragged away as they tried to reach into their bag for the flag. One of the protesters, Christina Chan, described what happened.
Christina Chan: "Yeah, I actually — I was dragged out by the police. So, you can see, like, I’ve been bleeding from like being dragged on the floor. And then this is from the security guards. This is from the security guards inside, when they had this like cardboard that was like slicing my arm open. In the beginning we hoped to actually go in, and we hoped to hold up a Tibetan flag and also this other banner, you know, in protest of the Communist Party’s one-party rule in China."
Meanwhile, investigative journalist Ken Silverstein has revealed that NBC News’ China analyst for the Olympic Games is a close business associate to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. NBC’s analyst Joshua Cooper-Ramos is the managing director and partner at the Beijing office of Kissinger Associates.
In Burma, forty-eight pro-democracy activists were arrested Friday as they held a protest march to mark the twentieth anniversary of the August 8, 1988 uprising.
In India, victims of the Bhopal gas leak have ended months of sit-in protests after the government promised more help for survivors. Thousands of people died in 1984, when a pesticide plant owned by the US firm Union Carbide spewed deadly cyanide gas into the air. The Indian government has also promised to take legal action against Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 2001.
A top Palestinian negotiator has said Palestinians may demand to become part of a binational state with Israel, if Israel continues to reject the borders they propose for a separate country. The negotiator, Ahmed Qurie, said a two-state solution could be achieved only if Israel met their demands to withdraw from all occupied land. Israel has long objected to the idea of forging a joint state.
Former presidential candidate John Edwards admitted Friday that he had an extramarital affair in 2006 with an aide who produced videos for his campaign, but Edwards said he was not the father of her infant daughter. For months, Edwards had denied that he had had an affair with the woman, Rielle Hunter. The affair was first reported by the National Enquirer.
While the news about Edwards’ affair has become front-page news, little attention has been paid to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times that exposed new details about how John McCain’s first marriage ended after he started an affair with his current wife. The paper revealed that McCain obtained an Arizona marriage license on March 6, 1980 to marry Cindy Hensley, even though at the time he was still legally married to his first wife, Carol.
In labor news, Verizon and its two major unions have reached a tentative three-year contract averting a possible strike. Under the deal, workers will receive raises totaling nearly 11 percent, and the company will continue to pay 100 percent of current workers’ and retirees’ health premiums. However, as part of the agreement, Verizon will no longer pay all the health insurance premiums for newly hired workers after they retire.
In Japan, thousands of people gathered in Nagasaki to mark the sixty-third anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city. The US bombing killed more than 140,000 residents of the city. Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue called for the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons.
Tomihisa Taue: "We ask the United Nations and the international society to push North Korea, Pakistan and Israel to denuclearize and hold strict measures against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons."
A federal appeals court has ruled that a private ski resort can go ahead and use recycled sewer water to make fake snow on a publicly owned mountain in Arizona considered sacred by thirteen Native American tribes. A coalition of Native groups and environmentalists known as the Save The Peaks Coalition have been fighting for years to preserve the San Francisco Peaks, located near Flagstaff. The coalition plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Peace activist Cindy Sheehan’s campaign for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional seat is moving forward. On Friday, Sheehan qualified to get on the ballot as an independent candidate to challenge Pelosi. Sheehan has repeatedly criticized Pelosi for refusing to start impeachment proceedings against President Bush.
The Palestinian poet laureate Mahmoud Darwish has died at the age of sixty-seven. Three days of mourning have been declared in the West Bank and Gaza.
Anthony Russo, who helped Daniel Ellsberg leak the Pentagon Papers, has died at the age of seventy-one.
The pioneering soul singer and songwriter Isaac Hayes is dead at the age of sixty-five. Hayes was best known for his “Theme from Shaft.”