In Iraq, at least nineteen people have been killed and seventy-five wounded in a double suicide bombing south of Baghdad. Two female suicide bombers blew themselves up amid a crowd of Shiite pilgrims.
Six US sailors working as guards at the largest US-run jail in Iraq have been charged with abusing prisoners. Eight prisoners were allegedly locked into a cell filled with pepper spray at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. Two of the prisoners were allegedly physically abused. The sailors are charged with assault and will face military courts-martial within the next month.
Poland has agreed to a preliminary deal to host part of a US ballistic missile system. Poland would host ten ballistic missiles along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security John Rood praised the deal.
John Rood: "This has been a negotiation between close allies and friends, and while there have naturally been ups and downs throughout that entire process, I’ve been gratified that we have — both delegations, that is to say, have — approached this in the spirit of trying to do something that was important for both countries’ securities and as allies and friends."
The Bush administration says the missile system would protect Europe from Iranian missiles, but it’s widely seen as a first-strike threat against Iran. The deal awaits a vote from the Polish parliament. Polls show majorities in both Poland and the Czech Republic are against hosting the US ballistic missile program.
Russia has vocally opposed the ballistic missile plans, calling it a threat to its security. The deal comes amidst heightening US-Russia tensions over the week-long Russian military assault on Georgia. Russia has responded with crushing force after Georgia sought to retake the breakaway province of South Ossetia through military attack. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Russian offensive threatens relations with the United States.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "What happens in the days and months to come will determine the future course of US-Russian relations. But by the same token, my personal view is that there need to be some consequences for the actions that Russia has taken against a sovereign state.”
Both Russian and Georgian forces have been accused of indiscriminate killing and injuring of civilians over the past week of fighting. Fears of a humanitarian crisis in Georgia are growing. In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “extremely concerned” over the displacement of some 100,000 people and the lack of access for aid workers. Meanwhile, the US-backed Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, continues to accuse Russia of ethnic cleansing.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: "I accuse the government of Russia of deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing, and I can prove it with international organizations already bringing testimony to what I’m saying. And we’ve received 1,400 reports of brutal attacks, slaughters, rapes and internment of people in violation of rules of Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law."
In Pakistan, there are reports Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf could be stepping down within days. Rumors have swirled around Musharraf’s expected departure after Pakistan’s ruling political coalition announced plans to impeach him last week.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinian journalists and Israeli human rights groups are joining to condemn an Israeli decision not to prosecute soldiers involved in the death of Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana and eight Palestinian youths. The twenty-four-year-old Shana died on April 16th in Gaza when an Israeli tank shelled his vehicle clearly marked “press.” Shana’s final piece of footage shows the tank firing a shell just before the camera went black. The other eight victims were aged between twelve and twenty years old. Reuters correspondent Nidal al-Mughrabi said the decision is being feared as an endorsement of future attacks.
Nidal al-Mughrabi: "The Israeli report on the killing of Fadel has grown fears among Palestinian journalists covering the conflict with Israel in the Gaza...between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the Gaza Strip, about the mission, you know, the mission to cover and to film. And we have been hearing from all other colleagues that they are not certain, they are not sure, about their lives anymore after such a report, which makes clear that the mere raising of a camera in the street, in a refugee camp or near the border can put someone’s life in danger."
Meanwhile, in Israel, Jessica Montell, director of the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, said Israel had used illegal weapons in the attack.
Jessica Montell: "In this incident on April 16th, six civilians were killed by flechette darts, a weapon that is illegal, that should not be being used in these conditions in the Gaza Strip, and one of the six was a journalist. For all of these reasons, I would have expected the army to have opened and conducted a very thorough investigation into this case, and they chose not to do so. The lack of accountability in this case is reflected in the lack of accountability for thousands of Palestinians who have been killed in the
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, at least eleven protesters were injured when Israeli troops fired rubber bullets at a group protesting the separation wall in the village of Nilin. Nilin has been the site of a weekly nonviolent protests and the site of three fatal shootings of Palestinian civilians over the past two months.
In Afghanistan, the International Rescue Committee has suspended humanitarian aid operations following the killings of three female aid workers in an ambush earlier this week. The workers were traveling to Kabul when their vehicle came under fire. British national Dr. Jacqueline Kirk was forty years old. Nicole Dial of Trinidad and Tobago was thirty years old. The identity of the third victim, a Canadian woman, has been withheld at her family’s request.
In China, a British journalist has been released following his arrest for covering a Tibetan protest in Beijing. John Ray of London-based ITV News was swept up Wednesday as he rushed to cover the unfurling of a “Free Tibet” flag near the Olympic Stadium.
In campaign news, a new analysis shows a large majority of US troops abroad are donating to presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama over Republican rival John McCain. The Center for Responsive Politics says among US servicemembers, Obama has out-raised McCain by a nearly six-to-one margin. The ratio marks a stark reversal from the last two presidential elections, where President Bush out-raised both Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
In other news, the musician Jackson Browne is suing Senator McCain for using one of his songs in a campaign aid. A McCain ad criticizing Obama uses Browne’s 1977 song “Running on Empty.” Browne is well known for his support of progressive causes. He is suing McCain for copyright infringement.
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader has announced plans to hold Super Rallies during both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Nader says the rallies will focus on corporate control over US politics and opening up the presidential debates.
And in Louisiana, a white police officer has been indicted for the tasing death of a young African American man in the town of Winnfield. Baron Pikes died on January 17 from electrocution after the police officer, Scott Nugent, shot him nine times with a taser. Pikes was already in handcuffs at the time. Last month, his death was ruled a homicide. Pikes was the first cousin of Mychal Bell, the lead defendant in the Jena Six case. Nugent could face up to forty-five years in prison.