The largest climate summit in history opens today here in Copenhagen. Thousands of delegates and more than 100 world leaders are expected over the next two weeks as negotiations are held to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Achim Steiner of the UN Environment Programme said he expects the conference will result in a binding agreement.
Achim Steiner: "For those who claim that in Copenhagen a deal is impossible, they are simply wrong. You have a world summit taking place now with over 100 heads of government and heads of state coming. This is not a negotiating session; this is a meeting to complete a negotiation process that has lasted for over two years and is meant to end in a deal."
The White House has bolstered hopes of a climate deal with the announcement President Obama will attend the talks on the summit’s last day. Obama had initially planned to visit Copenhagen this Wednesday before accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. But Obama will now be present as dozens of heads of state try to reach an agreement. The top UN official for the Copenhagen conference, Yvo de Boer, said he hopes Obama will hear the demands of developing nations.
Yvo de Boer: "I’m happy that he’s coming towards the end of the conference, together with other heads of state and government. I think it’s important for him to interact with them. I think it’s especially important for him to hear the concerns of small island developing nations, the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change."
Poorer nations have widely criticized the US for its stated pledge of reducing greenhouse emissions by around 17 percent of 2005 levels, which amounts to around four percent of the world standard of 1990 levels. The world’s top scientific body on global warming, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has called on developed countries to cut emissions by between 25 to 40 percent of 1990 levels.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has been re-elected in a landslide victory. Unofficial results show Morales won Sunday’s vote with 63 percent. Voters also gave his Movement Toward Socialism party a majority in both houses of the Bolivian Congress. Morales ran on a platform of continuing to expand indigenous rights and redistribute wealth from Bolivia’s natural gas resources. Speaking before thousands of voters, Morales hailed his victory as a rebuke of imperial power.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "The victory in Bolivia is not just for Bolivians. I want to tell you, with much respect to Bolivians, that this victory is, at its base, a just acknowledgment. It is dedicated to the people and anti-imperial government."
US allies in NATO have pledged an additional 7,000 soldiers for the occupation of Afghanistan. The move follows President Obama’s decision last week to order more than 30,000 troops. Appearing at a NATO summit in Belgium, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that the 2011 withdrawal date only marked when a troop "reduction" would begin.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: '’The additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces beginning in July 2011. This transition will enable us to begin a reduction of US and international forces that will continue over time. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.'’
The latest NATO escalation will bring the total number of foreign troops in Afghanistan to more than 140,000. Last week, the Pentagon released figures showing over 104,000 private contractors are currently on the ground. In other Afghan war news, the Pentagon says around twelve rebel fighters have been killed since the US launched a new offensive in a southern Afghanistan last week. A US soldier was killed in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, bringing the US troop toll this year to 301.
The Western Saharan human rights activist Aminatou Haidar is risking death as she continues a hunger strike over Morocco’s refusal to allow her to return to her desert homeland. Known as the "Sahrawi Gandhi," Haidar has been on a hunger strike for more than three weeks since Moroccan officials denied her entry into Western Sahara. Morocco has demanded Haidar recognize Moroccan sovereignty over her homeland and apologize to the king. Haidar’s doctor says she may only have days to live if her hunger strike continues. On Friday, Spain and Morocco reached a deal for Haidar’s return, but Moroccan officials reneged shortly before her plane was due to leave. Shortly before she was scheduled to depart, Haidar thanked a cheering crowd for their support.
Aminatou Haidar: "I thank all the free and noble people who gave me support in Guacimeta, Lanzarote airport."
The Spanish government has reportedly backed off its pressure on the Moroccan government and is now preparing to force-feed Haidar. Haidar’s supporters are calling on the Spanish government to put her on a commercial flight to the Western Sahara and adopt a tougher stance against the Moroccan government. (Related: Democracy Now! coverage of Aminatou Haidar’s case.)
The Iranian government is cracking down on foreign journalists as well as domestic internet use ahead of an annual student rally. Foreign correspondents have been ordered to remain in their offices today. Tehran residents, meanwhile, say their internet access has been limited, with curbs on websites loyal to the Iranian political opposition.
In Greece, clashes erupted between police and protesters this weekend at rallies marking the one-year anniversary of the police killing of a teenage boy. The fatal shooting of fifteen-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos set off Greece’s worst unrest in over thirty years. On Sunday, Greek police fired tear gas at protesters as they marched in Athens and other cities.
The Pentagon has resumed trying foreign prisoners before military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. The commissions began last week for the first time since their suspension after President Obama took office. Congress expanded prisoners’ rights in October, but critics say the system still falls short of meeting the Geneva Conventions. The Obama administration meanwhile appears to have settled on an Illinois prison to hold dozens of foreign prisoners once Guantanamo is closed. The Washington Post reports the Obama administration intends to assume control of the Thomson Correctional Center by late winter.
Meanwhile, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay has been fired from a congressional position over his recent criticism of the military commissions system. Retired Air Force Colonel Morris Davis was working as assistant director at the Congressional Research Service until his dismissal last week. Last month Davis published criticisms of the Obama administration plan to try some prisoners in federal courts while others before military panels. Davis has been a vocal critic of military commissions since resigning as Guantanamo’s top prosecutor in 2007.
The nation’s official unemployment rate has fallen to ten percent, down from 10.2 percent in October. Speaking at the White House Friday, President Obama said the change signifies an improving economy.
President Obama: "There are going to be some months where the reports are a little better, some months where the reports are worse, but the trend line right now is good. The direction is clear. When you think about how this year began, even before I was sworn in, and we were losing 700,000 jobs a month — a month — today’s report is a welcome sign that there are better days ahead."
Despite the drop, labor economists have put the real unemployment rate at around 17 percent when factoring in the underemployed and those who have stopped trying to find work.
Democratic Congress member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi is facing accusations he held a hearing on financial regulation to pressure credit card companies to give him campaign donations. The March hearing marked the first time Thompson’s House Homeland Security Committee had ever taken up credit card issues. Thompson’s staff members have reportedly told congressional ethics investigators they feared he was trying to secure donations. The Washington Post reports Thompson collected $15,000 in credit card industry and lobbyist donations within weeks of the hearing. Thompson has never followed through on a threat to impose tighter security standards that would have cost the credit card industry millions of dollars.
The wireless giant Sprint has acknowledged it gave the US government tracking information on its customers’ whereabouts over eight million times in one year. The global positioning system data would allow police to track a customers’ exact location at any given moment.
And in Chile, the protest singer Victor Jara has been given a public burial thirty-six years after his murder. Chilean military forces tortured and killed Jara days after the US-backed overthrow of the elected president Salvador Allende. Jara’s hands were smashed so he could no longer play guitar before he was shot over forty times. On Friday, Jara’s widow Joan Jara led a funeral procession of thousands of mourners.
Joan Jara: "This strange funeral for Victor, thirty-six years after his death, is an act of love, of grief for all of our dead. We know that here among this multitude, there are many families that suffer the same pain that our family suffers."
A former army conscript was recently charged with Jara’s murder. Chilean prosecutors are still searching for two former army officers said to have led Jara’s torture and killing.