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At Least 179 Killed in Italian Earthquake

Rescue workers in Italy continue to search for survivors from yesterday’s earthquake that killed at least 179 people. More than 1,500 people have been injured. Tens of thousands have been left homeless. The quake devastated the city of L’Aquila and surrounding towns. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency in the region.

Silvio Berlusconi: "At this moment, we are most concerned about rescuing people who are still under the rubble. We are not using machines for this, because experience has shown us that it is important to dig by hand."

Monday’s earthquake was the deadliest to hit Italy in nearly thirty years, but it did not come as a surprise to all. An Italian seismologist had predicted a large earthquake was on the way, but authorities forced him to remove his findings from the internet.

Red Cross: US Medical Personnel Involved in Torture of Prisoners

In its once-secret report, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded US medical personnel were deeply involved in the CIA’s torture of prisoners held in overseas prisons. The Red Cross report said the actions of medical personnel “constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture.” The Red Cross’s secret 2007 report was published in its entirety yesterday by the New York Review of Books. The Red Cross also called on the United States to “investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, and to prevent such abuses from happening again.”

Report: Senate GOP Threatens to Block Nominees Over Torture Memo

Attorney and blogger Scott Horton is reporting that Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster two top Justice Department nominees if the Obama administration releases secret Bush administration memos that authorized the torture of prisoners. The nominees are Dawn Johnson as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel. Horton writes, “It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.”

Obama: US Not at War with Islam

In a speech before the Turkish legislature, President Obama vowed Monday to improve US relations with the Muslim world.

President Obama: “I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.”

President Obama went on to praise Islam’s contribution to civilization and said America’s relationship with it must extend beyond fighting terrorism. Turkey is the first predominantly Muslim nation Obama has visited as president.

US to Increase Use of Drones in Pakistan

The New York Times reports Obama administration officials are proposing to step up its use of drones to carry out strikes inside Pakistan and start bombing targets deeper inside the country.

Gates Calls for Pentagon to Spend More on Counterinsurgency

This comes as Defense Secretary Robert Gates is requesting a large increase in funding to build unmanned drones like the Predator. Gates wants to increase spending on unmanned drones by 127 percent over a year ago. On Monday, Gates proposed making sweeping changes to the military budget by halting several Cold War era projects, including the F-22 stealth fighter, while increasing spending on counterinsurgency and fighting guerrilla wars.

Robert Gates: "There’s broad agreement on the need for acquisition and contracting reform in the Department of Defense. There have been enough studies, enough hand-wringing, enough rhetoric. Now is the time for action."

As part of his plan, Robert Gates proposed increasing the size of the Pentagon’s Special Forces by five percent. Gates also proposed reducing the Pentagon’s dependence on private contractors by hiring 30,000 new civil servants over the next five years to replace contractors. Overall, Gates wants Congress to spend $664 billion on the Pentagon, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a $9 billion increase over the current budget.

122 Aid Workers Killed in 2008; Highest Total on Record

2008 was the most dangerous year on record for aid workers, this according to a new report by the Center on International Cooperation. One hundred twenty-two aid workers died last year while carrying out their work. Forty-five aid workers died in Somalia alone. Another thirty-three died in Afghanistan. The overall number of aid workers killed has soared nearly fourfold in the past decade.

Arkansas Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

In labor news, efforts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act have been dealt a major setback. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said Monday she cannot support the bill. Lincoln represents Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart, a leading opponent of the legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. Wal-Mart recently hired one of Lincoln’s former aides to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act. Supporters of the bill need a filibuster-proof sixty votes.

Hedge Fund Faces Charges Connected to Madoff Ponzi Fraud

In economic news, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has brought civil fraud charges against a hedge fund manager, saying he secretly steered $2.4 billion in client money into Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi fraud. Ezra Merkin is a well-known investor and former chair of the GMAC finance company.

15th Anniversary of Rwandan Genocide Marked

In Rwanda, ceremonies are being held today to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the 1994 genocide in which more than one million people died. Twenty thousand Rwandans gathered today in Nyanza, where thousands of people were slaughtered during the 1994 massacre.

Tamil Protesters Stage Protest in London

In London, nearly a thousand Tamil protesters blocked Westminster Bridge next to the Parliament buildings early today to demand the Sri Lankan government halt an offensive against Tamil Tiger separatists. The Sri Lankan military claims it has killed 453 Tamil Tigers over the past four days. It is unknown how many civilians were killed.

British Police Accused of Hitting Man Who Died at G20 Protest

The Observer newspaper of London reports a British man who died during last week’s G20 protests was assaulted by riot police shortly before he suffered a heart attack. This according to witness statements received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At the time, the forty-seven-year-old Ian Tomlinson was walking home from work and not taking part in the protests. At least two eyewitnesses said Tomlinson was hit by police officers before he collapsed.

Motorola Boycott Organizers Claim Victory

Activists organizing a boycott of Motorola are claiming victory after Motorola sold a part of its company that sells bomb fuses, communication devices and surveillance equipment to the Israeli military. Last month, the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel launched a boycott of Motorola, accusing the company of supporting Israel’s military occupation. The boycott is still ongoing.

Antarctic Ice Bridge Collapses

In science news, an ice bridge which had held a vast Antarctic ice shelf in place for hundreds of years has shattered. Scientists said it may herald a wider collapse linked to global warming. Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by up to about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past fifty years, the fastest rate of warming in the Southern Hemisphere.

Vermont Governor Vetoes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

And in Vermont, Republican Governor Jim Douglas has vetoed legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage. The House and Senate are expected to try to override the governor’s veto today.

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