Iranian authorities have acknowledged some irregularities have been found in Iran’s presidential election results. The influential Guardian Council admitted the number of votes collected in fifty cities surpassed the number of people eligible to cast ballots in those areas. Authorities said the discrepancies could affect as many as three million votes. According to the official results of the disputed election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beat Mir Hossein Mousavi by about 11 million votes.
Meanwhile, Mousavi and former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami have defied Iran’s Supreme Leader and urged protesters to continue street demonstrations calling for a new election. Iranian state media reports that between ten and nineteen people were killed during protests on Saturday. Iranian police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters. Iranian state radio reported 457 protesters were arrested. On Sunday, Iranian police briefly detained five relatives of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close ally of Mousavi. Reporters Without Borders says Iran is now jailing thirty journalists and cyber-dissidents, including Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, who has been held since Sunday.
The Wall Street Journal reports European telecommunications companies have helped the Iranian government develop one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the internet. The monitoring capability was provided at least in part by a joint venture of the German-based Siemens AG and Nokia, the Finnish cellphone company. Using the technology, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities not only to block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes.
In other news, Israeli army radio is reporting Israel plans to allocate $250 million over the next two years for settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite pressure to halt settlement activity from the Obama administration. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week and rejected calls for a freeze on the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Avigdor Lieberman: "I think, and I say again, settlements are not an obstacle to achieve peace. We know that even before ’67, before we even established even one settlement, the situation was the same."
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki challenged Lieberman’s claim.
Riyad al-Maliki: "With the continuation of the settlement activities, it will be impossible to create a viable, contiguous Palestinian state on the ’67 borders. Nobody shares with Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman this view that the construction of settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territories has no connection to the peace process or has no influence to the achieving a peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis."
In Iraq, at least seventy-three people died Saturday when a suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque near Kirkuk. It was the deadliest attack in Iraq in more than a year. Another fifteen people died today in a series of bomb attacks in Baghdad.
In Afghanistan, two US troops were killed Sunday when Bagram Air Base came under a rocket attack. Six other people were injured.
Meanwhile, an internal US military investigation into a US air strike on May 4th has confirmed that US forces killed at least twenty-six Afghan civilians and possibly as many as eighty-six. The military released the internal report on Friday but withheld making public a video from the attack despite an earlier promise from Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of US Central Command.
In other news from Afghanistan, a New York Times reporter has escaped from the Taliban after being held hostage for seven months. David Rohde was abducted on November 10, but his kidnapping had been kept a secret by the Times and other Western media outlets.
The United Nations has launched an urgent appeal for funds to help the UN respond to the massive humanitarian crisis facing Pakistan. Over three million Pakistanis have been displaced in recent weeks due to the Pakistani military’s offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said the Pakistan displacement crisis is probably the world’s biggest since events in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo in the ’90s. Last month the UN appealed for about $540 million from the international community, but only about 35 percent of the funding has been received. The humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is expected to soon worsen as the Pakistani military prepares to expand its offensive against militants by attacking South Waziristan.
World hunger is projected to reach a record high this year with more than a billion people going hungry every day. This is an increase of some 100 million people over the past year.
The Obama administration has proposed offering federal money to colleges and universities to help train students to become spies for the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The Washington Post reports the intelligence officer training program would function much like ROTC, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps run by the military with the government subsidizing the cost of school in return for future service. However, unlike ROTC, the students’ participation in the spy training program would likely be kept secret.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons challenging the legality of the government’s use of secretive prison units known as Communication Management Units, or CMUs. The units are designed to severely restrict prisoner communication with family members, the media and the outside world. Most of the prisoners held in the CMUs have been Muslim men, but the units have also held political activists, including the environmental activist Daniel McGowan, who is being held at a CMU in Marion, Illinois. Daniel McGowan’s attorney Lauren Regan appeared on Democracy Now! in April.
Lauren Regan: “The inmates there do call Marion, Illinois, 'Little Guantanamo.' Part of the reason that they call it that is because it is a secret facility. They do feel as if they are being hidden, not only from society at large, but from other inmates in the federal system.”
A new poll by the New York Times and CBS News has found that 72 percent of Americans support the government creating a public healthcare plan, similar to Medicare, which would compete with private insurance plans. The poll also found the majority of Americans now believe the government would do a better job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage.
In Bermuda, Prime Minister Ewart Brown has survived a vote of no-confidence. Brown had been criticized for agreeing in secret with the Obama administration to accept former Guantanamo prisoners.
Bermuda and the Pacific island nation of Palau have both accepted a group of Uyghur prisoners who had been held at Guantanamo for seven years even though US officials admitted they were wrongly detained. The Uyghurs are Chinese Muslims who could not be returned to China out of fear that they would be imprisoned and tortured. Over the weekend President Obama joked about the plight of the Uyghurs during the Radio TV Correspondents’ Dinner.
President Obama: “Nick at Nite has a new take on an old classic: Leave It to Uyghurs. I thought that was pretty good.”
Obama also joked about the refusal of other countries to accept prisoners held at Guantanamo.
President Obama: “As I have traveled to all these countries, I saw firsthand how much people truly have in common with one another, because no matter where I went there is one thing I heard over and over again from every world leader: 'No thanks, but have you considered Palau?'”
The Welsh folk singer and language activist Arfon Gwilym has been forced to cancel an appearance at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington after he was denied a visa by US officials. Gwilym is a prominent campaigner for the preservation of the Welsh language. He was denied the visa because he has been arrested several times while campaigning for bilingual road signs in Wales and for a Welsh-language television channel.
And the master Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan has died at the age of eighty-seven. Khan played a pivotal role in introducing Western audiences to Indian music.