In Honduras, hopes for the immediate return of the elected President Manuel Zelaya are fading after one of the most violent government crackdowns since last month’s coup. Several protesters were wounded and more than 150 arrested Thursday at four separate rallies. One protester is in critical condition after being shot in the head at a demonstration in the capital Tegucigalpa. Protester Juan Barahona called for more dissent in the wake of the coup regime’s growing international isolation.
Juan Barahona: "We think what is missing is much greater internal pressure. We think at the international level, we’ve won the battle. But we need much more force and much more internal pressure to erode the coup."
The injured protesters include independent presidential candidate Carlos Reyes, who suffered a head wound and a fractured arm. The coup regime, meanwhile, renewed its opposition to Zelaya’s return one day after indicating it would ease its stance. The head of the coup government, Roberto Micheletti, had said he would back a Costa Rican plan for Zelaya’s return but first needed the support of the Honduran business elite. Zelaya, meanwhile, met with US officials in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, where he urged increased pressure on the coup regime.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: "We have asked the countries of Latin America, the United States and Europe to strengthen and energize the measures that can be taken to reverse this process and the negative effects of the coup that have shamed and humiliated humanity itself."
Meanwhile in Iran, government forces confronted opposition supporters Thursday in a continued crackdown following last month’s disputed election. Mourners were arrested as they tried to gather at the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death has become a symbol of the post-election movement. Police later fired tear gas at a crowd of several hundred people who had gathered at the Grand Mossala prayer area in defiance of a government ban.
A new government report shows the nine largest US banks handed out more than $32 billion in bonuses last year while posting more than $81 billion in losses and receiving billions in taxpayer aid. According to the New York Attorney General’s office, nearly 4,800 Wall Street executives and employees were awarded bonuses of at least $1 million. More than 900 of those worked for Bank of America and Citigroup, two of the largest bailout recipients.
In Afghanistan, a new UN report says civilian casualties are up 24 percent this year. At least 1,013 civilians were killed from January through the end of June. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says Taliban attacks and US-led air bombings account for a majority of the deaths.
In Iraq, at least seventeen Iraqis were killed and more than sixty wounded in nationwide violence Thursday. At least two civilians were reportedly wounded when US troops opened fire near southern Baghdad.
A top US military official has called for an early withdrawal from Iraq more than a year ahead of the late-2011 deadline. In a confidential memo, Colonel Timothy Reese writes, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Since the signing of the 2009 security agreement, we are guests in Iraq and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose." Reese currently serves in Baghdad as a US military adviser to the Iraqi army.
Meanwhile, in Britain, the British government has launched an official inquiry into the Iraq war. The probe will cover the period from the lead-up to the 2003 invasion through the withdrawal of all British troops this month. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been confirmed as one of the witnesses to appear.
The Obama administration’s special envoy to Sudan is calling for a major shift in US policy toward the Sudanese government. On Thursday, Ambassador Scott Gration said the US should remove Sudan from a list of states sponsoring terrorism and unwind sanctions imposed since 1993. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gration said the sanctions are preventing the delivery of basic humanitarian aid and development of basic infrastructure in Sudan’s most desperate regions. He added that maintaining the sanctions would be a "political decision" that is "backed by no evidence."
The Obama administration has been ordered to free a young Afghan prisoner one day after saying it would allow his release. On Thursday, District Judge Ellen Huvelle ruled the imprisonment of Mohamed Jawad is illegal, calling it "a horrible, long, tortured history." Jawad was as young as twelve at the time of his capture seven years ago in Afghanistan and was tortured into confessing to throwing a grenade at a US soldier. He’s expected to be sent back to Afghanistan next month.
A group of former Guantanamo Bay prisoners have launched their organization to help other freed prisoners deal with life after their release and lobby for those still jailed. The Guantanamo Justice Center says it hopes to help the hundreds of freed prisoners and sue former Bush administration officials for authorizing their torture. On Thursday, co-founder Binyam Mohamed was among those to speak at a news conference in London.
Binyam Mohamed: "What remains is, every time you see a rope, then you always go back to the time when you were hung. Now, that doesn’t go away. And nobody has even thought of what kind of torture we go through."
The US has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty requiring that citizens with disabilities enjoy full equality under the law. Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett accompanied UN Ambassador Susan Rice to the signing ceremony.
Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett: "Last week, the President took a bold step forward for our country and announced that the United States would sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now we fulfill his commitment, and the United States of America proudly joins the 141 other nations in signing this extraordinary convention."
The convention is the first international human rights treaty signed by the United States in nearly a decade.
The Democrat-controlled House has overwhelmingly approved a $636 billion military spending bill. On Thursday, Congress members voted 400-to-30 for the measure. It cuts new spending for F-22 fighter jets but leaves intact other military programs that had drawn Obama administration threats of a veto.
The House has also approved what’s being called the first significant changes to food safety laws in seventy years. The measure would grant new authority to the Food and Drug Administration to oversee and regulate the production of food.
The Senate, meanwhile, has passed an energy spending bill that would close the Nevada nuclear waste dump Yucca Mountain. The move fulfills a campaign promise from President Obama to shutter the twenty-five-year, $13 billion facility.
At the White House, President Obama played host Thursday to the prominent African American scholar Henry Louis Gates and the white police officer who arrested him, two weeks after their incident made national headlines. Before the gathering, Obama reflected on his own retracted comments that the police officer had "acted stupidly."
President Obama: "This is not a university seminar. It is not a summit. It’s an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you loose sight of just the fact that these are people involved, including myself, all of whom are imperfect. And hopefully, instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, you know, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and recognizing that other people have different points of view."
After the meeting, both Gates and the officer, James Crowley, said they had agreed to meet again. At a news conference, Crowley said he was seeking to look "forward."
Sgt. James Crowley: "This was a positive step in moving forward, as opposed to reliving the events of the past couple of weeks, in an effort to move not just the city of Cambridge or two individuals past this event, but the whole country to move beyond this. I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreed to disagree on a particular issue. I don’t think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future."
Gates, meanwhile, issued a statement after meeting Crowley, saying, "It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand."
In environmental news, a new study says 63 percent of the world’s seafood stock are below their target levels. The study, published in the journal Science, says rampant overfishing has spread from "rivers to coastal areas to the (Continental) shelf to the deep sea."
And the Obama administration has announced plans to posthumously award the gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Milk was killed in 1978 after becoming one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials.