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The Honduran coup regime has intensified its crackdown on supporters of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. On Wednesday, police fired tear gas at a crowd of thousands trying to reach the Brazilian embassy where Zelaya has taken refuge. Meanwhile, police have confirmed the killings of two anti-coup protesters since Zelaya’s surprise return earlier this week. The Brazilian embassy remains surrounded by scores of armed Honduran forces. At the United Nations, several Latin American leaders attending the UN General Assembly called for Zelaya’s immediate return to office, including Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet: "My Latin American region has been able gradually to build a single vision which has enabled it to come rapidly to the aid of any threatened democracy, as we were able to do in Bolivia one year ago, or to strongly condemn democratic setbacks, such as Honduras a few months ago. This is why today, with President Zelaya, who returned peacefully to Honduras, I would like to reiterate our appeal for the immediate acceptance of the San Jose agreement promoted by the Organization of American States with President Zelaya’s return."
President Obama also addressed world leaders at the United Nations Wednesday with an appeal for what he called a new era of global cooperation. In his first General Assembly address, Obama acknowledged the Bush administration had left a legacy of "skepticism and distrust" toward the United States. But Obama also said low US standing is based partly on "misperceptions and misinformation" that has fed what he called a "reflexive anti-Americanism [that] has served as an excuse for collective inaction."
President Obama: "This cannot solely be America’s endeavor. Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone. We have sought, in word and deed, a new era of engagement with the world."
Obama went on to call for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks toward a two-state solution.
President Obama: "The time has come to relaunch negotiations, without preconditions, that address the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people."
Although Obama spoke of ending the Israeli occupation, he refused to call for the removal of all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. He instead repeated his administration’s stance of only opposing "continued" Israeli settlement expansion. Obama also called for strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. Obama singled out the nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran.
President Obama: "But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards, if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people, if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East, then they must be held accountable. The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise and that Treaties will be enforced."
Obama omitted mention of the three other nuclear states aside from North Korea that haven’t signed the NPT: India, Pakistan and Israel. But he is set to chair a UN Security Council meeting today that will urge those countries to embrace nuclear disarmament and ratify the NPT.
After Obama, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took the podium to deliver a rambling ninety-minute address. Speaking to the General Assembly for the first time, Gaddafi said the UN Security Council has subverted, rather than upheld, international law. Gaddafi also called on the West to pay massive reparations to the African continent.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi: "Now the Security Council is security feudalism, political feudalism for those who have permanent seats...They are used against us...It should not be called the Security Council, it should be called the Terror Council. Let us have the wealth that was taken from us and looted from us. Africa deserves compensation, 7.77 trillion. 7.77 trillion — that’s the compensation that Africa deserves from the countries that colonized it."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later gave his address to a half-empty General Assembly chamber. Ahmadinejad brushed off the massive protests against his government following Iran’s recent disputed elections.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Our nation has successfully gone through a glorious and fully democratic election, opening a new chapter for our country in the march toward national progress and enhanced international interactions. They entrusted me, once more, with a large majority of this heavy responsibility."
Ahmadinejad didn’t mention the standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities and criticized the UN Security Council for concentrating power in a small number of major world powers. At one point, scores of delegates walked out of the room as Ahmadinejad criticized the Israeli government.
Meanwhile, hundreds gathered outside the UN to protest Ahmadinejad’s presence. Bitta Mostofi is an organizer with the Iranian pro-democracy group Where Is My Vote?
Bitta Mostofi: "We want the human rights of the Iranian people to be respected, that we want Ahmadinejad, who is standing before the United Nations as the representative of the people, to be held accountable for the crimes against the people. And we want any — any policy or discussion that’s taken towards Iran to consider the humanitarian situation of the people themselves, which means to prevent any type of military aggression, as well, and to prevent any type of crippling sanctions that could further deteriorate the human rights condition that we see right now."
Also speaking at the protest was Denis Halliday, the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq. Halliday criticized the Iranian government but rejected calls to impose sanctions.
Denis Halliday: "One the issues today is the issue of sanctions and UN sanctions on the people of Iran, for whatever cause. I am opposed to the use of sanctions. Sanctions represent warfare. They may be legal under the United Nations, but they tend to be imposed on the weak, the isolated, and the countries of the South. If the UN were to go ahead and impose sanctions on Iran for nuclear issues or issues of human rights violations, it’s not the government that will suffer. It’s the people of Iran who will pay the price. And there’s no justification for that, and it serves no purpose."
In separate comments Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said Iran would allow its nuclear experts to meet counterparts from the US and other world powers. Iran will also ask the US to sell it enriched uranium needed to produce radioactive isotopes for medical use. The proposals come ahead of next week’s scheduled talks between Iran, the US and five partner countries.
Bolivian President Evo Morales also spoke at the UN Wednesday. Morales criticized plans to maintain US military bases in Colombia and said capitalism lies at the heart of global environmental and economic crises.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "I would like to say that the origin of this crisis is the unbridled consumption and accumulation of capital in a few hands, the looting of natural resources, the commercialization of Mother Earth, and above all, I believe its origin lies in an economic model — capitalism."
The Pentagon says it expects to receive General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan by the end of this week. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates won’t pass on the request to the White House until the Obama administration has completed its internal review. The New York Times reports President Obama is considering a proposal from Vice President Joe Biden to scale back Afghan efforts and put more focus on Pakistan.
The technology magazine Wired has revealed the FBI has used a data collection system intended for terrorism cases to gather information for hacker and criminal investigations. The National Security Branch Analysis Center, or NSAC, has collected more than 1.5 billion records from private corporate databases. The information has been pulled from major hotel chains, car rental companies and at least one national department store. The FBI has steadily increased the NSAC’s operations since 2004. It’s shared NSAC data with other government agencies, including a Pentagon unit that spied on peace groups until its closure last year.
In other news from Washington, the White House and congressional Democrats are scaling back key elements of a proposed financial industry overhaul. On Wednesday,
House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank said he would drop a plan that would have required banks and other financial services companies to offer so-called "plain vanilla" products such as long-term fixed mortgages and low-interest credit cards.
And in Kentucky, the FBI is investigating whether a US census worker has been killed in an act of anti-government violence. Fifty-one-year-old Bill Sparkman was found hanging from a tree earlier this month with the word "Fed" scrawled across his chest. Sparkman worked as a substitute teacher and a part-time census field worker in rural Clay County.