Hundreds of Afghan protesters took to the streets of Kandahar Monday hours after at least five civilians were killed in a US attack. According to witnesses, US forces opened fire on a passenger bus just as the bus began pulling over to the side of the road to allow another military convoy to pass. Another eighteen civilians were wounded. Protesters burned tires and blocked a main road leading out of Kandahar. One protester said the shootings were unprovoked.
Protester: "The bus carrying civilians was 100 meters away from the convoy of Americans. Despite that, they opened fire on the bus. Sixty passengers were traveling on the bus, six people martyred and eighteen others wounded."
The Kandahar shooting comes as the US is preparing to launch a major offensive there later this year.
World leaders continue to meet in Washington today at a summit on nuclear terrorism. It’s the largest international gathering hosted by a US president since the UN’s founding in 1945. On Monday, President Obama pressed for international support to impose new sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities. Iran wasn’t invited to the meeting and says it will hold its own gathering later this month. Meanwhile, Ukraine announced it will dispose of its stock of highly enriched uranium, a key component of nuclear weapons. The summit comes ahead of a new round talks next month on strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all member states to ratify the NPT.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "All the member states who have not done so should participate in the NPT treaty. That is an obligation of all member states of the United Nations. Likewise, I am also urging — I am going to urge in Washington that all the countries who have not signed and ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treat, CTBT, should also do so without further delay. That is a part of our common commitment to make this world free of nuclear weapons."
The new interim government in Kyrgyzstan has given assurances it will continue to allow US control of a military base inside its borders. There was initial speculation the base would come under review after Kyrgyz opposition groups took control of the government last week. The Manas air base is the last US air base in Central Asia and a vital supply hub for the US occupation of Afghanistan. On Monday, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said the Kyrgyz decision is "very good news."
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake: "It is very good news that Ms. Otunbayeva said that they will continue to abide by those agreements, and, of course, the United States is prepared to talk at any time with her and the members of the provisional government about these arrangements."
In Pakistan, the Pakistani government has confirmed media reports up to seventy-one civilians were killed in a weekend military strike near the Afghan border. Most of the victims are said to have died when Pakistani jets bombed a house where dozens had gathered to help the wounded from an earlier attack. A Pakistani government said the military was acting on wrong intelligence. The attack comes as part of the Pakistani government’s ongoing US-backed military offensives against Taliban-linked militants. On Monday, the United Nations said over 200,000 civilians have recently fled northwest Pakistan to escape the fighting. The UN says it’s facing a major funding shortfall to aid the displaced, having received only 20 percent of a $538 million appeal.
In Brazil, a showdown is intensifying over plans for a major hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rainforest. The $11 billion Belo Monte project was approved for construction earlier this year. If completed, it will be the world’s third largest hydroelectric dam. The Brazilian government says the dam will be a clean source for meeting Brazil’s energy needs. But opponents say it will devastate tens of thousands of indigenous Amazonian residents and threaten wildlife. At a protest in front of the Brazilian environment ministry Monday, indigenous activist Antonia Melo called for the project’s cancellation.
Antonia Melo: "This project is economically, socially and environmentally unfeasible. Therefore, we are asking for it to be canceled."
The dam’s indigenous opponents have drawn international supporters, including the Hollywood film director James Cameron, whose film Avatar recently became the world’s all-time top-grossing movie. Cameron took part in Monday’s protest, saying the showdown over the dam mirrors the fictional struggle of the Na’avi to protect its homeland depicted in his film.
In Thailand, a cameraman for the news organization Reuters has been identified as among the victims of clashes Saturday between Thai police and so-called Red Shirt protesters. The cameraman, Hiro Muramoto, was filming the unrest when he was shot in the chest. It’s unclear who fired the fatal shot, as both police and protesters exchanged gunfire. At least sixteen protesters and four police officers were killed. Muramoto was a Japanese national. Japan is calling on the Thai government to probe his death.
Back in the United States, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern is reportedly preparing to step down. Since taking over at the SEIU in 1996, Stern has helped expand the SEIU’s ranks to over 2.2 million members while becoming an influential political figure in Washington. But he’s earned scores of critics, who have accused him of sacrificing worker rights and the democratic process for the sake of growth and political sway. Stern is expected to officially announce his retirement later this week.
The Senate has cleared a hurdle to restoring jobless benefits that expired last week. On Monday, the Senate voted 60 to 34 to proceed on taking up a measure that would extend unemployment insurance and COBRA health insurance subsidies for the unemployed. More than 200,000 unemployed workers have been denied unemployment insurance benefits because Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was able to delay the bill before the two-week Easter recess.
In West Virginia, a state probe into the massive blast that killed twenty-nine miners last week will focus on whether nearby surface mining and blasting played a role. Two underground mines were located above the Upper Big Branch mine, which is over 1,100 feet below ground. The owner and operator of the mine, Massey Energy, has been cited for thousands of safety violations in recent years, with fifty-seven citations just last month.
Public pressure is growing, meanwhile, on Massey CEO Don Blankenship. On Monday, a pension fund controlled by the labor federation Change to Win with shares in Massey called for Blankenship to be forced out. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, also called for Blankenship to resign from Massey’s board. In newly disclosed video from an anti-union Labor Day rally last year, Blakenship told supporters he thinks the efforts of mine safety officials are "as silly as global warming."
Don Blankenship: "As someone who has overseen the mining of more coal than anyone else in the history of Central Appalachia, I know that the safety and health of coal miners is my most important job. I don’t need Washington politicians to tell me that, and neither do you. But I also know — I also know that Washington and state politicians have no idea how to improve miner safety. The very idea that they care more about coal miner safety than we do is as silly as global warming."
And in media news, winners of this year Pulitzer Prize for journalism were announced on Monday. The investigative website ProPublica became the first online news outlet to receive a Pulitzer. Investigative reporter Sheri Fink won for a lengthy article on allegations doctors at a New Orleans hospital euthanized patients in the days after Hurricane Katrina. Fink discussed her story on Democracy Now! last year.
Sheri Fink: "All we know is that Dr. [Anna] Pou was seen going into this patient’s room with medications, saying, 'I’m going to tell him I’m going to give him something for his dizziness.' And later, during the investigation, he had died, and they found these drugs, morphine and midazolam. These two drugs that were found in many of the patients were found in him. So it’s hard to know exactly what happened there."