President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have signed a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991. Obama and Medvedev added their signatures to the pact at a ceremony earlier today in Prague. While Obama has said the treaty will cut the US and Russia nuclear arsenals by a third, arms-control experts have warned the figure is misleading because the new pact uses different counting rules than previous agreements.
Opposition groups say they’ve taken control of the Kyrgyzstan government after a day of violent unrest that left at least forty people dead and more than 400 wounded. On Wednesday, Kyrgyz police fired on demonstrators as they stormed government buildings in the capital Bishkek. A medical worker in Bishkek said hospitals were overrun with victims.
Medical worker: "At this moment, we are getting massive amounts of injured with shotgun injuries. We are helping as much as we can and sending some people to other clinics. It is difficult. We can’t help them all, because there are masses of them."
As the protests grew, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled the capital for a southern city. Opposition groups took over several government buildings and now say they’ve begun forming an interim cabinet. Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva said Bakiyev is no longer the Kyrgyz President.
Roza Otunbayeva: "We want to locate him, and we want to negotiate with him, negotiate just regarding the resignation, not about other things, and to appeal, like now, [inaudible] appeal that he should resign. His business is finished in Kyrgyzstan. And so all those people who have been killed and who got wounds, they are victims of this regime."
The Pentagon says it’s suspended flights at the US-controlled Manas military base inside Kyrgyzstan. The unrest could pose a long-term challenge to US control of the base. Kyrgyz opposition activists have criticized the Obama administration for remaining largely silent on alleged fraud and other abuses in Kyrgyzstan since the Kyrgyz government reversed a move to close Manas last year. The base has been vital to the US occupation of Afghanistan.
Rescue crews have entered a West Virginia coal mine in search of the four miners missing since Monday’s explosion that killed twenty-five of their co-workers. The blast at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine was the worst US mining disaster in a quarter-century. Rescue efforts were delayed until dangerous gases could be filtered out of the mine. The prospect of finding survivors rests on hopes the missing miners escaped in time to airtight chambers with supplies of food and water.
Former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, meanwhile, continues to defend his record overseeing the US economy in the years leading up to the financial crisis. On Wednesday, Greenspan appeared before the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Greenspan was questioned for ignoring repeated warnings over the subprime mortgage boom and unregulated derivatives. Greenspan said he thinks he was wrong "30 percent of the time."
Alan Greenspan: "When you’ve been in government for twenty-one years, as I have been, the issue of retrospective and figuring out what you should have done differently is a really futile activity, because you can’t, in fact, in the real world, do it. I think — I mean, my experience has been, in the business I was in, I was right 70 percent of the time, but I was wrong 30 percent of the time. And there are an awful lot of mistakes in twenty-one years."
Commission member Brooksley Born, the former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said Greenspan’s stewardship of the Fed had led the US into the financial meltdown.
Brooksley Born: "The Fed utterly failed to prevent the financial crisis. The Fed and the banking regulators failed to prevent the housing bubble. They failed to prevent the predatory lending scandal. They failed to prevent our biggest banks and bank-holding companies from engaging in activities that would bring them to the verge of collapse without massive taxpayer bailouts. They failed to recognize the systemic risk posed by an unregulated over-the-counter derivatives market, and they permitted the financial system and the economy to reach the brink of disaster."
Born had openly clashed with Greenspan during the 1990s over his refusal to back regulation of the derivatives market.
Forecasters are predicting an above-average number of hurricanes during this year’s Atlantic hurricane season beginning in June. Hurricane researchers at the Colorado State University say they’re forecasting eight hurricanes this year, four of them major. The probability of a hurricane making landfall on the Gulf Coast has been set at 44 percent, surpassing the long-term average of 30 percent.
In North Korea, a US national has been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegal entry. North Korean authorities say Aijalon Mahli Gomes unlawfully crossed over from China in January.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli journalist has been revealed to be under house arrest since December for allegedly leaking classified military documents on unlawful assassinations in the occupied West Bank. Twenty-three-year-old Anat Kam is accused of copying the documents and giving them to an Israeli newspaper during her time in the Israeli military. The documents reportedly detail how the Israeli army continued assassinating alleged Palestinian militants in violation of a court ruling declaring the killings illegal. Kam is set to go on trial later this month on charges of treason and espionage. An Israeli court has imposed a gag order barring media coverage of the case.
And back in the United States, a Qatari diplomat has been detained after an incident on board a flight to Denver Wednesday night. The diplomat was reportedly caught smoking in one of the plane’s restrooms. He is then said to have joked about trying to set his shoes on fire, setting off a security threat. The plane was intercepted by two military jets and escorted to Denver. The Qatari ambassador to the United States called the incident a "mistake."