UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the massive floods in Pakistan as the worst natural disaster he has ever witnessed. During a visit to the devastated nation, Moon called on the international community to contribute more money, food, medicine and shelter as soon as possible.
Ban Ki-moon: "I will never forget the destruction and sufferings I have witnessed today. In the past I have visited scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this. The scale of this disaster is so large, so many people, in so many places, in so much need. Nearly one out of ten Pakistanis has been directly or indirectly affected. Possibly 20 million people, one-fifth of the country, is ravaged by floods."
The top US military official in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has launched a public relations campaign to build support for the US war effort. During an appearance on Meet the Press, Petraeus asserted that the US strategy in Afghanistan is "fundamentally sound," but he hinted that he might oppose President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing troops next summer. Although the troop withdrawal is scheduled to begin next July, Petraeus said the withdrawal date is not set in stone.
Gen. David Petraeus: "This is a date when a process begins that is conditions-based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a, quote, 'responsible' drawdown of our forces."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reportedly ordered all private security firms disbanded within four months. About 26,000 armed security contractors work with the US government in Afghanistan, including 19,000 with the US military.
The New York Times has revealed the US has carried out at least four secret air strikes inside Yemen since December as part of the Obama administration’s shadow war against al-Qaeda and its allies. The most recent strike occurred on May 25. The Times reports the attacks on Yemen come at a time when the United States is significantly increasing covert military and intelligence operations in roughly a dozen countries where it is secretly using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy, and training local operatives to chase suspected terrorists. The Times reports that much of the Pentagon’s shadow war in being run by Michael Vickers, who helped run the CIA’s campaign to funnel guns and money to the Afghanistan mujahideen in the 1980s.
For the first time, President Obama has weighed in on the controversy over the planned construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan at the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory store, two blocks from Ground Zero. On Friday, President Obama addressed the issue during an iftar dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in the White House State Dining Room.
President Obama: "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion, as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."
Less than twenty-four hours later, President Obama was asked about the mosque by a reporter and appeared to backtrack from his statement of the night before.
President Obama: "I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about."
Republicans are vowing to make the controversy over the proposed Lower Manhattan mosque a campaign issue in the fall. Texas Senator John Cornyn, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, appeared on Fox News Sunday.
Sen. Cornyn: "I do think it’s unwise, and it — to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as a result of a terrorist attack. And I think, to me, it demonstrates that Washington, the White House, the administration, the President himself, seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America."
The Financial Times is reporting President Obama has personally warned Turkey that unless it shifts its position on Israel and Iran, it could be cut off from future US arms deals. During a meeting at the G20 in Toronto, Obama reportedly met with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and called on Turkey to cool its rhetoric about an Israeli raid that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bearing aid for Gaza. In addition, Obama criticized Turkey for voting against UN sanctions on Iran. Obama’s warning to Turkey is seen as particularly significant because Ankara wants to buy American drone aircraft that could be used to attack the Kurdish separatist group PKK after the US military pulls out of Iraq.
Israel is one step closer to purchasing twenty F-35 Joint Strike Fighter warplanes built by Lockheed Martin. The $2.75 billion arms deal will be paid for by American taxpayers as part of the US military aid package to Israel. Israel will become the first foreign country to sign an agreement to buy the F-35 outside the eight international partners that helped to develop the plane.
The Obama administration has expressed concern about last week’s presidential election in Rwanda in which the US-backed incumbent Paul Kagame drew 93 percent of the votes. In a statement, the National Security Council outlined what it described as a series of "disturbing events" prior to the election, including the suspension of two newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights researcher, the barring of two opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists. In a statement, the National Security Council said, "Democracy is about more than holding elections." The criticism from the Obama White House has surprised some African analysts because Kagame has long been seen as a close US ally. Last year, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with Kagame in New York.
In Mexico, at least twenty-three people were killed in drug violence in the border state of Chihuahua over the weekend, including thirteen people in Ciudad Juárez. Meanwhile, in the city of Monterrey, the television station Televisa was attacked on Sunday when a grenade was thrown at the station. At least two people were injured. It was the third attack in the past three months against an affiliate of Televisa, Mexico’s leading television network.
Peru’s top anti-terrorism prosecutor is expected to ask a court today to revoke the parole of American activist Lori Berenson and send her back to prison to finish her twenty-year sentence. Berenson was freed on parole in May after nearly fifteen years behind bars. Berenson has kept a low profile since she was freed but is expected to speak during today’s hearing in the court to make her case for upholding her parole.
A group of prominent academics and activists, including Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, have published an open letter in the French newspaper Libération calling on France to repay an "independence debt" it imposed nearly 200 years ago after Haiti successfully won independence from France. The appeal to the French president Nicolas Sarkozy says the debt could help cover the rebuilding of the country after a devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people seven months ago. The Montreal-based journalist Isabel Macdonald helped draft the letter.
Isabel Macdonald: "With 1.6 million Haitians still homeless seven months after the earthquake, it’s really vital that we recognize that not only are Haitians owed aid money by the West, they are also owed tens of billions of dollars in restitution. This is because Haitians were forced to pay the French government 90 million gold francs, a sum that amounts, according to some analysts, to $40 billion US today, adjusting for inflation and a minimal interest rate, as compensation for the lost property of former French slave owners."
The letter is being published at a time when the international community is coming under increasing criticism for failing to send aid money pledged at the international donors’ conference in March. According to the UN-sponsored Haiti Reconstruction Fund, only two countries — Brazil and Estonia — have paid the fully pledged amount, while the United States, France, Canada and others have failed to send their pledged aid to Haiti.
Much of Indian-controlled Kashmir remains under curfew for a fourth consecutive day as India continues to crack down on protests calling for independence. Police killed at least four protesters on Friday, bringing the death toll to fifty-five in the past two months. The New York Times described the protests last week as an "intifada-like popular revolt." Local residents are protesting the Indian military policies, including arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids and checkpoints, all enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers.
Supporters of a free and open internet rallied outside Google headquarters on Friday protesting a proposal by Google and Verizon that could radically restructure the internet by essentially creating a two-tiered internet system. Organizers from Free Press and Color of Change delivered petitions signed by 300,000 people calling on Google to abandon the proposal.
The Turkish government has deported an American freelance journalist after detaining him for four days on allegations that he had ties to an outlawed Kurdish group. At the time of his arrest, the twenty-five-year-old Jake Hess was writing for Inter Press Service. Hess’s most recent article detailed the plight of Kurdish civilians affected by Turkish and Iranian bombings targeting the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
In labor news, the Laborers’ International Union has agreed to rejoin the AFL-CIO five years after the union split off to form the Change to Win Federation. The laborers are the second union to come back to the AFL-CIO. Last year, the union of hotel, restaurant and clothing workers, known as UNITE HERE, also rejoined.
And the jazz singer, songwriter, actress and civil rights activist Abbey Lincoln has died at the age of eighty. In 1960, she and her then-husband Max Roach released the "We Insist! Freedom Now Suite." The recording became a landmark musical statement of the civil rights movement. Lincoln later said the political nature of the recording might have hurt her career. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2007, she said, "We all paid a price, but it was important to say something. It still is."