The oil giant BP has permanently sealed the ruptured Gulf of Mexico well that led to the worst oil spill in US history. On Sunday, the Coast Guard announced the completion of a relief well that will prevent any chance of a future spill. The well has been sealed since mid-July but could not be declared "dead" until the relief well was installed. Eleven workers were killed in the April 20th blast that tore open the well. Some 206 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf.
In Iraq, at least fifty-six people were killed Sunday in a string of attacks. Six car bombings were carried out in Baghdad, and a suicide bomber struck in Fallujah. More than 100 people were wounded. It was Iraq’s worst day of violence since the US declared the nominal end of combat operations earlier this month.
In Afghanistan, at least seventeen people were killed in cross-country violence Saturday as parliamentary elections were held. Taliban militants had vowed to disrupt the voting. Amidst widespread complaints of vote rigging, the UN envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, said it’s too early to assess whether the elections were credible.
Staffan de Mistura: "If they meant success holding the election, we all agree it was almost a miracle holding an election. Beyond that, I would wait and be cautious."
In other Afghan news, at least seven people were killed in a NATO bombing hours after the polls closed. The US-led NATO force says the victims were Taliban militants, but local residents said at least some, if not all, of the dead were civilians. One man said he had just helped an elderly victim cast his vote in the elections earlier that day.
Villager: "The government asked us to come and vote to put a candidate in parliament, but why are they bombing us? Yesterday I carried this old man to cast his vote, and this is the result: they dropped a bomb on him."
Amidst the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, the Washington Post is reporting the Obama administration has concluded its Afghan war policy is sound and will continue unchanged. The decision was reached ahead of a December review that had been billed as a pivotal moment in the Afghan war. But an unnamed senior administration official said that after internal deliberation, the consensus in the White House is that "The fundamentals are in the place where they should be." The official added that any changes will be akin to "moving the rabbit ears around a little bit to get better reception. I don’t think we’ll be changing the channel come December."
The freed American hiker Sarah Shourd has returned to the United States following her release from an Iranian prison last week. Shourd was freed over a year after she and her now-fiancé Shane Bauer and their friend Joshua Fattal were arrested near the Iran-Iraq border. Bauer and Fattal remain behind bars. After landing in New York, Shourd appealed for the pair’s release.
Sarah Shourd: "Getting on the plane in Tehran was one of the most memorable and important moments of my life. But this is not the time to celebrate. My disappointment in not sharing this with Shane and Josh was crushing, and I stand before you today only one-third free. That was the last thing that Josh said to me before I walked through the prison doors — Josh and Shane felt one-third free at that moment, and so did I."
Shourd was standing with her mother along with the mothers of Bauer and Fattal. She went on to deny again Iranian allegations that the hikers were US spies and said they had no idea they were hiking near the Iran border.
Sarah Shourd: "Shane and Josh do not deserve to be in prison one day longer than I was. We committed no crime, and we are not spies. We in no way intended any harm to the Iranian government or its people and believe a huge misunderstanding led to our detention and prolonged imprisonment. Shane, Josh and I had no knowledge of our proximity to the Iran-Iraq border when we were hiking at Ahmed Awa Waterfall, a popular tourist site frequented by local families in Iraqi Kurdistan. If we were indeed near the Iran-Iraq border, that border was entirely unmarked and indistinguishable."
Iran meanwhile has retracted a report that its forces have captured seven US troops trying to enter from Pakistan. Iran’s semi-official news agency made the claim on Sunday, but Iranian officials denied it hours later.
A new poll shows a majority of Americans generally oppose military action against Iran and favor a more evenhanded approach to Middle East peace. According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, less than one in five Americans would support a US attack if Iran pursues a nuclear program. Sixty-six percent said they want the US to maintain a neutral stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Pope Benedict XVI has returned to Vatican City after a four-day visit to Britain. During his stay, the Pope apologized to victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic priests.
Pope Benedict XVI: "I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, His sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives. I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins."
The Pope’s comments came as thousands of people took to the streets of London to protest his visit. An estimated crowd of over 10,000 marched from Hyde Park to Downing Street on Saturday to criticize the Vatican on issues including child sex abuse, gay rights, and abortion. Alan Palmer of the British Humanist Society took part in the march.
Alan Palmer: "We don’t believe that we should be preached to, and we believe in human rights. So, for women and gay people and for children, the protection of children and so on, these are issues which are still not being properly addressed by the Catholic Church."
Virginia is poised to carry out its first execution of a woman prisoner in nearly a century. On Friday, Governor Robert McDonnell said he won’t grant clemency to Teresa Lewis despite claims she is borderline mentally ill. Lewis was convicted of arranging the 2002 murders of her husband and stepson. She is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Thursday unless the Supreme Court sides with her appeal.
The Food and Drug Administration is set to hear from a key advisory panel today as it considers whether to approve the sale of genetically modified salmon in the United States. The salmon, from the company Aqua Bounty Technologies, would be the first genetically modified animal on the US market. An FDA panel of top medical experts will weigh in today on whether the engineered salmon is safe to eat.
The FDA meanwhile appears to be enforcing a policy of barring food producers from trumpeting that their products don’t contain genetically modified ingredients. According to the Washington Post, the FDA has sent a "flurry of enforcement letters" to companies that have advertised GMO-free products on their labels. The warnings come on top of existing policy not to require food makers to disclose if their products do contain GMOs. Congress member Dennis Kucinich said, "This, to me, raises questions about whose interest the FDA is protecting. They are clearly protecting industry, and not the public."