Defying Gov’t Ban, Egyptians Protest Mubarak

The wave of protests sweeping the Middle East in the aftermath of the Tunisian uprising continues today in the two key U.S. allies of Egypt and Yemen. Thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets in defiance of the government’s efforts to clamp down on the biggest demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak in three decades. On Wednesday, protesters faced tear gas, water cannons and beatings from the heavy police presence on the streets of Cairo for the second consecutive day. Up to 1,200 people were arrested, including a number of journalists. Elsewhere in the country, about 1,000 people gathered outside the morgue in Suez to protest the death of one of three protesters who died in clashes on Tuesday. Protesters threw petrol bombs at a government building, setting parts of it on fire. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Peace laureate, is expected to return to Egypt from Vienna today to join the demonstrations.

Clinton: Egypt Should Enact Reforms, Respect "Universal Rights"

After initially declining to criticize President Hosni Mubarak’s government, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Egypt to respect universal rights and adopt reforms.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and we urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including on social media sites. We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people."

Thousands Protest Saleh in Yemen

In Yemen, thousands of people are demonstrating against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital Sana’a today for the second time in less than a week. The demonstrations appear to be the largest ever to directly oppose Saleh’s three-decade leadership. Like Mubarak, Saleh has been a critical U.S. ally in the Middle East. Classified U.S. Department of State cables released by WikiLeaks show the United States and Saleh have covered up the use of U.S. warplanes to bomb Yemen.

Tunisia Issues Arrest Warrant for Ben Ali

The protests in Yemen and Egypt have drawn inspiration from the uprising in Tunisia that forced the ouster of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The interim Tunisian government is expected to announce the dismissal today of all leftover cabinet members with ties to Ben Ali. The protests that forced Ben Ali to flee the country two weeks ago have continued over the inclusion of several of his loyalists in the caretaker government. On Wednesday, clashes continued in the capital, Tunis.

Protester: "We sit in peaceful manifestation. And what happened, we are surprised by the police who is coming, and the police, all the police, use the gun in order to separate us. We don’t do anything. Just we write piece — sheets of paper in order to demand for a job. Many of us have no job. We don’t have the right to work in our country. We earned bachelor degree, and we don’t have any job."

The international law enforcement agency Interpol meanwhile has issued a global alert for the arrest of Ben Ali and six of his family members following a request from the Tunisian government. The warrant accuses Ben Ali and his relatives of possessing expropriated property and transferring foreign currency abroad. Ben Ali has taken refuge in Saudi Arabia.

Arizona Judicial Emergency Could Delay Loughner Trial; Giffords Condition Improves

Arizona’s legal woes could delay the trial of alleged Tucson gunman Jared Loughner up to six months. Federal officials have declared a judicial emergency in Arizona because of a lack of judges to handle a flood of immigration-related cases and the death of the state’s chief federal judge, John Roll, in the Tucscon attack. Doctors for wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, meanwhile, have upgraded her condition to good from serious. Giffords has been moved from an intensive care unit to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston. The news comes as more details have emerged on Loughner’s actions before the attack. According to the Washington Post, Loughner conducted extensive online research in the weeks before the attack on lethal injection, solitary confinement and political assassinations.

U.S. Deficit to Hit Record $1.5 Trillion

The Congressional Budget Office is predicting the U.S. federal deficit will reach a record $1.5 trillion this year. CBO director Douglas Elmendorf unveiled the projection on Wednesday.

Douglas Elmendorf: "We estimate that if current laws remain unchanged, the budget deficit this year will be close to $1.5 trillion, or 9.8 percent of GDP. That would follow deficits of 10 percent of GDP and 8.9 percent of GDP in the past two years, the three largest deficits since 1945. As a result, debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011."

Last month’s tax deal between President Obama and congressional Republicans was cited as the single biggest factor for the deficit’s rise. The measure included an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, cutting government revenues by nearly $400 billion this year. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said the figures should trigger a massive reduction in federal spending.

Sen. Orrin Hatch: "Under this administration, federal spending has reached 25 percent of our nation’s economic output. Only during World War II was federal spending a larger part of the economy. And if we don’t act, our debt could reach an astonishing 90 percent of GDP in less than a decade, according to CBO. And the government will spend almost one trillion dollars just paying the interest on that debt at that time."

Democrats have criticized Republicans for backing spending cuts while insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy. Democratic Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington spoke out in the Senate chamber.

Sen. Charles Schumer: "You can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth. There is — a dollar on an increase in spending and a dollar on a decrease in taxes is the same in adding to the deficit. And they just decreased taxes on the very wealthy, who just got a big tax cut."

Sen. Patty Murray: "What I heard from the Republican side was disconcerting. They want to have a fire sale. They want to sell off our country. That’s what you’re going to do if you own a business and you’re closing it down. We need to have a country that’s here in the future."

Financial Crisis Panel Recommends Prosecutions

The congressional panel investigating the nation’s financial crisis has reportedly voted to recommend the potential prosecution of financial industry figures and corporations. According to The Huffington Post, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission is preparing to refer a number of cases to state or federal prosecutors for investigation. The New York Times meanwhile reports that panel members have concluded that the financial crisis was "avoidable" and caused by regulatory failure, corporate mismanagement and Wall Street recklessness. A leaked draft of the panel’s report says: "The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion, it will happen again."

Soldier Reaches Plea Deal in Afghan "Kill Team" Case

An U.S. Army Specialist accused of murdering three Afghan men has reached a plea deal that will see him testify against other soldiers. Jeremy Morlock is one of 12 alleged members of a secret "kill team" that murdered unarmed Afghan civilians at random and collected body parts, such as fingers, for trophies. Under his plea deal, Morlock will receive a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison in return for testifying against as many as 10 other soldiers.

Préval Protégé to Exit Haiti Race

Haiti’s governing party has announced it is withdrawing President René Préval’s handpicked successor from the ongoing presidential race. On Wednesday, the Unity Party said Jude Célestin will drop out of a second-round face-off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat. Protests had erupted in Haiti after Célestin was initially declared to have placed ahead of Haitian musician Michel Martelly in the opening round.

Thousands Protest U.S. Coca Stance in Bolivia

In Bolivia, thousands of people marched to the U.S. embassy in the capital city La Paz Wednesday in protest of the Obama administration’s opposition to the Andean practice of chewing coca leaves. The United Nations is currently reviewing a Bolivian proposal to remove a clause of a 1961 U.N. convention that declared the coca leaf an illegal narcotic alongside a number of hard drugs including cocaine and heroin. The United States has said it will file a formal objection to removing the coca leaf ban. Bolivia’s Deputy Minister of Coca, German Loza, called the movement to legalize the coca leaf "a social revolution."

German Loza: "This march is a social revolution, an action in defense of the coca leaf and its chewing, which has never had harmful effects on people’s health. That is why we can’t continue to be subjected to the powers of the international community that ignores the nature of the coca leaf."

Palestine Papers: Palestinians Acceded to U.S. Demand for Goldstone Delay

The latest disclosures from leaked Palestinian documents show the United States encouraged Palestinian officials to help delay a U.N. vote on the Goldstone inquiry into Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza beginning in December 2008. The inquiry found that Israel committed a range of war crimes during the assault, with a far smaller number committed by Hamas. The Palestinian Authority initially backed a delay to the vote but relented under popular pressure. At the time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had wanted to gain more international support. But leaked documents in the "Palestine Papers" show the United States told Abbas that delaying the vote would be necessary to relaunch negotiations with Israel. Appearing on Al Jazeera, the former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Patrick Theros, said the Obama administration had sought the delay to help advance "other foreign policy objectives" in the Middle East.

Patrick Theros: "The United States at the time was trying to seek other foreign policy objectives in the area, and I think there was a decision made in Washington that moving the Goldstone Report forward too fast would be unhelpful. And the Palestinian Authority has a considerable history of trying to accommodate U.S. interests, on the assumption that the only force outside that can bring the Israelis rationally to the table would be the United States."

Gay Rights Activist Slain in Uganda

In Uganda, a prominent gay rights activist has been killed in a targeted attack. David Kato died Wednesday after an unknown assailant attacked him in his home. Kato was a leading opponent of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which calls for the death penalty or life imprisonment for some homosexual acts. The bill’s author has close ties to U.S. organized evangelical groups that operate across several African countries. Last year, Kato sued the Ugandan weekly newspaper Rolling Stone after it listed him in an article on what it called Uganda’s "top" 100 gays and lesbians, alongside a yellow banner that read "Hang Them." In an interview with supporters in Brussels last year, Kato talked about the "faith-based hate" driving Ugandan homophobia.

David Kato: "What I want the world to see is the hate, the hate which is behind this bill, the faith-based — whatever they are spreading, OK? Will Uganda be able to understand the faith-based hate behind the bill? There’s the [faith-based hate], which is causing — a genocide might come up. We are going to die."

Accused Penn. Teen is Youngest Person Ever to Face Life Term

A Pennsylvania teenager accused of murder is facing the prospect of becoming the youngest person ever sentenced to life in prison without parole. Thirteen-year-old Jordan Brown is accused of fatally shooting his father’s pregnant fiancée as she slept in her home two years ago. Brown was 11 years old at the time. The judge in the case reportedly ordered Brown to be tried as an adult after he refused to plead guilty. Defense attorneys say the ruling violates Brown’s right to be presumed innocent. Amnesty International has criticized the trial, saying, "It is shocking that anyone this young could face life imprisonment without parole, let alone in a country which labels itself as a progressive force for human rights."

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