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Japan Raises Nuclear Alert; Burying of Reactors Mulled

Japan’s nuclear crisis continues to worsen as authorities race to find a way to cool the overheating reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Earlier today, Japan raised the nuclear alert level at the crippled plant from a four to a five, on par with Three Mile Island. Japan is continuing to dump water on the reactors while attempting to fix a power cable that could help restart the water pumps needed to cool the overheating nuclear fuel rods. For the first time, Japanese engineers have conceded they have considered burying the nuclear reactors in sand and concrete, the same method used to seal huge leakages from Chernobyl in 1986. At the White House, President Obama said radiation from the Japan reactor is not expected to reach the United States. He also announced a review of the nation’s nuclear power plants.

President Obama: "We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States, whether it’s the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska or U.S. territories in the Pacific. Our nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies. But when we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people."

The number of dead and missing from Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami has now topped 16,000. It is the deadliest natural disaster to hit Japan in nearly a century.

Up to 40 Pakistani Civilians Killed in U.S. Drone Strike

The CIA has carried out one of its deadliest drone attack on civilians in Pakistan to date. Up to to 40 people were killed Thursday after missiles struck a public meeting, or jirga, in North Waziristan. The victims had assembled to resolve a dispute with the Taliban over a local mine. In a statement, the head of the Pakistani military issued a rare condemnation of the United States, saying "peaceful citizens, including elders of the area, were carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life." The United States is maintaining all victims were militants. A U.S. official told the New York Times, "These people weren’t gathering for a bake sale. They were terrorists."

Pakistanis Protest Release of CIA Agent

The strike came as protesters rallied in several Pakistani cities against the release of a CIA contractor and former Blackwater operative accused of fatally shooting two men. Raymond Davis was freed after the victims’ relatives accepted a $2.3 million financial settlement under reported Pakistani government pressure.

Protester: "This decision was a pro-America decision and not pro-Pakistan. Thus, we are out on the streets, people are out on the streets. We will demand that the government rid itself of U.S slavery, get out of the U.S grip, and take decisions in favor of the nation."

Libya Declares Ceasefire After U.N. Authorizes No-Fly Zone

The U.N. Security Council has authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. Ten of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution, while Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstained. The U.S. was among the measure’s sponsors.

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice: "This resolution demands an immediate ceasefire and a complete end to violence and attacks against civilians. Responding to the Libyan people and to the League of Arab States, the Security Council has authorized the use of force, including enforcement of a no-fly zone, to protect civilians and civilian areas targeted by Colonel Gaddafi, his intelligence and security forces and his mercenaries."

The resolution comes as Gaddafi’s troops are advancing toward Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in eastern Libya.

Bahrain Arrests Opposition Leaders, Clears Protest Encampment

The Bahraini government is intensifying a crackdown on Shiite-led anti-government protests. On Thursday, at least six opposition leaders were arrested as state forces attacked protesters in a central square in the capital city of Manama. At least six people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded in the assault. Bulldozers were then used to clear out encampments used by protesters. State forces have also been deployed to surround Shiite neighborhoods. Opposition leaders are calling for a U.N. probe into the crackdown and for the withdrawal of all foreign forces deployed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to back the Bahrain government. The United States has refused to condemn the Bahraini government’s assault on protesters.

Aristide Set for Haiti Return

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is expected to land in Haiti today after seven years in exile. On Thursday, Aristide and his family left South Africa, where he has taken refuge since being overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup in 2004. Shortly before his departure, Aristide thanked his South African hosts.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide: "One part feels very sad to leave our beloved friends, but on the other hand, our soul is resting because we are going back home after a period of seven years. Also, there in Haiti, they are very happy, and they are waiting for us. They wanted us to return home much faster. This has been their dream and their wish, and this will soon come true."

Aristide’s return comes two days before Haiti is to hold a presidential runoff vote. He is widely considered to remain Haiti’s most popular politician. A Haitian resident said the country is excited to have Aristide back.

Resident: "Tomorrow will be the most important day in my entire life. President Aristide has been in exile for seven years, and tomorrow he will return home. As a journalist, I am sure that you have witnessed everything. If Aristide had been here, things would have been different. Today, the people would not be living in these inhuman conditions, in and under tents for over a year and some months; nothing has ever been done."

Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman has been documenting Aristide’s return to Haiti. You can follow her breaking news reports on our live blog.

House Passes Bill to De-Fund NPR

The Republican-controlled House has voted to cut off funding for National Public Radio. It is the second vote targeting NPR to pass the House in the last month, but the measure is expected to stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The Senate, meanwhile, has approved a short-term spending bill to fund the government through April 8.

U.S. Denies Travel Visa to Afghan Activist

The U.S. government has denied a travel visa to Afghan women’s and democracy activist, Malalai Joya. In 2005, Joya became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan parliament. She was suspended in 2007 for her denunciation of warlords and their cronies in government. Joya had been planning a three-week U.S. tour to promote a new edition of her memoir. Speaking to Democracy Now! in October 2009, Joya criticized President Obama’s escalation of the Afghan war.

Malalai Joya: "They say war of Afghanistan is good war, war of Iraq is bad war, while war is war and impossible to bring democracy, women rights, human rights by war. And unfortunately, Obama’s policy and Obama’s message for my people is quite similar, like his foreign policy like Bush administration. He wants to surge more troops in Afghanistan, which will bring more conflict, more war."

U.S. Develops Social Media Propaganda Software

The Pentagon is developing software to secretly influence social media by developing fake online personas that can sway internet chatting on comment boards to reflect U.S. government propaganda. The Guardian of London reports a California-based firm has won a contract to create an "online persona management service" that would let military personnel control up to 10 separate fake identities at once. The identities would be used to respond to relevant online content with blog posts, tweets, chat comments and other forms of interaction. A military spokesperson said foreign audiences would be targeted, as it would be illegal to use the technology on U.S. citizens.


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