Radiation levels at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan reached a new high on Sunday two weeks into the nuclear crisis. Leaked water samples at reactor Unit 2 had 100,000 times the radioactivity of normal background levels. The high levels of radiation suggest the reactors’ fuel rods had suffered a partial meltdown. Meanwhile, the levels of radioactive iodine in the sea near the plant are 1,100 times the legal limit. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano claimed the increased level of radiation was not harming sea life.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano: "Obviously, from now on we will have to expand and strengthen our monitoring of the radiation levels in seawater. However, radiation has not affected aquatic life for the time being, and at least specialists believe that sea life outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone has not been affected."
Greenpeace has called on the Japanese government to extend an evacuation zone around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, saying it had found high radiation levels outside the zone. Meanwhile, low levels of radiation from the Japanese nuclear plant have now been detected as far away as Massachusetts, where low concentrations of radiation have been found in rainwater.
In Germany, there has been fallout of a different kind from the Japanese nuclear crisis. The anti-nuclear Green Party has defeated Angela Merkel’s conservative party in one of Germany’s richest states. Analysts at Deutsche Bank say the election could lead to a "radical re-ordering of Germany’s nuclear energy policy, and an accelerated schedule for the permanent shutdown of some, or all, of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors." Several mass anti-nuke protests have occurred in Germany and other European nations over the past two weeks.
Anti-nuclear activists in the United States are marking the 32nd anniversary today of the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
There have been a number of major developments in the Middle East and North Africa over the weekend. In Libya, rebel fighters, aided by air strikes by U.S. and allied forces, have recaptured several cities and towns including Brega, Uqayla, Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad. Rebels are now heading to Sirte, the hometown of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi. President Obama is scheduled to speak at the National Defense University tonight and defend the U.S. military mission in Libya. On Sunday, U.S Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted the U.S. military will have a role in Libya for some time.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "We have not seen any of his [Gaddafi’s] planes fly since the mission started. We have suppressed his air defenses. I think we’ve also been successful on the humanitarian side. We have prevented his forces from going to Benghazi, and we have taken out a good bit of his armor. So I think we have, to a very large extent, completed the military mission in terms of getting it set up. Now, the no-fly zone and even the humanitarian side will have to be sustained for some period of time."
Some doctors in Libya have accused pro-Gaddafi fighters of using rape as a weapon of war. On Sunday, five men were arrested for raping and torturing a Libyan woman. The international press learned of the incident when the woman, Eman al-Obeidi, burst into a hotel full of foreign journalists in Tripoli. She was quickly detained by Libyan security officers.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has reportedly backed away from a deal struck over the weekend that would have him step down from power immediately but keep his relatives in charge of the country’s elite counterterrorism forces. During an interview with Al Arabiya, Saleh warned Yemen would end up in a destructive civil war if he left office. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the potential fall of Saleh is a “real concern.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "I think it is a real concern, because the most active, and at this point perhaps the most aggressive branch of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, operates out of Yemen. And we have had a lot of counterterrorism cooperation from President Saleh and Yemeni security services."
Scores of people have been killed in a blast at an ammunition factory in Jaar, Yemen.
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has sent soldiers into the streets of several Syrian cities following weeks of protests that have shaken the Assad regime. In the northern city of Latakia, at least 12 people have died. Amnesty International says at least 55 people have been killed in ongoing anti-government protests in Daraa over the past week. Two Reuters television journalists have been missing in Syria since Saturday night. President Assad is expected to address the country soon and possibly revoke Syria’s emergency law.
The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has announced it will lift emergency laws before parliamentary elections in September. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is criticizing Egypt’s new military-backed government for approving a draft law that essentially bans strikes and demonstrations because they were damaging the economy.
Some 500,000 protesters filled the streets of London Saturday to voice outrage over government cuts to public spending. Though the protests were largely peaceful, a small minority of demonstrators clashed with police and destroyed property. A total of 211 people were arrested. Union leaders worried the violence would divert attention from the motivations for the demonstration: namely, cutbacks aimed at government workers.
Protester: "We’re marching today to tell the government that we’re against all of the cutbacks they’re making. They’re too quick, too fast. All of these people here are local government workers, and any one of these could be out of a job next week, thanks to [Prime Minister] Mr. Cameron."
While half-a-million people protested austerity cuts in London on Saturday, budget cuts and the targeting of unions have also sparked outrage and ignited demonstrations across the nation. On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles in what was dubbed a “Solidarity Saturday.” The demonstration was organized to show support for union workers in Wisconsin and denounce Republican leadership and corporations.
In Wisconsin, there are conflicting views on whether the state’s new union-busting law has gone into effect. On Friday a state agency published the bill despite a court order preventing publication on grounds that the bill’s passage likely violated Open Meetings law.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and top lawmakers have agreed on a $132.5 billion budget that will cut more than $2 billion in healthcare and education costs, while giving millionaires a tax break. Despite a budget shortfall, Cuomo opposed extending a tax surcharge on New Yorkers with personal earnings of more than $200,000 year. The new budget drew staunch criticism from advocates of increased education aid, who say the cuts will disproportionately impact students in low-income and middle-class districts.
Amnesty International reports China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States remain amongst the world’s most frequent executioners. Amnesty says China is believed to have executed thousands of people last year. Iran executed 252 people; North Korea, 60; Yemen, 53; and the United States, 46. Setting aside China, the total number of executions officially recorded by Amnesty International in 2010 was 527, down from at least 714 people in 2009.
Roseann Rife, Amnesty International: "We absolutely believe that it is an unmistakable trend towards abolition. That is the goal, the United Nations has come out and said that that is the goal, and many, many countries are adopting it. I think it’s just a matter of time, and increasingly the countries who haven’t abolished the death penalty are going to stand out as obstructionist towards that goal."
Up to one million people from Ivory Coast have now fled fighting in the main city of Abidjan, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Ivory Coast may be on the verge of civil war following a disputed election in November last year, which Alassane Ouattara is recognized internationally to have won. Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step down, saying the results were rigged. Melissa Fleming is a spokesperson at the U.N. Refugee Agency.
Melissa Fleming: "This mass displacement in Abidjan and elsewhere is being fueled by fears of all-out war. This week, we have seen panic in Abidjan as thousands of youths have responded to calls for civilians to join the ranks of forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo."
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has fined two local TV stations for airing corporate-sponsored video news releases and disguising the content as actual news. Fox affiliate KMSP in Minneapolis and NBC affiliate WMGM in South New Jersey were each fined $4,000 for airing the video news releases, known as VRMs. The fines came in response to a 2006 complaint filed by Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy.
Former congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro has died at the age of 75. In 1984, the Democratic congresswoman became the first woman to be selected on a major party presidential ticket as Walter Mondale’s running mate.