The news comes as the Gaddafi regime has suffered its most high-profile defection to date. On Wednesday, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa arrived in Britain after crossing over from Libya to Tunisia. The British government said Koussa is resigning his post in Gaddafi’s government after deciding he can no longer represent it internationally.
Gaddafi forces have retaken several key towns lost in clashes with rebel fighters. On Wednesday, the rebels appeared to lose control of the town of Brega, one day after Gaddafi’s forces took the town of Jawad and the oil port of Ras Lanuf.
The Gaddafi regime meanwhile appears to have offered its first concrete proof of a civilian death in the U.S.-led air strikes. On Wednesday, foreign journalists were brought to the funeral of an 18-month old baby in the town of Gharyan. The victim was reportedly killed by debris from a Western bombing on an arms depot.
A former Nicaraguan foreign minister has been tapped as Libya’s new envoy to the United Nations. The Nicaraguan government claims to have sent a letter declaring Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann’s new role on Libya’s behalf. The 78-year-old D’Escoto has been an outspoken critic of the United States. In a 2004 interview on Democracy Now!, D’Escoto called former President Ronald Reagan "the butcher of my people" for his administration’s arming and financing of Nicaraguan insurgents.
The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has urged Japan to expand the evacuation zone around the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station as radiation continues to leak into surrounding waters. Fear of contamination has grown since Singapore detected radiation nine times the legal limit in cabbages imported from Japan and the United States reported small levels of radiation in milk samples on the west coast. On Wednesday, dozens of people held an anti-nuclear rally outside the Tokyo headquarters of the Fukushima plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company.
Protester: "We have to change the way we think. If it is going to change, we cannot continue down the narrow path of economic growth relying on nuclear energy and consuming everything."
Ohio’s Republican-controlled Statehouse has approved a measure that would strip collective bargaining rights for state employees and bar them from striking. The measure now goes to the Ohio Senate, which passed a harsher version of the bill earlier this month. If enacted, Ohio would become the biggest state so far to curb the rights of public sector workers.
Officials in the administration of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are vowing to enforce the state’s anti-union law despite a court injunction reissued this week. On Wednesday, Wisconsin’s Department of Administration Secretary said he views the law as in effect, echoing comments from the state’s attorney general. Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi has frozen the law’s implementation pending several appeals. Judge Sumi has threatened sanctions for any attempts to disobey her ruling. Enacting the law would result in an average eight percent cut to public employees’ April 21 paychecks.
New York state lawmakers have approved a $132.5 billion budget that will cut more than $2 billion in healthcare and education spending, while granting millionaires a tax break. Despite a budget shortfall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposed extending a tax surcharge on New Yorkers with personal earnings of more than $200,000 year. The new budget has drawn criticism from advocates of increased education aid, who say the cuts will disproportionately impact students in low-income and middle-class districts. The budget was approved after a raucous day of protests from hundreds of activists who converged on the Capitol from across the state. Karen Scharff of the group Citizen Action of New York spoke out at the protest.
Karen Scharff: "We’re here today because the budget that the Governor has proposed, that the legislature is passing, is giving $5 billion away in tax cuts to millionaires, $5 billion that we need for our schools, for K-12 education, for early childhood education, for our universities, and for basic public services that low-income and middle-class New Yorkers need. But instead of funding those services, we’re throwing $5 billion out the window in a tax cut for millionaires, who don’t need it and haven’t asked for it. It’s not only irrational, but it’s immoral. This immoral budget cannot stand."
President Obama has unveiled a new energy policy seeking to reduce the use of foreign oil while reaffirming a commitment to nuclear energy. On Wednesday, Obama called for for reducing oil imports by a third over the next decade.
President Obama: "When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third. That is something that we can achieve. We can cut our oil dependence by a third."
Obama went on to back the continued use of nuclear energy despite growing concerns in the wake of the crisis in Japan.
President Obama: "It’s important to recognize that nuclear energy doesn’t emit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so those of us who are concerned about climate change, we’ve got to recognize that nuclear power, if it’s safe, can make a significant contribution to the climate change question. We’re going to incorporate those conclusions and lessons from Japan in design and the building of the next generation of plants. But we can’t simply take it off the table."
In a statement, Greenpeace USA criticized Obama’s praise for nuclear power, as well as his ongoing support for offshore drilling, saying, "For the millions of Americans put at risk by the inherent dangers of nuclear power, or those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the Gulf oil disaster, more of the same is hardly the path toward 'Energy Security.'"
Syrian President Bashar Assad has reportedly ordered the formation of a government panel to review lifting a decades-old emergency law. The law has been among the key targets of a recent wave of protests that drew a government crackdown leaving over 60 dead. The review comes one day after Assad delivered a defiant address that made no concessions to the protesters’ demands. Speaking before Syrian lawmakers, Assad blamed the unrest in Syria on a foreign conspiracy and said protesters were at fault for the deaths.
Syrian President Bashar Assad: "It is clear that Syria today is being subjected to a big conspiracy. The conspiracy is linked to close and distant countries, and it has some internal links. There were instructions not to harm any Syrian citizen, but when events happen in the streets and the dialogue takes place in the streets instead of legal institutions, that leads to chaos in which the [protesters’] reaction prevails and the wrong view becomes the dominant view. That leads to bloodshed, and this is what happened, and you all know it."
The Reuters news agency says two of its journalists have gone missing in Syria while reporting on the country’s unrest. Reuters says correspondent Suleiman al-Khalidi and photographer Khaled al-Hariri have not been seen since earlier this week.
An Egyptian American engineer who traveled to Syria after the Egyptian uprising remains behind bars. The Syrian government arrested Mohamed Radwan and aired what it called a "confession" suggesting he had spied for Israel. Radwan’s family says the statement is false and must have resulted from coercion. On Wednesday, family members led a protest for Radwan outside the Syrian embassy in Cairo, Egypt.
The U.N. Security Council has voted to impose sanctions on embattled Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo and his inner circle. In a unanimous vote on Wednesday, the council authorized travel restrictions and an asset freeze on Gbagbo, his wife and three close associates. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, hailed the vote.
Susan Rice: "Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters can continue to cling to power, which will only lead to more innocent civilians being wounded and killed and more diplomatic and economic isolation. Or Mr. Gbagbo and his followers can finally reject violence and respect the will of the Ivorian people. If this path is chosen, Ivorians can reclaim their country and rebuild a vibrant economy that was once the admiration of all of Africa."
The move comes amidst ongoing clashes between Gbagbo’s forces and those backing Ivory Coast’s internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara. Forces loyal to Ouattara have seized control of the the nation’s administrative capital, Yamoussoukro, and the cocoa-exporting port of San Pedro. The United Nations estimates at least 462 people have died and more than one million have been displaced since the fighting began.
Egypt has set a November date for its first elections since the massive uprising that ousted longtime U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak. Critics say the eight-month time span will favor Egypt’s more established groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and former ruling party contingents over the newly emerging youth movements that were instrumental in the revolution.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has wrapped up a visit to Cuba. Carter’s trip included meetings with Cuban President Raúl Castro, Fidel Castro and members of opposition groups. Before leaving, Carter called for the release of both a jailed U.S. government contractor in Cuba as well as the "Cuban Five" in the United States. He also urged the repeal of U.S. sanctions.
Jimmy Carter: "I think that Alan Gross should be released, because he’s innocent of any serious crime. And I believe that the Cuban Five should be released, because they have served 12 years in prison now, and the original circumstances of their trial were considered to be doubtful. In addition to those things, my own preference would be to see the Helms-Burton law completely repealed. I think it was a serious mistake when it was passed and signed by President Clinton."
More than 50 U.S. organic farmers and seed dealers have filed a pivotal lawsuit against the agribusiness giant Monsanto. The case centers around Monsanto’s practice of suing farmers it accuses of using the company’s genetically modified ("GMO") seeds without permission. Monsanto has won damages from farmers whose fields were found to contain the company’s seeds. But the farmers have claimed their fields were contaminated with the Monsanto seed without their knowledge. Monsanto critics have suggested the company has encouraged the contamination of organic crops as part of an effort to eliminate competition and monopolize agricultural supply. The suit seeks to prevent Monsanto from suing for patent violations should its GMO seed wind up on the plaintiffs’ land.