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Reports: Dozens of Civilian Casualties in Gaddafi, Western Attacks

Clashes are underway in Libya’s eastern oil of town of Brega as rebel fighters try to reverse the momentum of forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The rebels are said to have made gains to retake Brega following a night of NATO air strikes against Gaddafi’s troops. Rebel groups, meanwhile, are accusing the Gaddafi regime of committing "massacres" in the town of Misurata, with shelling reportedly killing dozens of civilians in the past few days. A rebel spokesperson told Reuters at least 20 civilians were killed and many wounded when Gaddafi forces bombed a number of homes. The Western bombing campaign has also reportedly killed a number of civilians in recent bombings of the capital Tripoli. A top Vatican official said he had heard credible reports that new air strikes have killed at least 40 civilians. The deputy commander of the NATO force, Canadian Lt. Charles Bouchard, said he is taking the reports seriously.

Lt. Charles Bouchard: "We are very careful in the prosecution of any of the possible targets that we have. We have very strict rules of engagement provided to us, and we are operating within the legal mandate of our United Nations Mandate 1973."

U.S.: Despite Losses, Gaddafi Forces Remain Intact

Testifying before Congress, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi are not near a breaking point, despite being weakened by the bombing by allied forces.

Admiral Mike Mullen: "We have actually fairly seriously degraded his military capabilities, his air defense capabilities, his command and control capabilities. We’ve attrited his overall forces at about the 20- to 25-percent level. That doesn’t mean that he’s about to break, from a military standpoint, because that’s just not the case."

There has been speculation over whether rebel fighters will be able to defeat Gaddafi without a ground invasion by foreign troops. Appearing with Mullen, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reiterated vows not to send U.S. soldiers into Libya.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "There will be no American boots on the ground in Libya. Deposing the Gaddafi regime, as welcome as that eventuality would be, is not part of the military mission. In my view, the removal of Colonel Gaddafi will likely be achieved over time through political and economic measures and by his own people."

Report: CIA Operatives Were in Libya Before Presidential Order

While the Obama administration has not committed U.S. troops to the conflict in Libya, CIA operatives are on the ground in Libya as part of a covert Western force aiding the bombing campaign. According to Reuters, CIA operatives were sent into Libya even before President Obama signed a secret order authorizing the covert mission.

More Officials Leave Gaddafi Regime

The Gaddafi regime continues to face reports of high-level defections. A number of regime figures, including the head of Libya’s de facto parliament and a former prime minister, are said to have fled to neighboring Tunisia. Meanwhile, Libya’s former foreign minister, Ali Treki, said he had turned down a request to represent the Gaddafi regime at the United Nations. The Libyan government has apparently also asked Nicaragua’s former foreign minister, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, to serve at the United Nations on its behalf, but there is confusion around whether the request has been formalized. The news follows the defection of Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who is now in Britain after crossing over from Libya to Tunisia. A Gaddafi spokesperson confirmed Koussa’s defection but insisted the Libyan government remains intact.

Spokesperson: "They are here. They are doing their jobs. And if some of them left in the last few hours, maybe I did not hear about him leaving. You know, it would usually be on a mission. Because we try to negotiate with the world, our officials do travel daily, by the way, and they do come back daily, by the way."

U.N.: "Dramatic" Humanitarian Situation in Libya

The death toll from weeks of fighting in Libya is unknown, but it is believed thousands have been killed. Speaking in Cairo, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres appealed for humanitarian access to civilians victimized by the conflict.

António Guterres: "I also would like to say how concerned we are with the humanitarian situation in Libya. There is a lot of discussion in the world, a lot of coverage of the military and the political aspect of the conflict, but very little attention to the humanitarian dramatic situation in the country."

Ohio Enacts Anti-Union Law, Opponents Seek Referendum

Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich has signed into law a measure stripping public workers of collective bargaining rights and barring them from striking. The legislation will affect over 360,000 workers, making Ohio the biggest state so far to curb the rights of public sector employees. In addition to undoing collective bargaining, the law forces public workers to pay at least 15 percent of their healthcare premiums, removes automatic pay increases, and makes it more difficult for unions to collect dues. Opponents say they’ll attempt to undo the law by putting it to a public referendum.

Wisconsin GOP Won’t Enforce Anti-Union Law Following Injunction

Wisconsin Republicans have announced they will stop trying to enforce their anti-union law following a judge’s ruling it has not yet taken effect. On Thursday, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi reinforced a temporary restraining order she had initially issued last month blocking the measure’s implementation. Sumi had ruled Republican lawmakers were likely in violation of state open meeting laws when they pushed the legislation through. Earlier this week, Republicans and top state officials had said they would ignore the order and enforce the law’s provisions.

NH, OK Lawmakers Advance Anti-Union Bills

The push to pass anti-union legislation is being mirrored in states across the country. On Thursday, lawmakers in New Hampshire and Oklahoma advanced measures that would weaken public sector unions.

Maine GOP Seeks Undoing of Child Labor Protections

In Maine, Republican lawmakers are pushing two bills that would roll back parts of the state’s child labor laws. The first measure would let employers pay workers under the age of 20 a full $2.25 less per hour than Maine’s minimum wage for their first 180 days on the job. The bill would also eliminate the maximum number of hours a minor 16 years of age or older can work on a school day. The second would allow 16- and 17-year-old teenagers to work one hour later on school nights.

GOP: No Deal Reached in Budget Showdown

Talks continue on Capitol Hill over a budget agreement to avert a government shutdown. Senate Democrats have rejected a measure approved by the Republican-controlled House to cut federal spending by $61 billion. This week, the Obama administration said Democrats and Republicans had agreed to cut $33 billion, which would be the largest one-time reduction in U.S. history. But on Thursday, Republican leaders said no commitments have been made.

USAID: GOP Budget Cuts Would Kill 70,000 Children Worldwide

Republicans want to impose drastic funding cuts on longtime right-wing targets such as National Public Radio, Planned Parenthood and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Foreign aid would also take a significant hit. The nation’s top foreign aid official is warning the Republicans’ budget bill would lead to the deaths of 70,000 children who rely on U.S. assistance worldwide. Testifying before a House panel, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said the Republican measure, known as H.R. 1, would force cutbacks to spending on malaria control, immunizations and childbirth attendants. Shah called the 70,000 estimate a "conservative" figure.

Residents Near Damaged Japanese Power Plant Told to Prepare for Lengthy Displacement

Displaced residents of areas near Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been told their evacuation may last for months. Thousands of people have been living in temporary shelters since the March earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant. The announcement comes as high levels of radiation have been found in groundwater near the plant for the first time. Radioactive iodine was found at 10,000 times the legal limit. The Japanese government, meanwhile, is reportedly considering using public funds to buy a controlling stake in the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, in order to exert greater control over the recovery effort.

Gbagbo, Ouattara Forces Clash in Abidjan

Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo is battling to remain in power as rival Alassane Ouattara’s forces surround the main city of Abidjan. Much of the fighting is concentrated around Gbagbo’s heavily fortified presidential palace. On Thursday, Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro, said Gbabgo’s days at the palace are numbered.

Guillaume Soro: "Gbagbo is finished... We are organizing, and we think that things are over now, and Gbagbo must resign, himself."

Saleh Withdraws Offer to Step Down Amidst Ongoing Protests

Protests are continuing in Yemen against embattled U.S.-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Thousands of people have flooded the streets of the capital, Sana’a, to mark the dozens of people killed in Saleh’s crackdown on the popular uprising. Saleh has withdrawn an offer to step down by the end of the year following the collapse of talks with the opposition.

6 U.S. Troops Killed in Afghanistan

At least six U.S. soldiers have been killed in eastern Afghanistan over the past two days. The Pentagon says the troops were part of the same operation but were killed in three separate incidents.

Whistleblower Sues California Nuclear Plant over Firing

A former manager at California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant is suing the facility’s owners for allegedly firing him in retaliation for reporting safety concerns. Paul Diaz says officials at Southern California Edison fired him shortly after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered the company to address what it called a "chilling effect" on addressing workplace safety. Diaz’s lawsuit says the NRC first investigated the plant after it received anonymous reports of infractions, including "shortcuts on testing new generators, unreported safety violations, falsifying records, promoting a culture of cover-up" and ignoring chronic fatigue amongst overburdened workers.


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