The death toll from Sunday’s devastating tsunamis in the Indian Ocean has now topped 40,000 and expected to grow higher. As many as a third of the dead are believed to be children. Sri Lanka has put its official death toll at over 18,000 people. In Indonesia, the country’s vice president is estimating that up to 25,000 people may have died in the province of Aceh alone. Thousands more have died across India, Thailand, Somalia, Malaysia and the Maldive Islands Millions of people are homeless and doctors fear epidemics could quickly spread among the displaced populations. All told 11 nations are still recovering from the tsunamis caused by a massive underwater earthquake near Indonesia. Registering a magnitude of 9.0 it was the largest earthquake in 40 years. The resulting tsunamis were the deadliest the world has seen in 120 years.
One United Nations official said, “This may be the worst natural disaster in recent history.” Agence France Press reports the relief effort is the largest the world has even seen. It will also likely be the costliest. Billions of dollars will be needed to feed and house survivors as well as rebuild cities. The Bush administration agreed to give an initial donation of $15 million but the small amount was quickly criticized. U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland criticized the U.S. for being quote “stingy.” Secretary of State Colin Powell said the $15 million is just the first installment of aid.
In Iraq, at least 28 people including 18 Iraqi police officers have died in another day of violence. The deadliest attack took place near Tikrit where gunmen killed 12 police officers. Four other attacks were waged on nearby police checkpoints. Meanwhile in Baquoba, gunmen assassinated a local police commander. In the village of Muradiya a car bombing killed five civilians. And in Baghdad, a suicide car bomber tried to assassinate a senior Iraqi National Guard officer as he was leaving his home. The officer was unhurt in the attack but eight others were injured.
In other news from Iraq, the country’s largest Sunni political party announced Monday it is dropping out of next month’s election. The move by the Iraqi Islamic Party raises new questions over how credible the election will be seen if Sunnis do not participate. On Jan. 30 Iraqi voters are scheduled to elect 18 provincial councils and a 275-member National Assembly that will appoint a central government and draft Iraq’s constitution. The Christian Science Monitor has obtained a memo from the chief United Nations election official that raises many alarms about the Jan. 30 election. According to the memo, the number of new voter registrations is below expectations. The warehouses where ballots are being stored are not fully defendable from attack. The UN official also questions why Iraq is using schools as voting sites even though some polling centers are expected to be attacked.
Meanwhile a recording purportedly of Osama Bin Laden was broadcast on Al Jazeera Monday. Bin Laden called on Sunnis to boycott the election. He said “anyone who takes part in this election consciously and willingly is an infidel.” Bin Laden also announced that al-Zarqawi was the “emir” of al-Qaida in Iraq and called on Muslims to ” listen to him.”
In other Iraq news, the country’s Human Rights Minister is reporting 10,000 detainees are now being held in U.S.-run prisons. Over 96 percent of the detainees are Iraqi nationals. Although U.S. officials have blamed Iran and Syria for backing the Iraqi resistance there are only 56 Syrians and 22 Iranians currently in the U.S.-run jails. There are more Egyptians and Saudis locked up than Syrians or Iranians.
In Ukraine, Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich has announced he will challenge the results of Sunday’s election claiming widespread vote fraud. Yanukovich lost to opposition leader Viktor Yushenko by a 52 to 44 percent margin. Yanukovych said he will not concede defeat and has said he would demand the results be canceled.
In election news in this country, controversy continues over the presidential vote in Ohio. On Monday, Ohio’s Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell requested a protective order that would shield him from being forced to answer questions about the election in a lawsuit charging widespread vote fraud. Blackwell claims that as a high-ranking public official he should not be required to be interviewed by lawyers. Blackwell also accused the voters who are challenging the election of “frivolous conduct.”
Israeli police on Monday detained Palestinian presidential candidate Dr. Mustafa Barghouti for the second time in a month. Police charged he was illegally campaigning by appearing in East Jerusalem. Human rights activist Barghouti is polling second in the presidential race behind PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas who is expected to win.
In news from Colombia, president Alvaro Uribe has signed into law a constitutional amendment that will allow him to run for re-election. The amendment also bars any opponents from launching their campaigns until four months before the presidential election. Uribe’s current term expires in August 2006. Re-election would keep him in power until 2010.