Thousands of Democratic Party delegates, elected officials and journalists have arrived here in Boston for today’s opening of the Democratic National Convention Inside the Fleet Center tonight, taking the stage will be former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Al Gore, and Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. On Thursday Senator John Kerry will officially accept the nomination of the party.
Outside the Fleet Center some 5,000 city, state and federal law enforcement officers have mobilized as part of a $60 million operation. Armed military police are stationed around the Convention site. Fighter planes are in the skies. The federal government has set up a massive network of surveillance cameras that are controlled at command centers in Boston and Washington. For the first time in the city’s history, police are searching subway passengers and their belongings. Over the weekend, thousands gathered at UMass Boston for the Boston Social Forum. On Sunday, in one of the first protests of the week, some 3,000 anti-war protesters marched by the Fleet Center in a rally organized by Answer.
Today, a demonstration has been called to protest the protest zone. The city designated a tiny area that has been likened to an internment camp for protesters to gather near the Fleet Center. This morning lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild and American Civil Liberties Union plan to file emergency briefs seeking a court order to move and increase the size of the free speech zone.
In other news, an official in Iraq’s Interior Minister was shot dead earlier today along with his two bodyguards in Baghdad. Mussab al-Awadi is one of the highest-ranking Iraqi officials to have been assassinated since the so-called handover of power. Over the last month, at least six Baghdad councilors have aslo been assassinated as well as the governor of Mosul and the interim governor of Basra.
Meanwhile on Friday a senior Egyptian diplomat, Mohamed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, was kidnapped. He is the first foreign diplomat to be kidnapped in Iraq. His captors called on Egypt to not provide Iraq with security assistance. In addition a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq says it has kidnapped two Pakastani contractors working for U.S. forces. A video shown on Al-Jazeera today included a statement saying that the men, were being sentenced to death because their country was discussing sending troops to Iraq. And in other Iraq news the US military and Iraqi forces killed 15 members of the Iraqi resistance yesterday. And earlier this morning, a car bomb in Mosul killed up to four Iraqis.
In news from Sudan, a senior UN official is warning that the death toll in the country’s Darfur region may have already reached 50,000. Earlier estimates put the death toll at about 30,000. The UN is accusing government-backed Arab militias of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the region’s black African population. More than 1 million black Africans have already fled their homes. And the European Union has joined the U.S. in threatening sanctions against Sudan.
In Israel, up to 150,000 Israelis formed a human chain stretching over 55 miles from Gaza to Jerusalem to protest Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip. The right-wing Yesha council of settlers organized the protest which was the largest held against the Gaza pull-out. Meanwhile in the West Bank, undercover Israeli forces assassinated six Palestinian militants while they were eating dinner in a restaurant in Tulkarem. Among those killed was the local head of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
Israel’s Supreme Court today rejected a petition by nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu to be allowed to leave the country. Vanunu was released in April after serving 18 years in jail for disclosing secrets about Israel’s nuclear weapons program. He vowed this morning that he had no more secrets to release and that he should be allowed to leave Israel. Vanunu said “The court proved it does not respect freedom of expression, freedom of travel and other basic rights,” he said.
The total number of people in the country in jail, on probation or on parole has reached a new high of nearly 6.9 million. This according to a new report by the Justice Department. About 3.2 percent of the country’s adult population is now under the control of the criminal justice system.
Iraq’s Foreign Minister hinted over the weekend that the unelected US-backed Iraqi government may ban Al Jazeera and other Arabic satellite tv stations from broadcasting in Iraq. The foreign minister said stations like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are “channels of incitement and opposed to the interests, security and stability of the Iraqi people,” In response Al Jazeera issued a statement saying “Aljazeera would have hoped that the Iraqi government would embark on its new term with initiatives to lift media restrictions, not add new ones that would certainly not be conducive to freedom of the press and expression.”
The acting head of the US Selective Service is calling on Congress to increase its $26 million annual budget in order to be fully prepared to initiate a military draft if needed. This according to a report in the Boston Globe. The director Jack Martin told the Globe “We want to be ready to implement a draft, but we are doing nothing in that regard right now.”
In news from iran, a court in Tehran acquitted the only defendent in the death of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, chief lawyer for the mother of Kazemi, announced the decision on Saturday. She called the ruling unfair and said her legal team will bring the case to the appeals court and to international courts if necessary. Kazemi died from a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage in July 2003 while being held for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests against the Iranian government. The government agent charged with killing Kazemi pleaded innocent July 17 and the trial was abruptly ended the next day.
In France, hundreds of protesters, led by farmer Jose Bove, destroyed a field of genetically modified corn over the weekend. Police made no arrests but photographed participants.
In news from Capitol Hill, Republican Congressman Jim Green of Pennsylvania has announced he is retiring in order to become the top lobbyist for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, one of the most powerful pharmaceutical trade groups. Greenwood was a leading backer of last year’s Medicare bill which was strongly supported by the pharmaceutical industry.
And The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Ohio today to replace antiquated punch card ballot machines. The ACLU argues that punch card ballots are more likely to go uncounted than votes cast with other systems. In Ohio, which is a battleground state, most of the African American population lives in counties that use the punch card system. With 99 days until the election, some voting experts say there would not be time to make a conversion to a different ballot system. The punch card ballots are used in 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties, representing nearly 73 percent of registered voters. Several other states sued by the ACLU have reached settlements to replace the punch-card ballots.