In Venezuela, the populist president Hugo Chávez appears to have won Sunday’s referendum vote surviving the latest attempt by his opponents to oust him from office. With 94 percent of the ballots counted, the National Electoral Council said Chávez had an insurmountable 58 percent of the vote. The result has left the opposition in shock. Many of their private exit polls indicated that Chávez would be defeated. Some opposition members on the electoral body rejected the partial result as a fraud, claiming their side had won. If Chávez does survive the referendum, he will remain in office until January 2007.
In Florida, residents have begun recovery from Hurricane Charley that left at least 16 people dead. Thousands are homeless. More than a million are still without electricity. And about $11 billion in damage to homes has been recorded. We’ll have more on this later in the show.
In Iraq, fighting in the holy Shiite city of Najaf resumed on Sunday after failed efforts to reach a cease fire. Knight Ridder is reporting that more than 100 Iraqi national guardsman and a battalion of Iraqi soldiers have resigned their posts from the U.S-backed forces because they refused to carry out attacks against fellow Iraqis.
The Najaf police chief ordered all journalists to leave the holy city or face arrest. This will leave only journalists embedded with the U.S. military covering the attack on the city.
In Baghdad, more than 1,100 Iraqis met this weekend for a national conference inside the high-security green zone. The conference was assembled to form a 100-person commission that is to organize elections in January and hold veto powers over decrees passed by the interim government. According to press reports the weekend conference was largely thrown into chaos by the continued fighting in Najaf. Al Jazeera reports 100 Shiite delegates resigned to protest the US military actions in Najaf. In addition representatives from two of the most high profile Iraqi groups were not present: backers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr nor the influential Sunni Muslim Clerics Association. Outside the conference in Baghdad, a mortar attack was launched during the meeting. Two people died at a nearby bus stop, 17 were injured. The New York Times reported the conference was held in siege-like conditions.
One of the former heads of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council has now come out against the U.S. occupation over the fighting in Najaf. Shiite Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum said on Friday “The Americans have turned the holy city into a ghost town. They are now seen as full of hatred against Najaf and the Shia. Nothing I know of will change this.” He went on to say “I do not understand why America craves crisis. A peaceful solution to the confrontation with Muqtada could have been reached. We were hoping that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi would lead the way, but he sided with oppression.” Meanwhile in an interview with Al Jazeera, Muqtada al-Sadr lashed out at the unelected Iraqi government saying it was worse than Saddam Hussein’s regime. Sadr said “No one in his right mind could call Saddam a Muslim, but what these people are doing is far worse than what Saddam did to Iraq.”
In South Korea, some 6,000 anti-war activists rallied near the US embassy in Seoul to protest the dispatch of 3,000 South Korean troops to Iraq.
The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee is warning fellow Democrats in the Senate not to block the nomination of Republican Congressman Porter J. Goss as CIA director. Appearing on Meet the Press yesterday Congresswoman Jane Harman of California said blocking Goss would be picking the wrong fight in this election year. But more questions have arisen over the qualifications of Goss who once worked as a CIA operative.
Newsweek is reporting that in Congress, Goss recently introduced a little-noticed bill that would give the president new authority to direct CIA agents to conduct law-enforcement operations inside the United States-including arresting U.S. citizens. The bill would essentially overturn a 57-year-old ban on the CIA conducting operations inside the United States. One former general counsel of the CIA, Jeffrey Smith, questioned the bill. He told Newsweek, “This language on its face would have allowed President Nixon to authorize the CIA to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters. I can’t imagine what Porter had in mind.”
Meanwhile filmmaker Michael Moore has released an excerpt of an interview that he conducted with Goss during the filming of Fahrenheit 9/11 in which Goss himself raises questions about his qualifications for working again in the CIA.
Goss said “I couldn’t get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified. I don’t have the language skills. I, you know, my language skills were romance languages and stuff. We’re looking for Arabists today. I don’t have the cultural background probably. And I certainly don’t have the technical skills, uh, as my children remind me every day: 'Dad you got to get better on your computer.' Uh, so, the things that you need to have, I don’t have.”
In other news from the Middle East at least 1,500 Palestinian prisoners have entered the second day of a hunger strike to protest conditions in Israeli jails. More than 6,000 Palestinians are expected to join the hunger strike by the end of the week.
Lawyers for John Walker Lindh have called on the Justice Department to review his case following last week’s announcement that the U.S. may soon free Yaser Esam Hamdi. Lindh and Hamdi are both U.S. citizens who were captured in Afghanistan in 2001. Lindh was arrested and sentenced to a 20-year prison sentence. Hamdi was detained as an enemy combatant with no charges ever being filed against him.
In Iowa, Democratic Tom Harkin has called on President Bush to end what he calls the “backdoor draft.” Harkin’s call came after a Des Moines police officer who had already completed his eight year comittment was called up to serve in Iraq under the military’s “stop loss” exemption, which can extend duty in wartime.
Harkin also lashed out at Vice president Dick Cheney who last week accused Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of lacking the basic understanding of the war on terrorism to protect Americans. Harkin said “When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil. Those of us who served and those of us who went in the military don’t like it when someone like a Dick Cheney comes out and he wants to be tough. Yeah, he’ll be tough. He’ll be tough with somebody else’s blood, somebody else’s kids. But not when it was his turn to go.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has interrogated political activists in at least six states in an effort to obtain information about any plans for violent or disruptive protests at the Republican National Convention in New York. Civil rights groups have documented FBI questioning of between 40 and 50 people, which they say amounts to harassment and results in the chilling of free speech. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, however, issued a five-page internal analysis obtained by the New York Times that claimed any possible “chilling” effect would be “quite minimal and substantially outweighed by the public interest in maintaining safety and order during large-scale demonstrations.” Similar interrogations leading up to the Democratic National Convention caused some activists to stay away from the protests in Boston, even though they told the FBI they had no knowledge of plans for any violent activity.
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