The United Nations has increased the latest death toll in Asia’s tsunami disaster to more than 150,000, warning it could still soar as relief workers were confronted by huge devastated areas without roads, bridges and airstrips. Helicopters and elephants became the most useful tools for relief teams trying to reach remote areas to find and feed survivors and shift the rubble of razed towns. Aid workers struggled to help thousands huddled in makeshift camps on Indonesia’s northern Sumatra island, where the tsunami claimed two thirds of its victims, and the U.N. said it was concentrating efforts on the area due to the threat of disease. In Sri Lanka, the second worst-hit nation with more than 30,000 dead and 850,000 homeless, there was little sign of an organized government relief effort, but food distribution looked to be smoother. Meanwhile, a women’s collective in Sri Lanka said rapists were preying on survivors at refuge centers. The U.N International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates about 50,000 children died across South Asia — a third of the toll. Tens of thousands more have been orphaned. In other developments, President Bush named his father and former President Bill Clinton as the joint coordinators of a campaign to encourage Americans to donate to exisiting charities. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State General Colin Powell and Florida Governor Jeb Bush arrived in Phuket, Thailand on Tuesday to begin their tour of the tsunami-hit region. After meeting the Thai Prime Minister and Foreign Minister upon their arrival in Bangkok, Powell and Bush flew to Phuket where they held a joint news conference.
Baghdad governor Ali al-Haidri has been shot dead in a roadside ambush in the Iraqi capital, the highest-profile assassination there since May. Attackers shot at his armoured-plated car from different directions as his convoy drove through northern Baghdad. It was the highest profile political assassinations in eight months. Al-Haidri had survived a previous assassination attempt on his life in September. He died today just moments before a suicide bomber killed 10 people and wounded some 58 others in a separate attack on a checkpoint close to Baghdad’s fortified green zone. Analysts say the attack demonstrated the power of opponents of the US-backed regime to strike at the heart of Iraq’s governing class ahead of the planned January 30 election. Yesterday, two Britons were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad, while an explosives-laden car attempted to ram through a checkpoint on a road leading to party offices of the unelected interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi. The bomber hit a police pick-up truck, and two officers and a civilian were killed in the explosion.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s national intelligence chief said yesterday that the number of resistance fighters in Iraq has grown to more than 200,000 active fighters and sympathizers. General Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani told Agence France Press, “I think the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people.” He said the number includes at least 40,000 hardcore fighters but rises to more than 200,000 members counting part-time fighters and volunteers who provide rebels everything from intelligence and logistics to shelter. The numbers far exceed any figure presented by the US military in Iraq. A senior US military officer declined to endorse or dismiss the spy chief’s numbers, telling AFP, “As for the size of the insurgency, we don’t have good resolution on the size.” The US-backed spy chief also questioned the success of the November campaign to retake Fallujah, which US forces have hailed as a major victory against the resistance. Asked if the insurgents were winning, he answered, “I would say they aren’t losing.”
Eight Palestinians were killed Tuesday and seven were injured after Israeli army tanks fired shells at the town of Beit Lahya in northern Gaza Strip. Witnesses said that at around 7:00 a.m. local time, as pupils were on their way to school and farmers headed to their fields, an Israeli tank shell hit the main street of the small town.The tank attack reportedly came after militants fired homemade rockets at the northern Jewish settlement of Nisanette. Palestinian medics at Kamal Odwan Hospital in northern Gaza said the bodies of eight Palestinians had been brought to the hospital, including four children under the age of 17 and four farmers. Four of the dead were from a single family. The field, where farmers had been harvesting strawberries, was spattered with blood and body parts. Shortly after the attack, Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas called Israel “the Zionist enemy” for the first time, saying, “We are praying for the souls of our martyrs who fell today to the shells of the Zionist enemy.” In recent days, Palestinian officials have charged that recent Israeli army incursions threatened to disrupt the election for a successor to Yasser Arafat.
The leader of an armed nationalist group that seized a remote police station in Peru has reportedly surrendered after a hostage crisis that began on Saturday when the group took 10 officers hostage and allegedly killed four others. A government spokesperson told the Associated Press that former army Major Antauro Humala was in custody after turning himself in to National Police chief at the town’s municipal building. She said about 90 of his followers also laid down their arms. The group wants to establish a nationalist indigenous movement modeled on the ancient Incan Empire and has demanded the resignation of President Alejandro Toledo. Humala enjoys strong local support. Thousands of residents converged on the town square Monday, demanding a peaceful settlement. At one point Humala joined them, during what he claimed was a three-hour truce agreed to by police. Toledo, who took office in July 2001 with a popularity rating of nearly 60 percent, has tried to distance himself from a series of corruption scandals during the past year. His approval rating has sunk to about 9 percent.
Stung by criticism that they were lowering ethical standards, Republican lawmakers last night reversed a rule change that would have allowed House Majority Leader Tom Delay to retain his position even if indicted.
The Republicans met behind the closed doors of the House chamber and reportedly acted at the request of Tom DeLay himself. The surprise move by the Republicans came just hours before the 109th Congress convenes on Tuesday. New members of the House and Senate will be sworn in today, including Barack Obama of Illinois. He will become the first African-American man to win a Senate seat in a quarter century and will be the only African-American senator. We’ll have more on Tom DeLay and the new Congress later in the program.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, will run unchallenged for a third term as head of the UN nuclear watchgroup, a move that puts a serious dent in the US campaign to oust him. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said this week that no other candidates had come forward before the December 31 deadline. ElBaradei, who is an Egyptian lawyer and diplomat, has headed the agency since 1997. He has been critical of the US occupation of Iraq and Washington’s position on Iran. The US efforts to oust him were damaged last month when the Washington Post reported that the US had tapped his phones.