In Iraq, four kidnapped Western peace activists were accused of being foreign spies in a video released by their captors Tuesday night. The Arabic television network al Jazeera broadcast a videotape of the four men sitting cross-legged against a wall with their hands behind their backs. The hostages are members of the Christian Peacemakers Team, a humanitarian organization based in Chicago.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to the kidnapping of a German archaeologist by saying her government would “not be blackmailed.” In a video released to the German media, kidnappers threatened Susanne Osthoff and her driver unless Germany break off all ties to the Iraqi government. We’ll have more on the Iraq hostages in a few minutes.
In Virginia, Governor Mark Warner has granted clemency to a convict who would have become the 1,000th person executed in the United States since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Less than 24 hours before he was to be executed later today, Robin Lovitt’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Governor Warner noted evidence from Lovitt’s trial had been improperly destroyed, preventing DNA testing his defense team says could prove his innocence. In a statement, Governor Warner said: “The commonwealth must ensure that every time this ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly.” The 1,000 milestone is expected to be reached Friday, when both North Carolina and South Carolina have executions scheduled.
In London, two people appeared in court Tuesday to face charges they violated the Official Secrets Act by leaking a memo that reportedly details a conversation between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair over the possible bombing of Al Jazeera. David Keogh was charged with passing the memo to Leo O’Connor, who worked as an aide to for former British MP Tony Clarke. The two are expected back in court in January.
In the Bangladesh city of Chittagong, ten people were killed and 21 injured in what authorities called the country’s first ever suicide bombings. Police accused the Islamic militant group Jamayetul Mujahideen of carrying out the attack. The suicide bomber survived the attack and is currently in intensive care. The bombing come as US and British embassies were closed in the capital city of Dahka following threats from a group calling itself “Al Qaeda in South Asia.”
In Israel, sources close to political veteran Shimon Peres say he’ll leave the Labour Party to back a new party formed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Peres lost the Labour Party leadership to former union head Amir Peretz earlier this month. The support of Peres would be a major boost for Sharon, who left his own Likud party last week to form the new party Kadima — the Hebrew word for “Forward.” Kadima released its party platform Monday. It says Israel will retain all of the major settlement blocks in the occupied West Bank.
The French government announced new immigration measures Tuesday it says come in response to the country’s recent civil unrest. Under the new regulations, authorities will tighten enforcement of existing requirements mandating immigrants to master the French language and integrate into society. The government says it will also intensify the screening process for foreign students and crack down on fraudulent marriages. The measures were met with heavy criticism from human rights groups. Asane Fall of the anti-racism group SOS Racisme told Associated Press: “This measure will make everyone suspicious of any marriage between a French citizen and a foreigner. Does the government want to suppress the possibility of mixed marriages?”
In media news, Harper’s Magazine announced Tuesday long-time editor Lewis Lapham will be stepping down in the spring. Lapham, who’s ran the magazine for nearly 30 years, will be replaced by deputy editor Roger Hodge. He’ll continue to write a monthly column. The change at Harper’s comes weeks after the Nation announced the retirement of publisher Victor Navasky. He’ll remain on the magazine’s editorial board. Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel has taken over as publisher.
And the Supreme Court will hear arguments today that observers expect to shed new light on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ views on abortion. The case deals with a New Hampshire parental notification law that an Appeals court ruled was unconstitutional. The case will be heard as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to consider the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito. Twenty years ago, Alito said there was no constitutional right to abortion.