Lebanon’s army has been put on high alert after former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive bomb explosion Monday. At least 14 other people were killed and 135 wounded in the blast. It marked the bloodiest attack in Lebanon since the end of the civil war. It is still unclear who is responsible for the bombing. A little-known group calling itself Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria issued a statement saying it carried out the bombing because of Hariri’s ties to the Saudi Royal family. But the claim has not been verified. Opposition leaders in Lebanon said Syria bore a measure of responsibility. The Syrian government has denied any involvement. We’ll have more on this in a few minutes.
President Bush has officially asked Congress for $80 billion in emergency spending to pay for the increasing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Washington Post reports it is one of the highest requests for emergency spending in the nation’s history. The sum exceeds the combined budgets of the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and Housing and Urban Development. Nearly $6 billion of the request will be spent to train and equip Iraqi forces. That’s more than 10 times what the US spent on the Iraqi forces last year.
In Kyoto Japan, rallies are being held to mark the anti-global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol that officially goes into effect today after 13 years of negotiations. The global treaty aims to slow the rate of global warming by forcing nations to reduce carbon emissions. 141 countries have signed the treaty but several key nations have refused to sign it include the United States, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In Kyoto, Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai called on nations who are holding out to sign the agreement. She said “One of the reasons why some of the countries don’t want to support the Kyoto Protocol is exactly because they don’t want to reduce their overconsumptive life pattern.” The government of Japan also called on the United States, China and India to sign the pact. President Bush abandoned the treaty in one of his first moves as president four years ago.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is expected to vote today to approve Michael Chertoff to become the new Homeland Security Director. The vote has been delayed for a week as Democrats unsuccessfully called on the Bush administration to release in full a secret FBI memo that discussed the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Chertoff headed the Justice Department’s criminal division following the Sept. 11th attacks but he has denied approving any interrogation techniques that violate anti-torture laws.
Meanwhile Alberto Gonzales was sworn in on Monday to become Attorney General, replacing John Ashcroft. Gonzales was approved by the Senate by a 60 to 26 vote a week ago. Democrats criticized him for helping to pave the legal groundwork that led to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. He was widely criticized for calling the Geneva Conventions quaint. On Monday he pledged to uphold the constitution. At the swearing-in ceremony, Bush praised outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft and the controversial USA Patriot Act.
Also on Monday President Bush sent the Senate the names of 20 judicial nominees including 12 who were blocked during his first term. Sen. Edward Kennedy criticized Bush for trying again to push thru right-wing judges. Kennedy said “The last thing the federal courts need is reactionary judges bent on rolling back basic constitutional rights.” Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has threatened to change the rules of the Senate to make it harder for Democrats to block the nominations.
The German newspaper Der Spiegel is reporting that the government there has quietly launched an investigation into whether US agents kidnapped a German citizen and illegally took him to Afghanistan. The Sunday Times of London reported last week that officials in Italy are conducting a similar investigation over the disappearance of an Egyptian man on the streets of Milan. Both cases appear to be connected to what the United States calls extraordinary rendition. The Bush administration claims it has the legal authority to pick up wanted individuals anywhere in the world and detain them for interrogation.
In China at least 200 miners have died after a large gas explosion at a coal mine. The Chinese government has said it was the country’s worst mining disaster since 1942. But Agence France Press reports that between 6,000 and 20,000 miners die annually in China from explosions, floods, cave-ins and other accidents.
In news from Nepal, the United States, Britain, France and India have recalled their ambassadors two weeks after the Nepali king sacked the government seizing complete power. Meanwhile the Maoist rebels in Nepal are marking the 10th anniversary of their rebellion by staging massive road blockades outside the capital of Kathmandu.
And stun gun manufacturer Taser has announced plans to start selling a model of its gun to the general public. Until now the stun gun has only been available to law enforcement agencies and the military. The guns will be sold to the public for $1,000. The Chicago Tribune reports Taser is going to kick off its marketing campaign by having a police officer shot a firearms dealer from Minnesota in an attempt to show how safe the guns are. But concern is growing over the safety of the guns which are marketed as a non-lethal weapon. Last week the Chicago Police Department stopped arming new officers with Tasers after a man died after being shot and a 14-year-old was hospitalized with cardiac arrest.