In his state of the union address Wednesday night President Bush accused Syria of harboring terrorists and charging that Iran was the “world’s primary sponsor of terror.” The warnings came as he hailed the recent elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and in the Palestinian territories.
On Iraq, the president rejected calls for a timetable for withdrawal of the 150,000 US troops stationed there.
Also during the State of the Union, Bush called on Congress to give the Palestinians $350 million in new aid and said a Palestinian state is “within reach.”
Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas have announced they will meet next Tuesday in their first summit since the death of Yasser Arafat. Abbas is expected to announce a formal cease fire.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is continuing debate over the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for attorney general. Democratic Senator Richard Durbin said “I cannot in good conscience vote to reward a man who ignored the rule of law and the demands of human decency and created the permissive environment that made Abu Ghraib possible.”
In news from Iraq, at least 20 people have died in the most violent day since Sunday’s election. The deadliest incident occurred in the northern city of Kirkuk where 12 Iraqi army recruits were killed following an ambush by Iraqi militants. In Baqoba, gunmen shot and killed two people driving in a vehicle carried by Iraqi contractors. In Mosul, a mortar attack on a US base killed two civilians and injured six. In the town of Qaim near the Syrian boarder, a car bomb exploded at a house used by U.S. military snipers. In the city of Samawah, gunmen overran ran a police station and killed one police officer. Near Ramadi, the governor of Anbar province narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. And two Marines were killed in fighting in the Anbar province which includes the city of Fallujah.
In other news from Iraq, the influential Sunni group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, has officially called Sunday’s vote illegitimate. A spokesperson said “We cannot participate in the drafting of a constitution written under military occupation.”
In military news, the Marine Corps missed their monthly recruiting goal in January marking the first time this has happened in nearly a decade. The Marines have suffered 31 percent of the military deaths in Iraq.
Meanwhile the Marines are also making headlines in San Diego, after a high ranking Marine general admitted at a public discussion that it is “fun to shoot some people.” Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who fought in Iraq, went on to say “Its a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. I like brawling.” Mattis leads Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division in Iraq.
In London, the Daily Mail is reporting that the British military plans to charge seven of its own soldiers with murder for killing an Iraqi civilian two years ago.
President Bush has promoted Elliott Abrams to be his deputy national security adviser. He will be responsible for pushing Bush’s strategy for advancing democracy abroad. Abrams plead a key role in the Iran-Contra scandal and pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information from Congress. On Oct. 10, 1986, Abrams, then a State Department employee, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he did not know that Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North was directing illegal arms sales to Iran and diverting the proceeds to assist the Nicaraguan contras.
Republican Congressman Joel Hefley — who had admonished House Majority Leader Tom Delay — has been replaced as chairman of the House Ethics Committee and removed from the committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said his ouster is “further evidence that there is a purge under way of any Republican who does not precisely toe the party line.”
In business news, General Electric has become the second major company to announce it will stop doing new business in Iran. Halliburton made a similar announcement last week. A GE spokesperson said the decision was made “because of uncertain conditions relating to Iran,” In recent weeks speculation has grown that the U.S. or Israel may carry out an attack on Iran to cripple its alleged nuclear weapons program. For years Halliburton and GE have skirted a trade embargo on Iran by setting up foreign-owned subsidiaries to deal directly with Iran.
In Nepal, the nation’s King who seized complete control of the country on Sunday has banned journalists from publishing or broadcasting any report critical of the government for the next six months. Most other basic rights have also been suspended including freedom of assembly, the right to privacy and the right against preventative detention. Members of the Nepalese government who were deposed earlier this week are now under house arrest. Meanwhile the anti-government Maoist rebels have called for a three-day general strike.
The prime minister of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia [Zurab Zhvania] has been found dead in an apartment after being poisoned by carbon monoxide that apparently leaked from a faulty heater.
In news from Haiti, the interim U.S.-backed government has announced plans to hold a series of local and national elections beginning in October. They will mark the first elections since Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown 11 months ago in a U.S-backed coup. Aristide’s party, Lavalas, has announced they will only participate in the elections if the interim government stops jailing and killing supporters of Aristide. Hundreds of Aristide supporters are now imprisoned and more than 250 people have been killed by violence in pro-Aristide neighborhoods over the past six months.
And finally in Independence, Missouri a jury ruled Wednesday that tobacco giant Brown & Williamson must pay $22 million to the family of a 73-year-old woman who died of lung and heart disease after smoking Kools for 58 years. The jury award is the fifth-largest in the nation for an individual smoker against a tobacco company.
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