In Texas, at least 14 workers have died in a massive explosion at an oil refinery operated by the oil company BP. Another 100 people were injured in the blast. The refinery is located in Texas City outside of Houston. The blast created thick columns of black smoke that stretched as high as 4,000 feet. The refinery has been plagued by previous safety problems. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recently fined the refinery twice for safety violations. In September two employees were burned to death by superheated water. Last March the refinery was evacuated after an explosion. It is the third largest refinery in the country and provides about 3 percent of the country’s gas supply. According to the Houston Chronicle, Texas City was also the site of the worst industrial accident in U.S. history. In 1947, a fire aboard a ship at the city’s docks triggered a massive explosion that killed 576 people.
In Florida the family of Terri Schiavo has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to get a court to order doctors to reattach a feeding tube to their daughter. Meanwhile Governor Jeb Bush is attempting to have the state of Florida take legal custody of Schiavo who has been in a permanent vegetative state for 15 years.
In the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, anti-government protesters have stormed the country’s presidential palace. The thousands of protesters seized the country’s seat of power–known as the White House — after security forces fled the complex. The country has witnessed days of demonstrations ever since the opposition accused the government of rigging a parliamentary election. Before the protesters stormed the government compound, demonstrators clashed on the street with police. The protesters are calling for the president to resign.
The Washington Post is reporting Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has virtually sealed his election as World Bank president. On Wednesday he met with members of the bank’s board, who were reportedly impressed and reassured by the meeting. Last week–however — the staff at the World Bank raised concerns over his nomination. Wolfowitz was one of the chief architects of the Iraq invasion and considered to be among the hawkish members of the Bush administration.
In Iraq, the U.S. military command in Iraq has blocked two Italian policemen from examining the car in which an Italian intelligence agent was shot to death in Baghdad. This according to a report in an Italian newspaper. On March 4 U.S. forces opened fire on a car carrying Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena who had just been freed after being held hostage. Sgrena survived the shooting but Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari was killed. Sgrena has suggested that the U.S. knowingly opened fire on their convoy — a claim the US has rejected
In news on Afghanistan–the Associated Press has obtained a Pentagon document that states as fact that a detainee being held at Guantanamo Bay helped Osama bin Laden escape from the Tora Bora region in December 2001. The alleged escape played a central role in last year’s race between President Bush and John Kerry. Senator Kerry repeatedly accused the Bush administration of making errors at Tora Bora that allowed Bin laden to escape. President Bush and Vice president Cheney countered by asserting that commanders never knew whether bin Laden was there when U.S. and allied Afghan forces attacked the area. According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon document is the first definitive statement from the government that bin Laden was at Tora Bora and evaded U.S. pursuers.
In Canada, war resister Jeremy Hinzman will learn today whether Canada will grant him refugee status. The 26-year-old Hinzman fled the United States in January after his application for Conscientious Objector status was rejected by the military. He is believed to be the first U.S. soldier to file for refugee status in Canada for refusing to fight in Iraq. At least five other U.S. soldiers have since fled to Canada seeking refugee status.
Meanwhile Army Secretary Francis Harvey admitted Wednesday that he expects the Army to miss its recruiting goals for the month of March and April. Despite the recruiting problems, Harvey said he sees no chance of the government reinstituting a military draft. Harvey said “The `D’ word is the farthest thing from my mind.” But not all in the military are so certain. Retired Maj. Gen. Edward Atkeson told the military newspaper Stars & Stripes last week “the all-volunteer force is close to breaking right now.” Atkeson said “When it does break that’s when you’ll see the draft come back.”
And the U.S. oil giant Unocal has agreed to compensate Burmese villagers over alleged abuses committed during the construction of a gas pipeline there a decade ago. The company was accused of allowing Burmese troops guarding the project to rape, murder and enslave villagers. The Unocal case was brought under the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789. It alleged that the company knew or should have known that the Burmese army committed human rights abuses while providing security for the $1.2-billion pipeline project.