In Lebanon, between 500,000 and 1.5 million people filled the streets of Beirut in a massive pro-Syrian demonstration Tuesday organized by Hizbullah. The protest came after three weeks of smaller anti-Syrian demonstrations. The U.S., Israel and other nations have been calling on Syria to withdraw its 15,000 troops from Lebanese soil. The demonstrators denounced what they see as western interference in Lebanon. Banners read “Thank you, Syria’s Assad” … “No to foreign Interference” and “Beirut is free, America out,” Leaders of Hizbullah warned of mayhem if Syrian troops were to leave the country that suffered a 15-year-civil war between 1975 and 1990 that killed about 150,000. Meanwhile Syrian troops have begun moving toward eastern Lebanon, closer to the Syrian border. The move is part of a two-stage redeployment announced Monday.
In news from Iraq, the corpses of 19 people have been found near the western Iraqi town of Qaim. Hospital officials say all of the people were dressed in civilian clothes and had been shot dead. The discovery comes just a day after Iraqi police found 15 beheaded bodies in a vacated military warehouse south of Baghdad.
Meanwhile in the capital city, a suicide car bomb earlier today killed at least three people and injured over 20. The blast occurred near the ministry of agriculture and a hotel used by Iraqi police and western contractors. At least 20 cars were destroyed in the blast.
And two more prominent Iraqis have been assassinated. On Tuesday a top official in Iraq’s interior ministry was killed as he was leaving his home. And the director of a hospital in Baghdad was shot dead on his way to work.
In other news from Iraq, the Times of London is reporting that U.S. soldiers are now being given anti-fratricide training to reduce the number of coalition troops killed by US forces. The training was revealed as Washington and Rome announced a joint inquiry into the killing last week of an Italian intelligence officer who died when US troops opened fire on the car carrying the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena who had just been freed from captivity. An hour earlier on that same day U.S. forces shot dead a Bulgarian solider. Gen. George Casey, commanding general of the multinational force described the two killings as “troublesome.”
In news on Iran, the New York Times is reporting that a bipartisan presidential commission examining Iran’s weapons program has concluded that U.S. intelligence on Iran is not adequate enough to allow the government to make firm judgments about the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons inside Iran The panel is expected to issue its report to President Bush this month. The commission reached that conclusion at a time that the Bush administration has been issuing increasingly sharp warnings about Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons. In November CIA Director Porter Goss issued a report that concluded Iran is continuing to “vigorously pursue indigenous programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.” Iran has denied its nuclear program is for military purposes and the International Atomic Energy Agency has said it has not found evidence of any weapons program. In its report, the presidential panel is also expected to be sharply critical of U.S. intelligence on North Korea.
A new government report has found that more than 40 terror suspects were able to legally buy guns inside the United States last year even though their names appear on government watch lists. And once the purchases were made, information on the sales were kept for only 24 hours. Last year Congress passed a law forcing the government to destroy all gun sale purchase records within 24 hours. Peter Hamm, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said current policies “benefit terrorists and benefit criminals.” Hamm said “For the last four years, the Bush White House and Republican leaders in Congress have been pursuing gun policies that are on the wish list of the National Rifle Association despite repeated warnings from law enforcement leaders.” The Attorney General John Ashcroft came under criticism after Sept. 11 when he blocked the FBI from matching gun-buying records against lists of terror suspects.
U.S. academics are warning officials in Spain that the war on terror may breed more terrorism. The warning comes at a summit ahead of the one-year anniversary of the March 11th deadly train bombings in Madrid. University of California professor Mark Juergensmeyer said the US military’s detention of Islamic militants captured in Afghanistan as “prisoners of war” at Guantanamo Bay had exacerbated the threat of extremism. He said “We have the Guantanamo effect. That is dealing with terror in such a way that it has an incubator effect. One has to examine the penal system’s role in creating more terrorism.” Jerrold Post of George Washington University added “Most strong counter terror attacks are for ensuring domestic voters that something is being done. But there is usually an increase in terrorism afterwards.”
In other world news, Russian forces have killed Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, one of Russia’s most wanted men in Chechnya. In 1997 Maskhadov was elected president of the republic after the first Russo-Chechen war. He was seen as a moderate force within the Chechen independence movement and had advocated negotiations to end the bloody 10-year conflict with Moscow. One longtime ally said “He was a restraining force. He was trying to prevent this conflict from escalating and spreading throughout the North Caucasus.”
Meanwhile in Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, has resigned as prime minister after he was charged with war crimes by the United Nations tribunal in The Hague. Haradinaj is a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army. He is also wanted by Belgrade for alleged war crimes committed against Serbian civilians during the war.
In news from Haiti, Congresswoman Maxine Waters has called on Haitian officials to immediately release the country’s former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. Neptune has been jailed since June and has been detained without trial. He is one of hundreds of imprisoned supporters of the ousted Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide who was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup a year ago. Waters met with Neptune earlier this week and said his health is deteriorating. He began a hunger strike 16 days ago. Waters said, “He is in a weakened position and I do not believe that he can continue this fast without causing his death.” The country’s former interior minister Jocelerme Privert, is also on a hunger strike. He has been jailed since April.
A group of tomato pickers from Florida have claimed victory in a four-year campaign against Taco Bell. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers called off a national boycott of Taco Bell Tuesday after restaurant officials agreed to improve wages and working conditions for tomato pickers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is made up largely of indigent immigrants who work tomato fields in southwest Florida. Also as part of the agreement Taco Bell’s parent company Yum Food announced it will help to ensure that none of its tomato suppliers employ indentured servants. In recent years the Coalition helped federal authorities prosecute farm bosses in Florida for holding workers as slaves. The four-year boycott has grown in recent years largely due to support from college students. 21 colleges had successfully removed or blocked Taco Bell from operating on their campuses.
And USA Today is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security has hired a Hollywood liaison to work with moviemakers and scriptwriters.The liaison is now reviewing 14 movie, tv and documentary projects. The Department of Homeland Security is seeking opportunities to offer advice to directors and producers about portraying the nation’s homeland defenders.