In Iraq, tens of thousands of Shiite Iraqis demonstrated in Baghdad Saturday to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The protesters–organized by Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr–gathered in the same square where U.S. forces pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein two years ago. To mark the anniversary, the Shiites burned effigies of Saddam as well as President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The crowd chanted "Yes, yes to Islam, No, no to America!" The protesters issued three demands: the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the release of Iraqis from US-run prisons and for the speedy trial of Saddam Hussein. The Los Angeles Times reported that the crowd was as large as 300,000 protesters. Middle East analyst Juan Cole said even if the crowd was half that size it would mark the largest popular demonstration in Iraq since 1958.
Meanwhile Sunni Iraqis marked the two-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad with anti-U.S. protests in Ramadi. The Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party issued a statement blaming the U.S. for the chaos and destruction that has enveloped the country over the past two years. The statement read QUOTE "The 9th of April is a day in which one tyrant fell so that another occupying tyrant could take his place"
The protests came during a weekend that saw at least 40 Iraqis killed. The deadliest attack occurred south of Baghdad in Latifiyah where 15 Iraqi National Guard members died. In Ramadi, the city’s newly appointed police chief was assassinated shortly after he met with U.S. troops. In Baghdad, a Pakistani diplomat was kidnapped. Meanwhile the New York Times reports that Pentagon officials are now saying it may be able to begin removing about one quarter of the US troops in Iraq by next year.
In Washington today, confirmation hearings begin for John Bolton–President Bush’s pick to become the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton is a one of the most vocal critics of the international body. He was a leading proponent of President Bush pulling out of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty. He once called the administration’s rejection of the International Criminal Court as "the happiest moment in my government service."
Also on Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Tom Delay is coming under more criticism from within his own party. Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut has called on Delay to resign as majority leader. Shays told the Associated Press "Tom’s conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election." Last year the House Ethics Commission admonished Delay three times and more ethics questions involving Delay have arisen in recent weeks.
In Mexico, the country’s upcoming presidential election has been thrown into turmoil after the federal Congress voted to impeach one of the leading candidates from his job as mayor of Mexico City The politician — Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador–is now facing arrest over a minor four-year-old infraction. Once an arrest warrant is issued, he could lose his political rights and be barred from running for the presidency. Lopez Obrador has been comfortably leading opinion polls for next year’s elections to replace Mexican President Vincente Fox who can not run again. On Friday over 100,000 of his supporters gathered in Mexico City. Lopez Obrador said 'I am proud to be accused, like those who struggled for justice in the past. Today you are judging me, but don't forget that history will judge both of us.’ He has accused Fox of trying to orchestrate his downfall by having him arrested on these minor charges. All but one legislator from Fox’s party–the National Action Party–voted for impeaching the mayor. Lopez Obrador has been campaigning on a populist platform that has been strongly opposed by the business community. He has called for a more state-supported economy and a renegotiation of free trade pacts.
In Rome, the Catholic Church is coming under criticism for allowing Cardinal Bernard Law to celebrate today’s mass of mourning for Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica. The mass is just one of nine such services being conducted at the Vatican in honor of the Pope. Law was at the center of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the church in Boston while he was Cardinal. He resigned his post in 2002. Victims of priest abuse plan to protest outside the mass today. David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest said of Bernard Law, "He’s the symbol of the scandal. This is a clear sign that the church is not taking its history of sexual abuse seriously, and that it is not at all in touch with the pain in the American church."
The two-month-old Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire appears to be in jeopardy. On Saturday, Israeli troops shot dead three 15-year-old Palestinian boys in the Gaza town of Rafah. Israel claims the boys were trying to cross into Egypt to smuggle back weapons. But a teenager who survived the shooting said his friends were shot as they were playing soccer.
Today Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is meeting with President Bush in Texas. Sharon is expected to seek Bush’s approval for building 3,500 new settlement homes in the West Bank. Meanwhile opposition to Sharon’s plans to evacuate all Jewish settlements in Gaza continues. On Sunday, Sharon deployed thousands of troops to block a right-wing Jewish group from entering the Temple Mount, a hilltop site in Jerusalem sacred to Jews and Muslims. 31 people were arrested. Meanwhile a former head of the Israeli spy agency Mossad warned over the weekend that Israel is now in danger of a military coup headed by right-wing opponents of the Gaza pull-out.
In news here at home, one of the country’s most notorious abortion clinic bombers, Eric Rudolph, has plead guilty for carrying out a series of bombings that killed two and injured 150 others. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Rudolph escapes the possibility of the death penalty but will serve the rest of his life in jail. In 1996, he set off a bomb in Atlanta during the Olympics killing a woman and injuring 111 people. In 1997, Rudolph bombed an abortion clinic outside of Atlanta injuring 7 people. Later that same year he bombed a family planning clinic and gay club in Atlanta. In 1998 Rudolph set off another bomb outside a Birmingham abortion clinic killing an off-duty police officer and maiming a nurse. He then spent five years on the run managing to avoid one of the largest manhunts in the country’s history. It remains unknown whether he relied on an underground network of supporters during his years as a federal fugitive. During that time he became a hero to some right-wing groups who helped popularize t-shirts that read "Run Rudolph Run’’ and '’Hide and Seek Champion.'’ As part of the plea agreement, Rudolph tipped off police to where he stored unused explosives in the mountains of North Carolina.
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will halt a controversial pesticide testing program. The EPA had been paying low-income Florida families nearly $1,000 to document the effects of pesticides on their children. Two Senate Democrats had threatened to block the confirmation of Stephen Johnson to head the EPA unless the program was canceled.
In media news, the president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kathleen Cox, has resigned. Ken Ferree has been named as the interim president. He recently became CPB’s executive vice president after resigning from a top post at the Federal Communications Commission. He was a leading advocate for the further weakening of media ownership regulations. Cox’s resignation also came just three days after the CPB appointed its first ombudsmen: former Reader’s Digest editor William Schulz and former NBC News journalist Ken Bode. Their job will be to "both protect the production of public broadcasting from undue interference and to ensure that it represents high standards in accuracy, balance and objectivity." Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy charged that Cox became a "victim of the ideologues who run CPB."
In other media news, General Motors has announced it will temporarily stop advertising in the Los Angeles Times in protest over how the paper has covered GM, the world’s largest car company. A company spokesperson explained '’It involves news reporting, it involves opinion. It's pretty broad-based, and we’ve made our objections well known to The Times." The decision was announced days after the paper’s Pulitzer Prize winning automobile critic Dan Neil called for the ouster of GM’s chairman and chief executive. He also took the company to task for focusing on SUVs instead of more aggressively developing fuel-efficient cars. The Wall Street Journal estimated General Motors has been spending $10 million a year on advertising in the LA Times. GM is the country’s second largest advertiser behind Proctor & Gamble.
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