The United Nations says it is examining Syria’s declaration yesterday that it has withdrawn the last of its soldiers and intelligence agents from Lebanon on Tuesday, ending a 29-year military presence in its small neighbor. But the US and other powers say Syria has not withdrawn a significant part of its intelligence presence. In September, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for foreign forces to be withdrawn from Lebanon. A UN team has just gone to Lebanon to verify the withdrawal of all Syrian troops, military assets and intelligence.
Protests continue in the African nation of Togo, 3 days after the son of the country’s last dictator was declared winner of Togo’s presidential election last weekend. Opposition supporters took to the streets of the capital, Lome, erecting burning barricades, throwing rocks and attacking cars. Plumes of black smoke rose across the city and frightened residents sought refuge as gangs of youths set up road-blocks. Pick-up trucks carrying security forces armed with sticks, riot shields and assault rifles roamed the streets. Togo was the scene of Africa’s first military coup, in 1963, and was ruled by the continent’s longest-serving leader, Gnassingbe Eyadema, for 38 years. His son was named president by the army when his father died in February, but he hastily called elections after huge protests and pressure from neighboring states.
Ecuador’s Congress held its first session since the ouster of president Lucio Gutierrez with lawmakers reforming key institutions to try to restore political stability to the Andean nation. Congress met, as a mission from the Organization of American States arrived in Quito for three days of talks aimed at calming international concerns over the new government’s legitimacy. The parliament named Wilfrido Lucero, a center leftist, to replace a Gutierrez ally as the Congress president. Supporters of the ousted president protested in the streets calling for his return, but these protests were nowhere near the size of the demonstrations that brought him down. The US has not yet officially recognized the new government. Wall Street is concerned that the new government may tilt Ecuador away from the neoliberal policies Gutierrez implemented in South America’s fifth-largest oil producer and the region’s No. 2 petroleum exporter to the United States after Venezuela.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has kicked off a tour of Latin America, amid demonstrations against several US-backed regimes.
In Nicaragua, massive anti-government protests continue and the country’s US-backed president Enrique Bolanos put the army and police on high alert amid mounting calls for him to resign. He called on the country’s security forces to take “all necessary measures” to defend the government. That announcement came hours after demonstrators hurled rocks at Bolanos, who had to be dragged back into the presidential palace by security guards as a hail of stones and plastic bags full of water fell on him when he and other government members walked outside the presidential palace. One of his sons suffered a head injury and was taken away in an ambulance. The protests were initially a response to rising gas prices, which in turn have increased the cost of buses, which are mainly used by the poor and students. Ninety-six of Nicaragua’s 152 mayors have demanded the president resign.
Meanwhile, in Chile high school students faced off against police firing water cannons as the students participated in a large demonstration in Santiago over the rising cost of tuition and other fees. The demonstration was organised by 27 different schools and took place outside the Ministry of Education. The students say they’ll continue their protests if there’s no response to their demands for a freeze in education costs.
Now back in the US. A new Gallup Poll shows that half of all US citizens now say the Bush administration actively lied to the country about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the highest percentage that Gallup has found since the question was first asked in late May 2003, when 31% said the administration deliberately misled them.
Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill on Tuesday giving Florida residents more leeway to use deadly force in their homes and in public. The move drew immediate condemnation from gun-control groups and several urban police chiefs who warned it would give rise to needless deaths. The measure is known as the “stand your ground bill.” It permits people to use guns or other deadly force to defend themselves in public places without first attempting to retreat. The National Rifle Association lobbied hard for the bill’s passage and said it would use the victory to push for similar measures in other states. Among the opponents of the measure is Miami’s Police Chief John Timoney, who called the bill unnecessary and dangerous, warning that many people, including children, could become innocent victims. He said the bill could make gun owners assume they have “total immunity.”
And, today is Freedom Day in South Africa. April 27 marks the llth anniversary of the historic l994 election in which Nelson Mandela became President after serving more than a quarter of a century in prison.