Tens of thousands of people jammed the main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square early today to bid a final farewell to Pope John Paul II, joining kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers for the culmination of one of the largest religious gatherings in the West in modern times. Some analysts say it is possibly the largest funeral in modern history, larger than those of India’s Mohandas K. Ghandi, China’s Mao Zedong or Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, each of which produced throngs in the millions. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals and a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor, referred to him as our “late beloved pope” in a homily that traced the pontiff’s life from his days as a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to the last days of his life as the head of the world’s 1 billion Catholics. On the eve of the funeral, the Vatican released the pope’s last will and testament. Penned in Polish over 22 years, beginning five months after his election in October 1978, he gave instructions for his burial and also told his private secretary to burn his personal notes upon his death.
This news from Iraq. Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been appointed as Iraq’s next interim prime minister by the country’s new presidential council. Most political analysts agree that this is the most powerful position within the current political structure. Jaafari said he would form a new government within one or two weeks. Officials said the previous interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, had formally resigned. The new prime minister was appointed by the new interim president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, and his two vice presidents, shortly after they were sworn in during a ceremony in the new national assembly in Baghdad. But the event did not go smoothly. After his inaugural speech, Talabani walked off the stage without announcing Jaafari’s appointment. By the time he returned to the stage and made the announcement, most television feeds of the event had already been cut off.
Former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is once again speaking out on the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. He told the Swedish News Agency that he now believes oil was one of the reasons for the invasion. Blix said that he initially did not believe that but now says he thinks the US “wanted to secure oil in case competition on the world market becomes too hard.” He defended the United Nations, despite recent scandals including allegations of corruption in the oil-for-food program for Iraq. Blix called the allegations “revenge from American political circles for the defeat over Iraq.”
A small bomb apparently stuffed with nails exploded yesterday near the heart of the main tourist bazaar in Cairo, Egypt, killing 3 people including a US citizen and a French woman. Eighteen others were reportedly wounded. The bombing occurred around 5 p.m. and was the first such attack on foreigners in Cairo in more than seven years.
Back in this country, The Food and Drug Administration has taken the painkiller Bextra off the market and the government wants other drugs in the same class to carry the strongest possible warnings about increased risk of heart attack and stroke among the millions of people who rely on them. Consumer rights groups say the government is not doing enough to stop the distribution of what they have characterized as deadly drugs.
This news from Capitol Hill. The Senate has voted to repeal President Bush’s ban on international family planning organizations that engage in abortion-related activities from receiving U.S. foreign aid funds. Bush threatened to veto a two-year $34 billion bill authorizing State Department and foreign aid programs if it tried to override the policy that bars U.S. funds going to nongovernmental organizations that give counseling or referrals on abortions, or lobby against other governments’ restrictive abortion laws.
The polling organization Gallup reported this week that President Bush’s approval rating has plunged to the lowest level of any president since World War II at this point in his second term. All other presidents who served a second term had approval ratings well above 50% in the March following their election. Bush’s current rating is 45%. The next lowest was Reagan with 56% in March 1985.
The trial of twenty-eight Italian police officers accused of beating anti-globalization demonstrators at the G8 summit four years ago began this week in Genoa, Italy. The charges stem from a raid on the headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum that resulted in nearly 100 people injured. Among the accused are Italy’s current anti-terrorism chief and the head of a European Union taskforce on Islamist terrorism. The charges include grievous bodily harm, slander and false arrest. The raid came after the shooting death of activist Carlo Giuliani.
Members of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, known as the MST, have occupied 12 farms to try to pressure the government to speed up land reform. More than 5,000 families from the MST have moved on to the farms in one of Brazil’s poorest states. The MST said the government had failed to live up to its election promises to have settled 400,000 families by 2007. The government says it has settled little over a quarter of that number. The MST said the real figure is much lower. Brazil has one of the biggest wealth gaps in the world. Nearly half of all farmland is owned by just 1% of the population. The Landless Movement usually steps up action in April to commemorate the murders of 19 activists in 1996.
The United States is refusing to extradite a group of US soldiers arrested for alleged cocaine smuggling in Colombia. US ambassador William Wood says the soldiers are immune from prosecution. Colombian senators have been calling for the men, who were based in the country, to be handed over to Colombian authorities. More than 200 Colombian citizens have been extradited to the US to face trial for drug trafficking, under a bilateral deal between the two countries. Colombian politicians have asked the government to push for the US to hand over the men, to prove that the extradition agreement works both ways.
This news from Arizona. Three volunteers from the so-called Minutemen Project patrolling the border for undocumented immigrants are being investigated after a man told authorities he was held against his will and forced to pose for a picture holding a T-shirt with a mocking slogan. According to law enforcement officials, the 26-year-old Mexican man told agents he was physically restrained and forced to hold a shirt while his picture was taken and he was videotaped. The shirt read: “Bryan Barton caught an illegal alien and all I got was this T-shirt.”
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