In Uzbekistan — up to 600 people are feared dead after soldiers opened fire on a mass gathering in one of the country’s largest cities. One teenage boy told the Washington Post “They shot at us like rabbits.” Even the local police begged the soldiers to stop shooting. In the end hundreds of bodies — including those of women and children — filled the square.
Uzbekistan is one of the Bush administration’s closet allies in Central Asia despite the country’s notorious human rights record. President Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have all personally met with the Uzbek president. A year ago Rumsfeld traveled to Uzbekistan where the US runs a strategically placed military base and “I am delighted to be back in Uzbekistan.” Following the mass killings on Friday, the Bush administration appeared to blame the demonstrators for what happened. White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said “We have had concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan, but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist organization that were freed from prison.” Before the shooting took place, protesters had overrun a jail freeing as many 2000 prisoners. The Uzbek government as well as the Bush administrators has portrayed the demonstrators as Islamic terrorists. But according to the BBC the protests were largely made up of people calling for an end to poverty and injustice. According to Human Rights Watch torture and police brutality are widespread in Uzbekistan. The country has no independent political parties, no free and fair elections, and no independent news media. In December President Bush decided to keep giving aid to Uzbekistan despite the country’s failure to meet U.S. conditions on human rights.
In Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad Sunday. During her top-secret trip Rice claimed the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not a preemptive attack. She said “this war came to us, not the other way around.” Rice vowed the U.S. would remain in Iraq until Iraq can “defend itself.” She also warned Syria that it is “standing in the way of the Iraqi people’s desire for peace.”
Meanwhile the number of Iraqis killed in attacks since the new government formed two weeks ago has topped 450. 46 bodies were found on Sunday. A representative of the Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani was assassinated. And Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari extended the state of emergency in the country.
Anti-American protests have spread throughout the Muslim world after Newsweek magazine reported U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran by flushing the holy book down the toilet in front of detainees at Guantanamo. During the protests in Afghanistan, police killed at least 19 in the worst anti-American demonstrations since the US invaded the country in 2001. Thousands also protested in Pakistan, Indonesia, Yemen and Gaza. One Pakistani man interviewed by Newsweek said “We can understand torturing prisoners, no matter how repulsive. But insulting the Koran is like deliberately torturing all Muslims. This we cannot tolerate.” Under pressure from the Pentagon, Newsweek is now backing off some of its original reporting. The magazine hasn’t retracted the claim but acknowledged there were errors in the report. However this is not the first time such accusations surfaced about US guards desecrating the Koran. In August 2003, 23 Yemeni detainees reportedly tried to commit mass suicide after a guard stomped on the Koran. In addition, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights reported former detainees said they saw the Koran being thrown into the toilets.
In Haiti — the country’s ousted Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has entered his 29th day of a hunger strike. He is reported to be near death. Neptune has been jailed without charges since last June. Congresswoman Maxine Waters and 14 other Congressional lawmakers have written President Bush urging him to seek Neptune’s immediate release in order to save his life.
Jury selection for the trial of Sami Al Arian begins today in Florida. He is the former Palestinian professor accused by the government of illegally bankrolling Palestinian suicide bombers. He was one of the country’s most prominent supporters of Palestinian rights before his arrest and had personally met with both President Bush and Clinton at the White House.
And supporters of the group MOVE in Philadelphia have marked the 20th anniversary of the day the city police bombed their home in West Philadelphia to end a stand-off with the group. The bombing killed 11 people including five children as police officers ordered firefighters to keep their distance from the fire. 61 homes were destroyed after the fire spread through the block.
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