British Prime Minister Tony Blair has won what is being described as a historic third straight term in power, but his authority was significantly weakened by voters voicing their opposition to the occupation of Iraq and Blair’s close relationship with President Bush. Blair is only the second premier after Margaret Thatcher to win three elections in a row. But his majority in the parliament dropped sharply from 161 seats down to between 60 and 80. Blair lost one loyal MP, who was beaten entirely on the Iraq issue. She was beaten by George Galloway, who was earlier expelled from the Labour party for attacking Blair over the war. At his victory rally, Galloway said, “All the people you killed, all the lies you told, have come back to haunt you.”
Meanwhile, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq who ran against Tony Blair for his seat in parliament called on Blair to apologize to the families of those killed during the war. Reg Keys ran as an independent against Blair and won 10 percent of the vote. He dedicated his election campaign to the British servicemen who have died since the start of the war in 2003. Speaking after the result was declared, Keys said, “I hope in my heart that one day the Prime Minister will be able to say sorry, he will say sorry to the families of the bereaved and one day the Prime Minister will feel able to visit wounded soldiers in hospital.” We’ll have more on the British elections in a moment.
Iraqi resistance fighters killed at least 30 people over the past 24 hours in a string of attacks across the country, capping a bloody week that has left an estimated 250 dead since the country’s new government took power. Earlier today, a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle next to a minibus taking policemen to work in Tikrit. The blast killed seven policemen and wounding several others. On Thursday, a series of bomb blasts and ambushes in Baghdad killed at least 24 people in the capital. The previous day, a suicide bomb in the northern town of Erbil killed as many as 60 people, and a car bomb in Baghdad killed nine Iraqi soldiers.
Meanwhile, the US military has admitted that US and Iraqi forces are holding without charge nine Iraqi journalists working for international news organizations. The military says they are being held on suspicion of aiding resistance fighters. Some of them have been held for several months. The US military is believed to be holding two journalists for Agence France Press, though US officers could only confirm the detention of one, recently transferred to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Also among the imprisoned news workers is a cameraman working for CBS, who was wounded by US-led forces as he covered the aftermath of a bomb explosion in Mosul in April. CBS says he is being charged with QUOTE “being a danger to the coalition forces”, according to CBS. He was transferred to Abu Ghraib on April 22. At least 17,000 Iraqis are currently detained by US and Iraqi forces, most of them without formal charges.
In another Abu Ghraib related story, President Bush has approved the demotion of Army Reserve General Janis Karpinski, whose unit was in charge during the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture scandal. The Army also said three other, more senior generals had been cleared of wrongdoing in the prisoner abuse cases. That means Karpinski is the only general to be disciplined. She has said publicly that she was not given full authority over Abu Ghraib and that responsibility lies much higher up the chain of command.
Federal Auditors say they cannot account for nearly $100 million in cash marked for Iraqi reconstruction. The money was supposed to be handed out by U.S. workers in shrink-wrapped bricks of new hundred-dollar bills. The cash came from Iraqi oil sales and other local revenues. A criminal investigation into possible fraud in a handful of cases is under way to determine what happened to the money.
This news from Colombia. Over the objections of several lawmakers, the Colombian government has handed over to Washington two US soldiers suspected of trafficking weapons to paramilitaries. Colombian authorities said they found more than 30,000 rounds of ammunition when they arrested the two men at an apartment near Bogota on Tuesday. Hundreds of US soldiers are in Colombia allegedly to help in the fight against drug trafficking. The US refused to identify the two soldiers. The men are expected to be flown to the US in the next few days. A senior Colombian official tried to have their deportation delayed, and asked for further examination of a treaty granting them immunity in Colombia. This is the second such incident in a month.
In the West Bank and Gaza, municipal elections were held today in more than 80 cities. Early results show that the Fatah political movement of Mahmoud Abbas was the clear winner. Official results are expected Sunday.
Back in this country, the Food and Drug Administration is about to implement new rules recommending that any man who has had sex with another man in the previous five years be barred from serving as an anonymous sperm donor. The FDA has rejected calls from gay rights groups to scrap the provision, insisting that gay men collectively pose a higher-than-average risk of carrying the AIDS virus. Critics say the FDA should use a screening process that focuses on high-risk sexual behavior by any would-be donor, regardless of sexual orientation.
And finally, in Cuba today, the rock group Audioslave will become the first U.S. band to give an open-air concert on the island. The band was founded by former members of Rage Against the Machine. The group will play on the Anti-Imperialist Stage, which is used by the Cuban government for protests against the U.S. blockade. In the last two years, Washington has cut back visits to Cuba for cultural purposes and denied entry to the United States to Cuban musicians nominated for Grammy awards, including 77-year-old singer Ibrahim Ferrer of the popular Buena Vista Social Club. Audioslave promised Cubans the loudest concert they had ever heard when they perform on Havana’s waterfront.