Mexican President Vicente Fox transferred power to Felipe Calderon in a midnight ceremony today ahead of massive protests against Calderon’s inauguration. Opposition lawmakers are vowing to physically block Calderon from taking the constitutional oath before Congress. Supporters of presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have accused Calderon of stealing July’s election. Lopez Obrador is planning to lead a major protest in Mexico City. Calderon’s inauguration comes as tensions remain high in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where the federal police are attempting to crush a popular uprising.
New details are emerging about the recommendations in the Iraq Study Group’s final report, due next week. The Washington Post reports the panel is to recommend withdrawing nearly all U.S. combat units from Iraq by early 2008 — but leave thousands of troops to advise, train and embed with Iraqi brigades. The proposal would leave the ultimate decision on withdrawal to U.S. military commanders.
The Washington Post also reports the Bush administration is considering a plan to drop reconciliation efforts with Sunni groups and instead prioritize relations with the Shiite and Kurdish groups who dominate Iraq’s government. Insiders call the proposal the “eighty percent” solution because it would effectively abandon the 5 million Sunnis who comprise 20 percent of Iraq’s population.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, an estimated 2,000 people demonstrated Thursday against the arrest of a pregnant Iraqi woman by U.S. troops. The woman, Adhraa Hussein Awdas, was reportedly taken from her home in western Baghdad. The marchers issued violent threats and called on the Iraqi government to ban the arrest of Iraqi women by foreign soldiers.
Unidentified rally speaker: “Our honor is very precious, and we demand the U.S. forces release our sister who was arrested in al-Baqriyah, and we want them to release her today. We swear, by God, if they don’t, we will all be terrorists against America.”
Demonstrators said three people were later wounded when Iraqi troops opened fire on their protest.
In other Iraq news, the Iraqi government has announced it will prosecute journalists who fail to correct stories the Iraqi government decides are incorrect. Iraq’s Interior Ministry has established a new unit to monitor journalists and their news coverage.
In Venezuela, voters go to the polls Sunday in Venezuela’s presidential elections. The latest polls show President Hugo Chavez holds a 30-point lead over his main rival, Manuel Rosales. On Thursday, Chavez said authorities had thwarted a plot by what he called “fascist militants” to shoot Rosales and then blame it on Chavez’s government. At a news conference in Caracas, Chavez also talked about President Bush and the Republicans’ recent loss in the midterm elections.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “[Bush] believes himself to be the slave owner, but he isn’t the slave owner, not even in his house! Think about what has just happened to him (in the midterm elections), the tremendous blow that his people dealt him. He should resign.”
In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has declared talks over a Palestinian unity government with Hamas have reached a dead end. He spoke after a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “We discussed with Ms. Rice our difficult dialogue to have a unity government. As we know, a unity government is one of the main and important aims for us. If we will have a unity government, it will end the siege on the Palestinian people. We tried and worked hard, but unfortunately we are at a dead end.”
Abbas is now faced with the choice of firing the Hamas-led government or staging a referendum on whether to hold early elections. The collapse of talks comes after Abbas failed to persuade the Bush administration to end the international aid freeze on the Palestinian government. On Thursday, Rice said the U.S. stance is unchanged.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “Unfortunately, because there is not a government with which the international community can deal, it is very difficult to do more, past the humanitarian side. And we do believe that were there a government that accepted international standards, that have been a part of the record, by the way, for a very long time — these are agreements Palestinians themselves have signed onto, like the Road Map — it would be possible, of course, for the international community to do more, if the international principles were respected.”
Meanwhile, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon is denying reports he fled New Zealand this week after he was ordered arrested on charges of war crimes. The warrant was issued following a complaint that Ya’alon ordered an attack in the Gaza Strip that killed 13 civilians and a Hamas leader in 2002. Ya’alon is also the target of a lawsuit here in the United States for ordering Israel’s bombing of a U.N. compound in Lebanon in 1996. The attack killed more than 100 civilians. Ya’alon is currently a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The United Nations has launched a $4 billion appeal to the world’s richest countries for humanitarian emergencies. Most of the donations would go to Africa, including $1 billion for the war-ravaged Sudan. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged rich countries to improve on previous donations.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “Each year I must admit I have been dismayed that donors have, on average, given only two-thirds of the bare-bones requirements in these appeals. And for each success that I mentioned just now where your funds made a difference, there is a contrasting story where help could not be offered for lack of funds.”
U.N. Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland also appealed for more aid to Africa.
U.N. Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland: “Africa is really getting too little attention, too little sources, in general. There is a some degree of an in-built discrimination in our generosity. We are quicker when it’s Kosovo or it’s Lebanon or it’s Iraq or places close to the rich world.”
In Britain, new video has surfaced of Alexander Litvinenko just weeks before his death. Litvinenko is the Russian spy who died last week of an apparent poisoning. He had been investigating the death of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist and government critic shot dead at her Moscow apartment in October. The new video was taken at a journalists’ event in London on October 19. Litvinenko accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering Politkovskaya’s murder.
Alexander Litvinenko: “Somebody has asked me directly, who is guilty of Anna’s death? Who has killed her? I can directly answer you, it is Mr. Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, who killed her. I can tell you the facts, and you can make your own conclusions.”
Shortly before he died, Litvinenko accused Putin of being behind his poisoning as he lay on his deathbed. Meanwhile, police in Ireland have launched an investigation into whether former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar was poisoned when he fill ill last week.
Here in the United States, a government research agency has concluded paperless electronic voting machines jeopardize voting because they “cannot be made secure.” In what The Washington Post calls the most sweeping condemnation of electronic voting by a federal agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, says votes should be counted independently of the software in voting machines used across the United States. Opponents of electronic voting are urging the Election Assistance Commission to adopt NIST’s recommendations.
A State Department analyst is under fire from his superiors for saying the U.S. government dominates its relations with Britain. Speaking Tuesday at a forum at Johns Hopkins University, the analyst, Kendall Myers, said the notion of a U.S.-British “special relationship” is a myth and that U.S.-British relations have always been one-sided. The State Department has apologized for Myers’ comments.
In New Orleans, officials have admitted a non-English-speaking immigrant worker was “lost” inside the Louisiana prison system for 13 months. The worker, Pedro Parra-Sanchez, was arrested and charged with assault in October of last year — just six days after moving to New Orleans to work on recovery efforts. Parra-Sanchez passed through three state prisons without speaking to a single defense attorney, prosecutor or judge. He was eventually found not by state officials but by a pro bono defense attorney acting on a tip from other prisoners. Without his income, Parra-Sanchez’s family was forced to move out of their California home and into a trailer. He was also unable to speak to them often because of the pricey cost of collect calls from prison. Parra-Sanchez finally saw a courtroom Tuesday, where he pleaded innocent to the assault charge. He’s been set free and given permission to return to California to his family.
The U.S. government has announced it will test an airport screening system this month that takes X-ray photos of travelers in an attempt to find weapons. The test will be launched at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Manufacturers say the machine blurs or shades images to obscure body parts and medical devices. The American Civil Liberties Union has labeled the X-raying a “virtual strip search.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged the existence of a program that assigns travelers crossing U.S. borders a computerized score rating their risk as terrorists or criminals. The risk assessments are kept on file for 40 years. Travelers are not allowed to see their own ratings. The program has affected nearly every traveler crossing U.S. borders in the last four years — including U.S. citizens. David Sobel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said: “It’s probably the most invasive system the government has yet deployed in terms of the number of people affected.”
And commemorations are being worldwide today for the 15th anniversary of World AIDS Day. Some 25 million people have died from AIDS. Forty million people are living with HIV. Infection is also on the rise. Eleven thousand people — or one person every eight seconds — contract HIV on a daily basis. If present trends continue, AIDS will surpass the 14th century bubonic plague — otherwise known as the Black Death — as the deadliest outbreak of disease in human history.