Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died on Sunday at the age of 91. He took power in a U.S.-supported coup on September 11, 1973, and ruled Chile for 17 years. During that time, his government murdered or disappeared more than 3,200 people. Tens of thousands were also tortured, including Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s current president. Pinochet died before ever going to trial. When Pinochet’s death was announced on Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets of Santiago to celebrate.
Chilean Protester: “Justice will have to respond: Why wasn’t he punished? But the people and the national consciousness have punished him a long time ago and today, and we go out to the streets with all strength to say that the dictator is dead.”
Outside the hospital where Pinochet died, hundreds of his supporters fought with police and attacked reporters with a hail of bottles and rocks. The Chilean government has announced Pinochet will not receive a state funeral, but he will be buried with full military honors. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has not said whether she would attend his funeral mass. Pinochet died on December 10—International Human Rights Day.
In Lebanon, as many as 2 million people rallied in Beirut on Sunday in an effort to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The Hezbollah-led protest was described as the largest demonstration in Lebanese history. Some estimates said half of the country of 4 million people attended the protest.
Hassan Mubarak, Lebanese demonstrator: “I am not with any political solution coming from outside Lebanon because that will reduce our demands and our rights here to break down this government, because we just need to break down this government and change the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, because he is a loser.”
For the past 11 days, Hezbollah has organized daily demonstrations in an effort to bring down Siniora’s government.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has publicly rejected the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.
Jalal Talabani: “I think that the Baker-Hamilton (report) is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles, which are undermining the sovereignty of Iraq and its constitution and which is against the long struggle of the Iraqi people against dictatorship.”
The Associated Press reports major partners in Iraq’s governing coalition are holding behind-the-scenes talks to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The new alliance would reportedly be led by the pro-Iranian Shiite politician Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who met with President Bush last week.
The Iraqi government has moved closer to passing a new oil law that is expected to trigger the start of massive private development of the country’s oil fields. Dow Jones Newswires obtained a copy of the draft hydrocarbon law. It recommends the government sign production sharing agreements with foreign oil companies to develop Iraq’s oil fields. An Iraqi Oil Ministry official said that the new law proposes allowing—for the first time—local and international companies to carry out oil exploration in Iraq. During the rule of Saddam Hussein, exploration activities used to be carried out only by the government.
In other Iraq news, Sunni leaders are accusing the U.S. military of carrying out an attack in the town of Ishaqi that killed 17 civilians, including six women and five children. The U.S. military maintained that the attack killed 20 suspected al-Qaeda militants.
Adnan al-Dulami, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front: “The American forces attacked Ishaqi and killed innocent people, claiming that they were terrorists. We call on the American forces to check beforehand and avoid resorting to excessive force or attacking and killing the innocent. What has happened in Ishaqi is a tragedy and a catastrophe.”
In Washington, a Republican senator who once strongly backed the invasion of Iraq now says the war effort is “absurd” and “may even be criminal.” Gordon Smith of Oregon made the comments during a speech on the floor of the Senate on Friday.
Congress has overwhelmingly approved a deal to lift a 30-year-old ban on sending nuclear technology to India. Critics say the plan could spark a regional arms race. The Senate passed the bill by a voice vote. In the House, 59 lawmakers opposed it. Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey said, “This bill is an historic mistake, a mistake which will come back to haunt the United States and the world.”
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA): “You cannot preach temperance from a bar stool. The hypocrisy is at historical heights when the U.S. believes the rest of the world will listen to us preach.”
Congressmember Ed Markey also warned that the accord would set off a “nuclear weapons domino effect” by encouraging other nations to ignore the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Under the deal, the United States will send nuclear fuel shipments for civilian use. Critics say this will allow India to use its existing nuclear fuel to build up to 50 nuclear weapons.
In Gaza, tensions between Fatah and Hamas are rising after three young boys were murdered on their way to school. The boys were the sons of a senior intelligence official linked to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. Gunmen fired 70 shots at the car carrying the children, who were between the ages of six and 10. At least two other children were hurt. Following the attacks, armed Fatah members tried to storm into the compound of the Palestinian Parliament in Gaza. On Sunday, gunmen believed to be linked to Fatah attacked the convoy of a leading Hamas official—Interior Minister Saeed Seyyam. He was unharmed in the incident.
In other news from the region, Israel has blocked a United Nations fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip that was supposed to have been led by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Tutu was scheduled to investigate the killings of 19 civilians in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. Israel refused to grant Tutu the necessary travel clearance.
On Sunday, the Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering program of giving micro-credit loans to the poor. In his acceptance speech, Yunus said that peace is inextricably linked to poverty and that poverty is a threat to peace. He also criticized the Bush administration’s so-called war on terror.
Muhammad Yunus: “’Til now, over $530 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq by the U.S.A. alone. I believe terrorism cannot be won over by military action. Terrorism must be condemned in the strongest language. We must stand solidly against it and find all the means to end it. We must address the root causes of terrorism to end it for all time to come. I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns.”
Muhammad Yunus is the first Nobel winner from Bangladesh.
Nine former prisoners held in Iraq and Afghanistan are attempting to sue outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior Army leaders for authorizing torture. On Friday, lawyers from the ACLU and Human Rights First appeared before the U.S. District Court in Washington to argue that the lawsuit should be allowed to proceed. The former prisoners allege that they were beaten to the point of unconsciousness, mutilated, stabbed, urinated on, endured mock executions and other abuses. Government attorneys have argued the lawsuit should be dismissed. Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld met with staffers at the Pentagon on Friday to say goodbye.
Donald Rumsfeld: “I wish I could say that everything we have done here is going perfectly, but that is not how life works, regrettably.”
On Saturday, Rumsfeld made a surprise trip to Iraq.
The House Ethics Committee has determined outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republican leaders were negligent in not shielding teenage pages from sexual advances by former Florida Congressmember Mark Foley. But the panel ruled that no lawmaker violated any House rules even though they knew for years that Foley was sending sexually explicit Internet messages to underage boys. The report concluded that Hastert’s chief counsel had been aware of Foley’s inappropriate behavior for nearly a decade.
Outgoing Georgia Congressmember Cynthia McKinney introduced a bill on Friday to impeach President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. McKinney accused the president of manipulating intelligence, lying to justify the Iraq War and carrying out illegal domestic spying. McKinney called on her fellow lawmakers to hold President Bush accountable. She said, “No American is above the law.” On Sunday, pro-impeachment rallies were held in dozens of cities across the country.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped New York Congressmember Nydia Velazquez to chair the House Small Business Committee. Velazquez will become the first Latino woman to ever head a congressional committee.
In the Darfur region of Sudan, 30 civilians were killed on Saturday when a pro-government militia ambushed a convoy of refugees. The United Nations said some of the refugees were shot, others were burnt to death. African Union peacekeepers investigating the attack were later taken hostage. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council is holding a special session beginning on Tuesday to discuss human rights violations in Sudan. On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators marched in London and other cities to protest the Sudanese government’s use of rape as a weapon of war. On Friday, outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the world to help stop the crisis.
Kofi Annan: “The tragedy of Darfur has raged for over three years now, and still reports pour in of villages being destroyed in the hundreds and of brutal treatment of civilians spreading into neighboring countries. How can an international community which claims to uphold human rights allow this horror to continue?”
Meanwhile, Kofi Annan is reportedly preparing to criticize the Bush administration’s human rights record during a farewell speech today in Missouri. According to USA Today, Annan will accuse the administration of trying to secure the United States from terrorism in part by dominating other nations through force, committing human rights abuses and taking military action without broad international support. According to one U.N. historian, Annan’s remarks will be the harshest criticism of the United States ever dealt by an outgoing U.N. secretary-general.
On Sunday, rallies were held around the world to mark International Human Rights Day. At the United Nations, Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbour said that poverty should be considered a violation of human rights.
Louise Arbour: “In the Western world, we tend to think of human rights mostly as civil liberties, civil and political rights, at best a nondiscrimination. But there’s a lot to it. Civil rights are one aspect, but economic and social rights are also grounded in a kind of Roosevelt vision of freedom from fear, but also freedom from want. And poverty, I think, is both a consequence and a cause of very, very severe violations of human rights.”
In Philadelphia, hundreds of supporters of death row prisoner and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal rallied on Saturday to mark the 25th anniversary of his arrest for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was convicted for the killing in 1982 but has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence. Amnesty International and other groups have criticized the fairness of his trial and have called for him to be retried. His case has been taken up by anti-death penalty critics around the world.
And new details have emerged about the death of Princess Diana. The Observer newspaper of London reports that the CIA was bugging Diana’s telephone conversations on the night of her death. The surveillance operation was conducted without the approval of the British security services. CBS News reported that it has long been rumored that her work as an anti-land mine campaigner brought her to the attention of the CIA. The Observer said the revelations raise fresh questions over transatlantic agreements on intelligence sharing. The transcripts of the phone calls reportedly did not contain any material that might help explain her death.