In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has won a landslide victory over his rival, Manuel Rosales, in Sunday’s presidential election. Chavez gained over 60 percent of the vote. Last night thousands of supporters celebrated in Caracas. Chavez told the crowd that his re-election marked a great victory for the Bolivarian revolution and a setback to President Bush.
In Mexico, Felipe Calderon was sworn in as the country’s new president during a chaotic ceremony on Friday. Calderon is taking office after one of the most contested presidential races in Mexico’s history. Calderon’s main opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, maintains the election was stolen and that he is in fact the legitimate president. On Friday, opposition lawmakers who back Lopez Obrador set up a barricade of chairs inside the national Congress in an attempt to prevent Calderon from entering the building. Fistfights broke out on the floor of Congress. One lawmaker held up a sign that read “Mexico doesn’t deserve a traitor to democracy as president.” Despite the barricades, Calderon managed to sneak in through a back door. Then Calderon headed to the podium surrounded by bodyguards and supporters.
Felipe Calderon: “I swear to keep and to make sure that the Mexican Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico and the laws which emanate from it.”
As Calderon took the oath of office, his critics screamed, “Felipe will fall! Felipe will fall!” Then Calderon quickly left the building. The whole ceremony took less than four minutes. Outgoing President Vicente Fox first handed over power to Calderon early Friday morning in an unprecedented secret ceremony. Meanwhile, Lopez Obrador led tens of thousands of protesters in a large march in Mexico City.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador: “They can’t handle us, because we won’t take a step back.”
In Lebanon, large anti-government protests have entered their fourth day. The protests began on Friday when hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah supporters and their Christian allies rallied in downtown Beirut. Since then, thousands have camped out in tents in an effort to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
In news on Iraq, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has privately called for a major adjustment to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. In a memo written days before he was ousted from his job, Rumsfeld outlined a series of options for U.S. forces, including a partial withdrawal from Iraq or the pulling out of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities. Rumsfeld wrote: “Clearly what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.” He also suggested adopting some of Saddam Hussein’s practices. Rumsfeld wrote: “Provide money to key political and religious leaders (as Saddam Hussein did), to get them to help us.” Confirmation hearings begin on Tuesday for Robert Gates, the man President Bush nominated to replace Rumsfeld.
On Sunday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said President Bush would announce his plan for Iraq in the coming weeks. Hadley said: “We have not failed in Iraq. We will fail in Iraq if we pull out our troops before we’re in a position to help the Iraqis succeed.”
Italy has pulled out its last troops from Iraq—weeks ahead of schedule. At one point Italy had 3,000 troops in Iraq and was Washington’s second-largest coalition partner after Britain.
Here in this country, a new coalition of three dozen peace and social justice groups called Mandate for Peace is urging antiwar activists to call Congress today to urge lawmakers to immediately bring all troops home from Iraq. The coalition is supporting legislation proposed by Congressmember Jim McGovern that would cut off funding for the war. Eighteen other Democrats have co-sponsored the legislation, HR 4232.
On Capitol Hill, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has named Silvestre Reyes to be the next chair of the House Intelligence Committee. By naming Reyes, Pelosi passed over the panel’s top Democrat, Jane Harman. Reyes opposed the war in Iraq. He has also accused President Bush of ignoring the Fourth Amendment by conducting warrantless surveillance of American citizens. Reyes fought in the Vietnam War and worked in the Border Patrol for 26 years. He will become the first Latino to chair the House Intelligence Committee and is just the seventh Latino to ever lead a full House committee.
Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has suffered a serious heart attack. Doctors described the condition of the 91-year-old as stable but “life threatening.” A priest gave Pinochet his last rites on Sunday. Last week, Pinochet was placed under house arrest after he was indicted on charges of kidnapping and murdering two bodyguards of Salvador Allende after the 1973 coup.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a case that will determine whether city governments can continue to adopt plans to promote racially desegregated schools. Parents of white students in Seattle and Louisville sued their local school districts to challenge policies that considered race as a factor in determining what schools students attend. The Bush administration has backed the white parents. Meanwhile, many civil rights groups and other organizations have supported the school districts.
Ted Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund: “The two cases that are in the Supreme Court are undergirded by an ideology that equates any race consciousness with racial discrimination, and in an Orwellian sense, even voluntary integration plans are perceived to be racially discriminatory. … What’s at issue here is this country’s promise made 50 years ago, 52 years ago, in Brown v. Board of Education.”
Some legal experts have said that if the Supreme Court sides with the white parents, it will indicate, from a constitutional law standpoint, that the country has given up on the racial integration of public schools. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1970.
In Arizona, over 100 people rallied on Saturday outside the headquarters of US Airways in Tempe. Two weeks ago, six Muslim imams were removed from a US Airways flight. After they were questioned and determined to be innocent, US Airways refused to allow them to purchase a return flight ticket home.
Lawyers for Jose Padilla are arguing that he is now unfit to stand trial because he has become mentally ill after years of imprisonment and interrogations. The government initially accused Padilla of plotting to set off a dirty bomb inside the United States. He was held as an enemy combatant in complete isolation. He wasn’t allowed to see an attorney for 21 months. Padilla is now facing trial on less serious charges. His lawyers say he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to assist in his own defense. His interrogations, they say, included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of “truth serums.” The New York Times today published two new photos of Padilla in detention. One showed him being escorted by three guards dressed in riot gear with their faces hidden by plastic visors. He is wearing blacked-out goggles and noise-blocking headphones. His lawyers say that for three years Padilla had little human contact other than with his interrogators. His cell was electronically monitored. His meals were passed to him through a slot in the door. The windows were blackened. There was no clock or calendar. He slept on a steel platform after a foam mattress was taken from him. The New York Times reports the government is now seeking to block Padilla’s lawyers from telling the jury about the conditions of his confinement at his trial.
And in New York, hundreds gathered on Friday for the funeral of Sean Bell, the 23-year-old unarmed African-American man who was shot dead by the police on his wedding day. The funeral was held in the same church where Bell was supposed to have been married just a week before. The funeral was attended by many relatives who lost loved ones to police brutality. They included Amadou Diallo’s mother, Patrick Dorismond’s mother and Nicholas Heyward Jr.’s father. After the funeral, Democracy Now! interviewed one community member outside.
Woman at funeral: “I came to pay my respects. I have an only child. My son called me and said, 'Mommy, did you hear the news?' And I said, 'Not again, not again. I can't believe this.’ So I came to pay my respect, 'cause I'm tired of the killing. I’m just worried that after Amadou, it’s the same thing again, and there’s going to be no justice, no peace.”
Amy Goodman: “What is the sign you carry tonight?”
Woman: “'Justice for Sean Bell.'”
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