Iraq is under a high security alert following days of violence sparked by Wednesday’s bombing of one of the country’s holiest Shiite shrines in Samarra. At least 140 people, mostly Sunni Arabs, have been killed across the country. The Sunni-led Association of Muslim Scholars has said 184 Sunni mosques have since been damaged or destroyed. 10 clerics have been killed and 15 more abducted. The government imposed a rare daytime curfew today in Baghdad and in three other provinces — preventing many from attending Friday prayers. A series of joint Sunni-Shiite demonstrations have been held calling for national unity and to condemn the increasing violence. As many as 10,000 rallied in Basra alone. But many analysts fear Iraq is on the brink of civil war. The U.S. military is ordering its soldiers to stay in its barracks in Baghdad and to stay off the streets. On Thursday seven U.S. troops died. Meanwhile the staff of the satellite TV channel Al Arabiya is in mourning following the death of one of its best-known correspondents in Iraq. The 30-year-old Atwar Bahjat was assassinated along with her cameraman and soundman on Thursday.
A United Arab Emirates company has offered to delay it takeover of operations at six U.S. ports following political outcry over the deal in Washington. The state-controlled firm — Dubai Ports World — said it would not yet exercise control over the ports due to the controversy. President Bush has backed the deal but it has been widely criticized by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. On Thursday Democrats, saying they were concerned for national security, called for a 45-day investigation into the deal that would put the Dubai-based company in charge of six of the nation’s largest seaports: Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Newark, N.J. Critics of the deal have noted that the UAE was the birthplace of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers and that it was one of only three countries to ever recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers. But on Thursday Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England defended the deal saying that the United Arab Emirates is now an ally of the United States. Companies from China, Denmark, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan already run docks here in the United States.
The Financial Times is reporting an intelligence wing of the Marines has hired a private defense contractor to conduct a secret study of Iran’s ethnic minorities. This is a move that could indicate early stages of contingency plans for a ground assault on Iran. The Marines conducted a similar study in Iraq. A former intelligence officer said the ultimate purpose of the Marines intelligence wing was to “support effective ground military operations by the Marine Corps.” The study appeared to focus on whether Iran would be prone to a violent fragmentation along the same kind of fault lines that are splitting Iraq. The Financial Times reports several Iranians living in the United States refused to help with the study because they saw it as part of an effort to break up Iran. To conduct the analysis, the military hired a subsidiary of the defense contractor SAIC, the Science Applications International Corp.
In news on Hurricane Katrina, the Natural Resources Defense Council is warning that the soil and air around New Orleans still contains dangerously high levels of contaminants. According to the group, floodwaters from the Hurricane deposited arsenic, lead and petrochemical compounds across the region in amounts that are potentially dangerous to human health. The watchdog group is urging the state and federal government to clean up the waste before permitting young children to return to the city.
The Bolivian government is protesting a decision by the United States to block a close confidante of newly elected President Evo Morales from visiting the country. The woman — Leonida Zurita — is a leader among Bolivia’s peasants and coca farmers. The State Department said her visa was revoked after the U.S. government received “information” about her. On Thursday Zurita spoke to reporters in Bolivia: “When I deposited my tickets, my passport and the suitcase I was carrying, the secretary that worked for American Airlines told me “You cannot travel. It is an order of the ambassador (of the U.S.). What the letter that was presented to me said–I have read it–it talked about some articles–I don’t know which ones–and said that I could be involved with terrorism or associated with terrorism. I said if I was a terrorist then I should be in jail.” Earlier in the week it was revealed that the U.S. government has also been blocking an indigenous Bolivian professor named Waskar Ari from entering the country in order to teach at the University of Nebraska.
A federal judge has ordered the Bush administration to release the names of all of the detainees being secretly held at Guantanamo Bay. Up until now, only a handful of the detainees have been officially identified. The ruling comes as the Bush administration is coming under increasing international pressure to close the prison camp. Meanwhile newly released FBI memos show that FBI agents repeatedly warned military interrogators at Guantanamo that their aggressive methods were legally risky and also likely to be ineffective. The memos indicate that senior military officials, including former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, were aware of and in some cases had approved of putting hoods on prisoners, threatening them with violence and subjecting them to humiliating treatment.
In the Philippines, President Gloria Arroyo has declared a state of emergency just days ahead of the 20th anniversary of the fall of former President Ferdinand Marcos. The military said it had foiled a coup plot. Earlier today, thousands of protesters defied the state of emergency and rallied in the streets. Police responded by beating demonstrators and firing water cannons into the crowd. Schools have been closed around the country and military checkpoints have been set up around Manila.
In Ecuador protests targeting the country’s oil industry have ended after the government agreed to spend millions of dollars on social programs in the impoverished but oil-rich province of Napo. The protests began on Monday as Napo residents seized a major oil production site. On Tuesday demonstrators shut down two pipelines and briefly kidnapped 24 oil workers. To stop the protests the government sent in hundreds of troops and arrested two mayors and a legislator. The protesters have long complained that the federal government was profiting from the region’s oil but neglected to finance projects that benefited residents including roads, bridges and airports.
In news on Haiti, President Bush has spoken for the first time with newly elected president Rene Preval. According to the White House Bush congratulated Preval on his victory and discussed Haiti’s cooperation in the so-called war on drugs. But tension already seems to be mounting between the U.S. and the new government over whether former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide should be allowed to return. Aristide was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup two years ago. Aristide announced his intention to return earlier this week: “The date of my return will emerge from consultation, as president Mbeki and minister Zuma already said it. So when its concluded you will know…(HANDS), Its a private issue....because I respect all those who are concerned, I prefer to wait for the reaction before elaborating on a date.” I know a date will emerge as I said and you will know. “The Preval government has indicated Aristide will be able to return but the Bush administration has said Arisitide’s return would serve no useful purpose. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said: “Aristide is from the past. We’re looking to the future.”
In Arizona, an environmental activist is facing 25 years in jail and a $250,000 fine for a speech he gave in San Diego three years ago. The government charges the activist, Rodney Coronado, broke the law by urging people to commit arson and telling them how to build an incendiary device. The FBI has described Coronado as a leader of the Earth Liberation Front. His speech came just a day after the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for burning down a new condominium complex in San Diego. Coronado has never been charged in connection with the fire — just the speech he gave the next day.
In China, a dissident journalist has been freed after 17 years in prison. The 38-year-old Yu Dongyue was arrested in 1989 during the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests for hurling eggs filled with red paints at a portrait of Mao. Family members have expressed grave concern over the state of his mental health. His brother reported Mr. Yu didn’t even recognize him. Reporters Without Border has been warning for years that Mr. Yu had gone insane as a result of being tortured in prison.
And in Ohio, a private video surveillance company called CityWatcher has embedded radio transmitter ID chips into two of its employees. It is believed to be the first time U.S. workers have been electronically tagged for identification purposes. Privacy activist Liz McIntyre said “There are very serious privacy and civil liberty issues of having people permanently numbered.” The company has planted the electronic chip into the upper right arms of two employees. The implants ensure that only those two employees have access to a room where the company holds security video footage for government agencies and the police. The “radio frequency identification tags” are made by the U.S. company VeriChip. The technology allows a company or government to permanently track anyone embedded with an ID chip.
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