In Haiti, voters are awaiting the outcome of the first presidential election since the U.S.-backed ouster of the Lavalas government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide two years ago. There were no polling stations in the Lavalas stronghold of Cite Soleil, home to at least 200,000 people. Voters swarmed out of that poor neighborhood as well as Bel Air and other areas to discover that voting stations had failed to open, election officials had no ballots, registration lists were incorrect and lines stretched for blocks. Angry crowds stormed the gates of the voting stations. At least four people died, including a police officer who was killed by a mob after fatally shooting a voter. The frontrunner in the election is former Aristide ally Rene Preval. He served as Aristide’s first prime minister and succeeded Aristide as president in 1996.
In Georgia Tuesday, an estimated 10,000 people filled the pews of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia, for the funeral of civil rights pioneer Coretta Scott King. Former presidents Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, and President George W. Bush attended the funeral along with 14 US senators and public figures including Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Wonder. King died January 30th at the age of 78 after seeking treatment in Mexico for ovarian cancer. She had just recently suffered a rehabilitating stroke and heart attack. At Tuesday’s service both former President Jimmy Carter and the former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Reverend Joseph Lowery, made subtle criticism of President Bush. They cited the war in Iraq, civil liberties transgressions and accused the president of ignoring the plight of the US poor.
In Afghanistan, NATO troops killed four demonstrators Tuesday as angry protests continued over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. NATO officials said the protesters had attacked a base in the northern town of Maymana. Meanwhile, thousands of people convened for protests in several Muslim countries, including Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan. The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten originally published the 12 cartoons last September–including one that shows the Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The cartoons were republished in European and other news media in the last week. Muslims say the images are blasphemous and contrary to Islamic tradition prohibiting depictions of the prophet. On Tuesday, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen made a public appeal to Muslims around the world: “Today I want to appeal and to reach out to all people in countries in the Muslim world. Let us work together in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance, we need to solve this issue through mutual respect and dialogue and not violence.”
Meanwhile, several Muslim groups continued to argue that while they support freedom of expression, the cartoons were in poor taste. Dr. Esam Omeish, President of the Muslim American Society said: “We vehemently stand by the freedom of the press and with the freedom of opinion, however we say that with this freedom is responsibility in which there must be respect for other religions and the rights of others and to stress that we are all part of one society. We want what’s good for the whole society and we do not want to disrespect the rights of one another.”
In Britain, Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been sentenced to seven years in prison for incitement of racial hatred and soliciting murder. Hamza is known for making fiery attacks on Jews, Christians, and gays, but has never been shown to have direct links to violent acts. His sentence comes days after a British court acquitted Nick Griffin, leader of the rightist British National Party, of hate speech. Griffin was recorded calling Islam a “wicked, vicious faith” that “has expanded through a handful of cranky lunatics” and “is now sweeping country after country.” Massoud Shadjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: “Compared with what has happened in the past few days — Nick Griffin and the (Mohammed) caricatures — [Hamza’s conviction] has increased the perception in the Muslim community that freedom of speech is selective and access to justice is not blind.”
In Israel, Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced Israel will keep the three largest settlement blocks in the West Bank — home to more than 70,000 people. Palestinians say the settlements are illegal and prevent any chance for a viable future state. This week, the Israeli group Peace Now reported that 12,000 new residents moved into West Bank settlements in 2005 — 3,000 more than the total number removed as part of Israel”s recent disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
Back in the United States, four Alabama Baptist churches were set on fire Tuesday. The blazes come less than one week after suspicious fires damaged five churches in central Alabama. Police are investigating the fires as civil rights violations, but have declined to say whether they believe they may be hate crimes. Although all of the churches that were torched Tuesday have predominantly black congregations, four of the five churches burned in last week’s fires have predominantly white congregations. Police say witnesses have reported seeing two white males driving a black sport-utility vehicle near both the areas where the fires have been set.
On Capitol Hill, the Republican chair of the House subcommittee that oversees the National Security Agency has called for a full Congressional inquiry into the Bush administration’s domestic eavesdropping program. In a split with the White House, New Mexico Congressmember Heather Wilson, chair of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, told the New York Times she has “serious concerns” about the surveillance program. Wilson is the first Republican on either the House or Senate Intelligence Committee to call for a full Congressional investigation into the program.
Meanwhile, the conservative publication Insight on the News is reporting White House deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is threatening any Republican Senate Judiciary members who challenge the White House on the domestic surveillance program. According to Insight, “Sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November.” A senior Republican aide told the publication: “It’s hardball all the way.”
In New Orleans, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has begun evicting thousands of Katrina evacuees from government-paid hotel rooms. On Tuesday, occupants of more than 4500 rooms were ordered to leave their hotels. FEMA officials say the agency will continue to pay for another 20,000 rooms until March 1st. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco criticized the evictions, stating: “I am troubled that FEMA has continued to reject the state’s request for solutions, particularly in light of its failure to deliver temporary housing options to meet the needs of our Louisiana citizens.”
In other news, a presidential appointee at NASA’s public affairs department has resigned following the disclosure he fabricated parts of his resumé. George Deutsch, who was appointed last year after working on President Bush’s re-election campaign and inauguration, wrongly claimed he had graduated with a journalism degree from Texas A & M University. Deutsh is one of several NASA officials accused by agency scientists of attempting to silence their warnings over the threats posed by global warming.
In Washington, Knight Ridder is reporting the White House has conducted a major reorganization of the State Department that has marginalized several career international weapons experts in favor of “less experienced political operatives who share the White House and Pentagon’s distrust of international negotiations and treaties.” According to current and former officials interviewed by Knight Ridder, the reorganizing has led to “an exodus of experts with decades of experience in nuclear arms, chemical weapons and related matters.” In a joint letter, a group of State weapons experts said: “The process has been gravely flawed from the outset, and smacks plainly of a political vendetta against career Foreign Service and Civil Service (personnel) by political appointees.” In one case, the new Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism circulated a job posting that listed loyalty to the priorities of President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a job qualification. Some weapons analysts said the exodus is especially worrisome because of the pending expiration of the 1991 START I treaty — the only mechanism for verifying U.S. and Russian nuclear arms cuts.
And in West Papua, scientists say they’ve found what they call a “lost world” of dozens of exotic new species of birds, butterflies, frogs and plants. Henk Van Mastrigt, an Entomologist with Conservation International, said: “I have been collecting for 30 years in Papua and I never collected so many new species in so little time.” Indigenous communities living near the Foja range say they’ve never ventured inside the untouched region. The discovered species include more than 20 new species of frog, four new species of butterfly and several new species of plants. Scientists say the area is probably the largest pristine tropical forest in Asia.
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