The two top figures in the Enron corporate scandal have been found guilty. On Thursday, Enron founder Ken Lay was convicted in two separate trials on 10 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and for making false statements to banks. Enron’s former CEO Jeffrey Skilling was also convicted. A jury found him guilty on 19 of 28 counts. The conspiracy and fraud convictions each carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Four years ago Enron filed for bankruptcy after years of defrauding its own employees and investors. The bankruptcy put over 4,000 people out of work. The value of the company’s stock dropped from ninety dollars to about 30 cents. Thousands of Enron employees lost their lifesavings.
The estimated toll of innocent civilians killed by US Marines in the Iraqi town of Haditha is now higher than previously thought. Democratic Congressmember John Murtha told the Marine Corps Times that the number of dead Iraqis is actually 24, up from the previous figure of 15. Murtha says would not be surprised if a dozen Marines face court-martials for the killings. Retired Brigadier General David Brahms, a former top lawyer for the Marine Corps, said: “When these investigations come out, there’s going to be a firestorm. It will be worse than Abu Ghraib — nobody was killed at Abu Ghraib.”
President Bush hosted British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Washington Thursday for talks on Iraq. At a joint press conference the President was asked whether he could identify any mistakes or missteps in his Iraq policy.
The President did not mention the US bombing of hospitals and medicine-depots in Fallujah or the massacre of Iraqi civilians at Haditha. It was at least the third time President Bush had been asked about mistakes at a news conference. The first time he was asked the President famously said he couldn’t remember any.
Meanwhile in Iraq, at least nine people were killed and 30 wounded in a car bombing in central Baghdad earlier today.
In East Timor Thursday, clashes between the military and a group of dismissed soldiers left at least nine people dead and 27 injured. It was one of East Timor’s worst days of fighting since becoming an independent state in 2002. The conflict erupted weeks ago when the East Timorese government fired more than 600 striking soldiers. Tens of thousands of civilians have since been displaced. Most of Thursday’s dead were unarmed soldiers who had been shot by rebels after a ceasefire had been negotiated. Despite the unrest, East Timorese and UN officials say they hope peace talks could begin as early as this weekend.
In Japan, a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was met with vocal protests as it arrived in the port city of Sobetha on Thursday. More than 150 people gathered on shore and on small fishing ships to protest the arrival of the 100,000 tonne USS Abraham Lincoln. The fishing ships navigated around Japanese coast guard attempting to prevent them for nearing the carrier. Anti-nuclear sentiment runs high in Sobetha. The city neighbors Nagasaki, which was attacked by US atomic bombs in 1945.
In Russia, campaigners for gay rights say they will proceed with a gay pride rally despite a ban from the mayor of Moscow. The march is scheduled for Saturday. Police have refused to provide protection despite open threats from extremist groups to disrupt the event.
This news on Burma — UN Secretary General Koffi Annan has made a direct appeal for the release of jailed pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Annan spoke in Thailand earlier today.
Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since 2003. She leads Burma’s National League for Democracy. The group won a landslide election victory in 1990 but the military refused to hand over power.
Back in the United States, the Senate overwhelming passed its version of the immigration bill Thursday, setting the stage for a showdown with a competing version in the House. Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy hailed the measure as a major compromise.
The legislation would offer many of the country’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. But critics say the bill would make it easier for immigrants to be detained and denied fair hearings. The bill establishes possession of “fraudulent documents” as grounds for deportation — even if those documents were used to flee oppressive regimes. Timothy Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “We had counted on senators taking the time to eliminate … the unwise and unsound provisions that strike due process. And the Senate failed to do its job.”
With this year’s hurricane season opening next week, a climate researcher is warning New Orleans is the US city most likely to be struck. The researcher, Chuck Watson, of the risk assessment firm Kinetic Analysis, says New Orleans has a nearly 30 percent chance of being hit by a hurricane.
New details have emerged over columnist Robert Novak’s role in the CIA leak case. According to a new report by investigative journalist Murray Waas, Novak promised White House aide Karl Rove he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Novak is the columnist who first exposed Plame’s identity in a newspaper column. The disclosure set off a scandal that has led to the indictment of former Vice Presidential chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
The Federal Communications Commission has ordered a probe of dozens of television stations that have aired Video News Releases — corporate-sponsored propaganda disguised as news coverage. The investigation was prompted by the findings of a recent Center for Media and Democracy study that found 77 TV stations around the country aired VNRs in the past 10 months. The stations are scattered throughout 30 states and are affiliated with all of the major networks: ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.
And in Los Angeles, a standoff over the fate of a downtown community farm has intensified. Occupants of the South Central Farm are staging a 24-hour encampment and tree-sit to resist eviction orders that would clear them from land they’ve tended for over a decade. The 14-acre South Central Farm hosts the largest urban farm in the United States. 350 families use the farm to grow a multitude of crops. It was leased to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank following the 1992 Rodney King riots. In 2003, the land was sold back to a real estate developer who now wants to turn it into commercial property. The encampment has attracted several celebrity supporters including the singers Joan Baez and Ben Harper and actresses Laura Dern and Daryl Hannah.
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