Australian Prime Minister John Howard, one of President Bush’s closest allies, has been voted out of office. Australia’s new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has pledged to withdraw Australian combat troops from Iraq and immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. On Sunday, Rudd celebrated his victory, which ends eleven years of conservative rule in Australia.
Kevin Rudd: “This election has been about the future. We have an agenda for the future. We have therefore an agenda of work now to prosecute. And to do that effectively, we need the best team to do it. I will be spending the next several days determining the composition of the team. Thank you very much.”
Kevin Rudd heads the center-left Labor Party. Once Australia signs the Kyoto Protocol, the United States will stand alone as the only industrialized country not to have signed the pact. Kevin Rudd has also vowed to issue a formal apology to Aborigines for the abuses they suffered in the past.
President Bush is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today at the White House, one day before the US-sponsored Middle East summit in Annapolis, Maryland. More than forty nations are to attend the talks, including Syria, but officials from the Palestinian party Hamas have been excluded. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Arab nations will back a two-state solution.
Saeb Erekat: “I think the Arabs made it very clear we have an Arab peace initiative. There are seventeen Arab foreign ministers who will be coming here. There are many foreign ministers from the Islamic countries that will be coming here. They are coming here with one aim: to back the Palestinian side in their endeavor to achieve peace, based on the Arab peace initiative, two-state solution, Palestine and Israel living side-by-side in peace and security. And that’s what should be done.”
Lebanon remains without a president, three days after Emile Lahoud left office on Friday when his term expired. Lebanon is now without a head of state for the first time since the Lebanon civil war. Parliament has scheduled a vote to choose a new president at the end of the week, but the vote has already been postponed five times. On Sunday, the Lebanese group Hezbollah blamed US interference for the parliament’s inability to elect a president and demanded that the next head of state support Hezbollah’s right to fight against Israel. Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said, “We want a president who believes in national participation and in the right to defend one’s land and protect its people.”
In Pakistan, exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has returned home and has announced plans to run in Pakistan’s parliamentary election in January. Sharif has lived in exile since 1999, when he was overthrown in a coup led by General Pervez Musharraf. On Sunday, Nawaz Sharif called on Musharraf to end emergency rule.
Nawaz Sharif: “I will never strike any deal with a dictator. However, my deal will be with you, the people.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth after Commonwealth foreign ministers agreed that Pakistan’s state of emergency was a “serious violation” of the organization’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
US military officials have accused an Iranian-backed cell of being behind last week’s bombing of a Baghdad pet market that killed fifteen and wounded fifty-five. US Rear Admiral Gregory Smith said, “Based on subsequent confessions, forensics and other intelligence, the bombing was the work of an Iranian-backed special groups cell operating here in Baghdad.”
The US military’s claim comes as new statistics show that the vast majority of foreign fighters in Iraq are not coming from Iran, but Arab allies of the United States. The New York Times reports Saudi Arabia and Libya were the source of about 60 percent of the foreign fighters who came to Iraq in the past year. While American officials have accused Iran of aiding anti-US militants, only eleven Iranians are in US detention in Iraq.
UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei praised Iran on Thursday for cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but he urged Tehran to be more open about its nuclear program.
Mohamed ElBaradei: “Our progress over the past two months has been made possible by an increased level of cooperation on the part of Iran, in accordance with the work plan. However, I would continue to urge Iran to be more proactive in providing information and in accelerating the pace of this cooperation, in order for the Agency to be able to clarify all major remaining outstanding issues by the end of the year.”
ElBaradei repeated that there is no evidence Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The United States responded by claiming that the IAEA report shows that Iran had fallen short in steps to gain trust in its atomic work. Gregory Schulte, the US ambassador to the IAEA, said the United Nations should now consider tougher sanctions.
Gregory Schulte: “We don’t see this report as a positive outcome, and I think my statement was clear in quoting what the foreign ministers, the P5 plus one, said on September 28th, and that’s absent a positive outcome reported by the Director General (of IAEA) and by Javier Solana, that the UN Security Council needs to move forward with the third resolution.”
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, accused the United States of having a hidden agenda and said the Bush administration was misusing the IAEA to pursue harsher measures against Iran.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh: “We will continue this mood of cooperation, provided that the international community and peace-loving countries prevent the United States or others to make noise and create problems and jeopardize, in fact, this constructive approach by any measure in the United Nations Security Council. United Nations Security Council involvement has to be stopped. The sooner, the better.”
The Washington Post reports federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cell phone companies to furnish real-time tracking data to help the government monitor the whereabouts of some cell phone users. In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. It is not known how many times the government has sought the ability to track cell phone users, because the requests and orders are sealed. Kevin Bankston of the privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation said, “Most people don’t realize it, but they’re carrying a tracking device in their pocket. Cellphones can reveal very precise information about your location, and yet legal protections are very much up in the air.” Experts say the phone data provided by the cell phone companies can help the government home in on a target to within about thirty feet.
In election news, delays at the Department of Homeland Security in handling US citizenship applications could mean that several hundred thousand people will not be granted citizenship in time to cast ballots in the 2008 election. The government blamed the delay on an influx in applications prior to July 30, when there was a fee hike to file citizenship papers. The Washington Post reports that before the fee hike citizenship cases typically took about seven months to complete. Now, immigration officials are taking sixteen to eighteen months on average to process applications. Such a time line would push many prospective citizens well past voter registration deadlines for the 2008 primaries and the general elections.
In Bangladesh, more than 1,700 people are still missing from a deadly cyclone that hit the country eleven days ago. The cyclone killed at least 3,400 people and left another 360,000 homeless. Aid groups say money is urgently needed. Bridget Steffen of Save the Children said thousands of families along Bangladesh’s battered coastline are living in the open.
Bridget Steffen: “The water supply is a real problem. People don’t have access to clean water or to sanitation, to where, you know, latrines have all been destroyed… We need urgent funds to be able to really address the needs of children and of the whole population of this area that has experienced such devastation.”
The United Nations Committee Against Torture has determined the use of taser stun guns can be a form of torture and violate the UN Convention Against Torture. The committee said the stun guns cause extreme pain and in some cases death. Four men in the United States and three in Canada have died after being shot with tasers in the past two weeks. Earlier this month, a video emerged showing Canadian police tasering an unarmed Polish tourist in a Vancouver airport. The man died after he was shocked twice with 50,000 volts. The stun gun manufacturer Taser claims that no deaths have ever been definitively connected to the taser.
Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly has approved a new constitution that would increase the power of Bolivia’s indigenous majority. The vote took place in the Bolivian city of Sucre, where opponents of President Evo Morales have been protesting for days. At least three people have died in what Morales described as riots led by criminal groups.
Evo Morales: “I’m sure of that some groups will not accept that an indigenous person is president. That is the basis of this. As they have said permanently, we have to get rid of the Indian, knock down the Indian. They didn’t accept that, with social forces, the national government guarantee this process of change.”
Evo Morales accused former Bolivian president Jorge Quiroga, who leads the right-wing coalition the Social and Democratic Power, of promoting and planning the violence.
In Chicago, a federal court has sentenced a Palestinian American activist to more than eleven years in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury in 2003 about the activities of the Palestinian group Hamas. Abdelhaleem Ashqar defended his refusal to testify, saying that he shouldn’t have to give testimony that would aid the Israeli government. Ashqar told the court, “The only option was to become a traitor or collaborator, and that is something that I can’t do and will never do as long as I live.” Ashqar is a former associate professor of business at Howard University in Washington. Earlier this year, a jury acquitted Ashqar of being a leading member of Hamas and conspiring to support terrorism from the United States.
And an African American congressman from Illinois has accused the Chicago police of racial profiling after he was pulled over while driving with three black passengers. Democratic Congressman Danny Davis said the police pulled him over even though he did not commit any traffic violation. Davis said, “I just could not believe it. I had to conclude that race had to have entered the picture, and that the only reason we were stopped is that there were four African-Americans a little after midnight, in a car going down the street.” Police issued Davis a $75 ticket for driving left of the center line. In 2005, James T. Meeks, a black state senator and a minister, accused the Chicago police of racial profiling and pointing a gun at him during a traffic stop.