The Bush administration appears to have given its tacit support to Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution and crackdown on thousands of government opponents. On Saturday, Musharraf replaced Pakistan’s chief justice and declared a state of emergency. Musharraf cited a rise in militant attacks inside Pakistan. But the move came just days before Pakistan’s Supreme Court was to rule on whether his re-election last month was legal. An estimated 1,800 people have been arrested, including dissident leaders, lawyers and human rights activists. Opposition leader and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, condemned what she called “martial law.”
Benazir Bhutto: “We condemn this martial law. We will protest it. The people of Pakistan will not accept it.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. will review its annual $150 million aid flow to Pakistan. But The New York Times reports senior Pakistani officials say the White House reaction has been “muted” and that they don’t expect “real consequences.” Neither President Bush nor any senior U.S. official has called Musharraf to voice protest. Pakistani Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said: “They would rather have a stable Pakistan — albeit with some restrictive norms — than have more democracy prone to fall in the hands of extremists. Given the choice, I know what our friends would choose.” We’ll have more on Pakistan after headlines.
In Iraq, 2007 is on pace to be the deadliest year on record for U.S. troops since the invasion more than four years ago. According to the Associated Press, at least 847 American servicemembers have died in Iraq this year. With less than two months left, it’s the second-highest annual U.S. toll of the Iraq occupation.
Here in the United States, attorney general hopeful Michael Mukasey appears headed for confirmation after three key senators announced they will support his nomination. This weekend, Senate Judiciary Committee members Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California said they will back Mukasey despite his refusal to condemn waterboarding as a form of torture. Schumer and Feinstein said they are backing Mukasey in part to stabilize the leaderless Justice Department and to avoid recess appointments.
Meanwhile, new evidence suggests the Bush administration forced out a senior Justice Department official who declared waterboarding a form of torture after experiencing it firsthand. According to ABC News, former Acting Assistant Attorney General Dan Levin was so concerned about the White House’s approval of waterboarding that he went to a military base to undergo it himself in 2004. Levin was tasked with reworking the administration’s legal position on torture at the time. He concluded that waterboarding is likely illegal torture unless performed in a limited way under close supervision. The findings were to be included in a memo laying out the administration’s new stance on torture. But Levin never got to complete his report as he was forced out of his job.
In Guatemala, the centrist presidential candidate Álvaro Colom has won an upset electoral victory over former army general Otto Pérez Molina. General Pérez Molina had led in the polls up until last week. He commanded troops in one of Guatemala’s most violent areas and has been implicated in a number of political crimes. The election has been marked by violence with more than 50 campaign workers and candidates killed before September’s first round.
In Mexico, 80,000 people remain trapped by floodwaters on Mexico’s southern gulf coast. Ten people have died since rivers burst their banks last week, destroying the homes of 500,000 people. The state of Tabasco is the hardest hit, with 80 percent of the area submerged in water. Tabasco Governor Andrés Granier appealed for international aid.
Andrés Granier: “We are going to overcome this tragedy. We are on our feet. We are not going to give up. I would like to make a call to the people, to all the world, to ask them to turn their eyes to Tabasco, to Mexico, and ask them to send the aid we need, the aid from all the countries of the world that New Orleans received at its moment.”
The floods are being called one of the worst natural disasters in Mexico’s history.
In Venezuela, supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chávez’s proposal for a series of constitutional changes took to the streets this weekend in massive numbers. Chávez’s plan includes an end to presidential term limits, increasing executive powers during a state of emergency and cutting the workday from eight hours to six. The proposals go before a referendum next month. On Saturday, tens of thousands of opponents rallied against Chávez at a demonstration in Caracas. Opposition leader Óscar Pérez vowed a strong resistance to the plans.
Óscar Pérez: “Today, we begin an agenda of hitting the streets, an agenda of the National Command of Resistance to fight strong and decidedly with other organizations that are willing to hand over their lives, if necessary.”
Saturday’s rallies were followed by a larger pro-Chávez gathering of hundreds of thousands of people the next day. Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez addressed the crowd.
Rafael Ramírez: “We are here on the streets with happiness, without hate, and with much conviction. We are marching to show our people the majority support that we have for the reform. Yes, for reform and for the revolution.”
Venezuela’s referendum vote is scheduled for December second.
Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney was caught in a gaffe this weekend after he tried to criticize Chávez during a speech in Dallas. In blasting Chávez, Cheney mistakenly referred to Venezuela as Peru.
Vice President Dick Cheney: “He’s obviously an individual with his own agenda. And he spends a great deal of his time worrying about us and criticizing the United States. I — my own personal view is that he does not represent the future of Latin America. And people of Peru, I think, deserve better in their leadership, but that’s obviously a matter they’ve got to resolve for themselves.”
Neither Cheney nor the audience corrected the statement.
In Somalia, nearly 90,000 people have fled the capital Mogadishu since violence increased last week. Ethiopian troops continue to pour into the country to combat Islamist militants. Aid workers say the new wave of refugees is leading to a crisis in overcrowded camps. Displaced Mogadishu resident Faduma Hassan Geelle, described her plight.
Faduma Hassan Geelle: “I had fled Mogadishu before, then I went back thinking everything was fine. While there, they killed all my children, and I had to flee again. I have nothing left.”
The World Bank has been forced to cut aid funding in Iran because of the Bush administration’s new sanctions against the Iranian government. World Bank officials say they’ve suspended more than $5 million in payments for earthquake relief, sanitation and other projects.
Back in this country, new poll figures continue to show declining support for President Bush and the Iraq invasion. According to The Washington Post and ABC News, less than one-quarter of the population thinks the nation is on the right track. Six out of 10 Americans think the Iraq war has not been worth fighting. On Friday, President Bush dismissed the poll numbers and vowed to continue the occupation.
President Bush: “I will make decisions about our troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan based upon the considered judgment of those who wear the uniform, not based upon the Gallup poll or political party considerations.”
In campaign news, Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson is on the defensive following disclosures a key fundraiser has a history of drug trafficking and gambling. The Washington Post revealed this weekend that Thompson campaign co-chair Philip Martin pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking and conspiracy charges in 1983. Thompson has used Martin’s private jet during his campaign. Thompson says he was not aware of Martin’s criminal past.
The nation’s television and movie writers are on strike today after talks with entertainment producers broke down. The Hollywood Writers Guild, representing 12,000 writers, is seeking compensation for work appearing in new media outlets like the Internet. The last writers’ strike lasted nearly six months in 1988.
And the environmental grassroots movement Step It Up held its second National Day of Climate Action this weekend. More than 1,400 events were held in all 50 states to call for a reduction of U.S. carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050, the creation of millions of new “green” jobs, and a moratorium on coal-fueled power plants. Speakers addressing rallies around the country included the peace mom Cindy Sheehan in San Francisco and Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards in New Orleans.
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