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Up to 30 people are missing following Wednesday’s collapse of Minnesota’s busiest bridge. Rescue workers have recovered four bodies, but more are feared trapped inside cars that sunk into the Mississippi River. Seventy-nine people are injured.
Minnesota fire chief Jim Clack: “We’re concerned about the structural stability of the bridge still, the pieces that remain off the ground, so we’re going to be very careful to use the experts to make sure our rescue workers are safe. This is not a rescue operation any longer; it’s a recovery operation. This means we move more slowly and more deliberately.”
The developments come as U.S. officials admitted alarm bells were first raised about the bridge 17 years ago. The Department of Transportation rated the bridge as structurally deficient and began yearly repairs. Two years ago, inspectors gave the same rating and said the bridge would possibly need replacement. More than 70,000 bridges across the country have also been rated structurally deficient.
There are new developments in the debate over the Bush administration’s warrantless spying program. The Washington Post is reporting a federal intelligence court judge ruled earlier this year that a key part of the wiretap effort is illegal. The judge ruled the administration had violated its authority in trying to monitor overseas communication routed through the United States. The Bush administration has argued that all parts of the program are legal. The Washington Post reports the ruling has provided an undeclared motivation for this week’s congressional push to expand President Bush’s spying powers. Lawmakers are considering a Democratic proposal that would expand the wiretapping for another six months but keep them under jurisdiction of a secret intelligence court. Democratic leaders say they want to pass a bill before the August recess. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is leading calls to stall a vote until privacy concerns can be addressed.
The Senate has passed a bipartisan bill that would expand health insurance to millions of low-income American children. The 68-to-31 vote follows House approval one day before. The margin would be enough to override a threatened presidential veto from the White House. President Bush says he’s against the bill because it would it would increase the government’s role in healthcare. The Senate version would boost spending on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program — S-CHIP — by $35 billion over five years. The cigarette tax would be raised to one dollar a pack. The Senate funding falls short of the $50 billion approved by the House. Senators rejected an amendment that would match the House increase by raising taxes on Americans making more than $1 million a year.
In other news from Washington, the Senate has approved a new ethics bill that would ban lobbyist-paid gifts, meals and travel, and impose rules on how lawmakers capitalize on political connections once leaving office. Lobbyists and lawmakers would be forced to disclose large contributions over short time periods. But some critics say the new restrictions are too lax. Lawmakers would be allowed to waive a requirement that says they must announce earmarks at least 48 hours before a vote.
In Oakland, a veteran journalist and editor has been killed in what police say was a targeted shooting. Fifty-eight-year-old Chauncey Bailey had recently been promoted editor of the Oakland Post. He was shot multiple times in downtown Oakland Thursday morning.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has wrapped up her visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories. On Thursday, Rice met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to show support for the Fatah leader in his power struggle with Hamas. The two signed a deal to release the first $10 million of $80 million in frozen U.S. aid. The agreement came days after the U.S. announced a 25 percent increase in military aid to Israel — to $3 billion. Rice said the Bush administration supports democracy in the Middle East but defended its decision to boycott Palestinians for electing Hamas. Rice said: “We believe strongly in the right of people to express themselves and their desires, in elections,” but added, “you have the obligation to govern responsibly.” Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar dismissed Rice’s visit as a PR stunt.
Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar: “This visit comes as a public relations stunt to help the suffering credibility of (Mahmoud Abbas) and also the credibility of the weak Israeli government. This is an attempt to give the impression that something might happen for the Palestinian people from these visits. The money that is allocated using these methods have all been against the Palestinian well-being and has harmed whoever took it. We say that the Palestinian people have waited for a long time from this leadership and in return did not even get the minimum.”
Jury deliberations begin today in the military trial of a U.S. soldier accused in the rape and murder of the 14-year-old Iraqi teenager Abeer Qassim Hamza and the killing of her parents and younger sister in the town of Mahmoudiya last year. The soldier, Private First Class Jesse Spielman, is accused of conspiracy to commit rape and murder. Three servicemembers have already been convicted in the case. The alleged ringleader, former soldier Steven Green, awaits trial as a civilian in federal court.
Support is growing in the U.S. for Iraqi oil workers striking against the U.S.-backed oil law under debate in Iraq. The main union representing American oil workers is calling on Congress to stop pressuring Iraq to pass the law and to shift support to the Iraqi oil workers’ demands. In a letter to House and Senate leaders, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard says: “The oil privatization law now under consideration by Iraq’s government is designed to benefit the multinational oil companies; not the Iraqi people.”
In Britain, an independent police oversight board has ruled that Britain’s top counterterrorism officer misled the public about the deadly shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. De Menezes is the innocent Brazilian man who was shot dead after British police mistook him for a suicide bomber. The counterterrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, did not report that de Menezes was unarmed. That led London police chief Ian Blair to falsely announce de Menezes had refused to obey police instructions. On Thursday, Blair apologized to the victim’s family.
Ian Blair: “I want to say again that I am very sorry that some information released to the public was wrong and increased the grief to the de Menezes family. I hope, however, that the shortcomings which occurred will be seen in the light of both the extraordinary challenges that we faced and the significant steps we have since taken to improve.”
Prosecutors say they won’t charge any of the officers involved in the shooting. Speaking in London, de Menezes’ cousin Patricia da Silva Armani said their family has been denied justice.
Patricia da Silva Armani:”No one has been held responsible for anything. No one is going to be prosecuted. The police have been allowed to get away with murder.”
In Chile, police have captured a fugitive general who escaped just before he was set to begin a jail term for crimes committed under the dictator Augusto Pinochet. Retired General Raul Iturriaga had been on the run since June.
Chilean government spokesperson Lagos Weber: “I can guarantee the criminal Iturriaga has been arrested, that he will have to carry out the sentence handed down by the Chilean courts.”
In Colombia, the father of a hostage held by the rebel group FARC has met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe after walking more than 500 miles on a protest march. Gustavo Moncayo is calling on Uribe to reach an accord with the rebels. Uribe says he will agree to establish a special zone to hold talks but is refusing FARC demands that it be demilitarized. After the meeting, Moncayo criticized Uribe’s stance.
Gustavo Moncayo: “The president comes out here in public and says that we are going to be finished with these bandits and we’ll eliminate these delinquents. It’s like stabbing us in the heart, the heart of the family members. It’s like dying to us. I decided to take the initiative and come here to protest with my chains. These chains are for the president because he is not the owner of life, to say go and rescue them. The president is not the god of life, and it hurts me. It hurts me.”
The fruit giant Chiquita International is claiming it failed to stop illegally paying right-wing Colombian militias because the Bush administration never responded to the company’s admission that it was making the payments. Earlier this year, Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million fine for making $1.7 million in payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia — considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. But Chiquita now says those payments may have had at least the tacit approval of the Bush administration. The Washington Post reports a Chiquita board member met with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in April 2003 while Chertoff was at the Justice Department. The board member, Roderick Hills, reportedly told Chertoff that Chiquita knew the payments were illegal but would have to end operations in Colombia if it stopped making them. Several sources say Chertoff agreed that the payments were illegal, but agreed that the situation was “complicated.” Chertoff advised Hills to wait for more feedback before taking action. Chiquita says the feedback never came and that it left the meeting with the message the Bush administration did not object to the payments. Chiquita kept making payments for nearly another year.
And the District of Columbia has agreed to pay $1 million to more than 100 demonstrators rounded up and detained during an antiwar protest in September 2002. The settlement is Washington’s largest to date for the police crackdown on the protest. D.C. previously agreed to pay more than $640,000 to 14 other demonstrators. A larger class action suit covering more than 400 people awaits trial.