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The military junta in Burma is intensifying its two-day crackdown on the most vocal popular uprising against its rule in nearly two decades. Up to eight people have been killed over the last two days. There are now late-breaking reports Burmese troops have opened fired on a crowd of thousands assembled in central Rangoon. Military forces have also raided several monasteries, arresting an estimated 500 monks. On Wednesday, British Ambassador Mark Canning described the scene on the streets.
British Ambassador Mark Canning: "There were a series of arrests overnight of pro-democracy activists. A curfew has been announced from dusk to dawn starting this evening. And I think the question then was whether all these measures would intimidate people into not marching as they have been for the last eight days. And I think the answer is that it did not. There have been many thousands of people out on the streets again."
Meanwhile, the exiled Burmese opposition leader Sein Win called for more international pressure on the junta.
Sein Win: "The military always don’t want to talk with others. They said this is their way, you know. So, they always did like that, in ’88, or also before ’88 also. They never negotiate. They look at all this as a kind of military operation. This is not a military operation; it is a political demonstration."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked Congress for the largest yearly war spending total so far. Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday, Gates asked for $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The request is an extra $42 billion more than the Bush administration’s initial projection. It would boost war spending by 15 percent. The cost of both wars would top $800 billion since the 9/11 attacks. Gates also told lawmakers he foresees "a long-term presence" of U.S. troops in Iraq. Under Gates’ plan, at least 35,000 troops would remain indefinitely. Gates’ comments come as former top war commander General George Casey told lawmakers the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are overstretching the military.
In other Senate testimony, outgoing Joint Chiefs Chair Peter Pace refused to retract his previous comments that he believes homosexuality is immoral. Pace said he could not condone homosexuality because it runs "counter to God’s law." Pace’s comments drew boos from activists with the peace group CODEPINK gathered in the chamber. Senate Appropriations Chair Robert Byrd responded by throwing them out of the room.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a review of private military firms operating in Iraq. The move follows last week’s mass shooting of at least 11 Iraqi civilians by guards with Blackwater USA. But the probe does not cover contracts with other agencies, including Blackwater’s deal with the State Department.
Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting Blackwater has been involved in twice the number of shootings than other military firms in Iraq. Both the State Department and Blackwater have refused to make their incident reports public. Iraqi officials say Blackwater guards have been involved in six other episodes that left at least 10 Iraqis dead and 15 wounded.
A federal judge has ruled two provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act allowing secret wiretapping and unsubstantiated searches are unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said the PATRIOT Act’s leeway for surveillance and searches of U.S. citizens violates Fourth Amendment requirements for probable cause. The ruling came on a challenge sought by Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield. Mayfield has sued the U.S. government for falsely accusing of him involvement in the Madrid train bombings of 2004. Mayfield settled the case but retained the right to challenge the PATRIOT Act under the terms of his deal.
At the United Nations, Cuba’s foreign minister has rebuked President Bush over his comments on Fidel Castro. Speaking before the General Assembly Wednesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque criticized Bush for calling Castro a "cruel dictator" whose rule was coming to an end.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque: "He talked about cooperation, development and prosperity for the rest of the world, but we all know that he is lying. He has been the most selfish and reckless politician we have ever seen in a world that this year will bear witness to the death of 10 million children under the age of five from preventable diseases. His self-seeking and empty proposals of yesterday are a joke. President Bush has no moral authority or credibility to judge anyone."
The U.S. delegation was absent from the General Assembly during the Cuban foreign minister’s speech.
In Afghanistan, more than 1,000 people gathered for a protest Wednesday against a foreign troop raid in Kandahar. Residents say two Islamic clerics were killed overnight.
Protester Habib Khan: "We have gathered here against foreign troops which search our houses during the night and harm our females. For instance, last night they took away two of our villagers from their homes and killed them without any charges. They (the foreign troops) also took eight other villagers, and their destinies are unclear. We don’t know where they are."
Former Bolivian President Gonzalo Saáchez de Lozada is being sued in a U.S. court on behalf of relatives of victims of a massacre four years ago. The conflict arose following a decision by the Sánchez de Lozada government to export Bolivia’s natural gas through a port in Chile. When hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest, government forces responded with soldiers and tanks, killing 67 of the protesters and wounding more than 400. Sonia Espejos lost her husband in the crackdown.
Sonia Espejos: "They are the only ones who are responsible for what we have to suffer here in Bolivia but we are not going to allow Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to tour the United States."
De Lozada and two former top officials have resided in the U.S. since 2003 after a citizens’ uprising removed them from office.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, at least 11 Palestinians have been killed and more than 20 wounded in an Israeli military attack on the Gaza Strip. Israel says it launched the attack after Palestinian militants fired rockets at nearby Israeli towns. The rocket fire caused no casualties.
The new assault on Gaza is the first since Israel declared it a "hostile territory" last week. Israel has already announced it plans to cut off much of Gaza’s electricity and fuel supplies. Israeli banks have also severed ties with Palestinian banks in Gaza.
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum: "It is clear that there is an Israeli-American policy that is being implemented against the Palestinian people using the siege, the strangulation, by drying the water resources, stopping medicine and goods from entering and being delivered to our Palestinian people. This comes in preparation to the fall conference which is coming up, in order to force the Palestinian people into submission by starving them so they will give in to the American dictation and to agree to stolen resolutions which will erase Palestinian rights."
The telecom giant Verizon is being accused of censorship for barring an abortion rights group from its network for a text-messaging program. NARAL Pro-Choice America allows wireless users to receive updates by sending a text message to a five-digit number. But Verizon has blocked the number to its users, calling the program "controversial or unsavory." NARAL president Nancy Keenan said: "No company should be allowed to censor the message we want to send to people who have asked us to send it to them."
And the Spanish newspaper El País is reporting that one month before launching the war on Iraq, President Bush claimed an invasion was inevitable and that he would punish governments not behind it. According to a Spanish government transcript, Bush told then-Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar: "Saddam Husein will not change and will continue playing; the moment has arrived for undoing of him." Bush also reportedly said he would withdraw financial aid to Angola and freeze a trade agreement with Chile if they did not back the war. In the transcript, Aznar tells Bush he needs help in swaying Spanish public opinion and that he’s worried by Bush’s optimism. Bush responds: "I am optimistic because I believe I am right. I am at peace with myself."
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