Hundreds of events are planned around the United States today to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Cities holding protests, sit-ins and other gatherings include Washington, D.C., New York, Louisville, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. On Tuesday activists with the antiwar group Code Pink marched along Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., disrupting traffic. Here in New York, the musicians Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson headlined a sold-out concert raising money for United for Peace and Justice and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
In Afghanistan, at least six civilians have been killed in a US raid on a southeastern village. The dead included three men, two children and a woman. According to Oxfam, foreign troops were responsible for half of Afghanistan’s 1,200 civilian deaths last year.
On the campaign trail, Senator John McCain was caught in a major blunder Tuesday when he falsely insisted Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq. McCain corrected himself only after his colleague, independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, stepped in and whispered into his ear.
Sen. John McCain: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate. So I believe that we are succeeding in Iraq. The situation is dramatically improved. But I also want to emphasize time and again al-Qaeda is on the run, but they are not defeated.”
Sen. Joseph Lieberman: [whispering] “You said that the Iranians were training al-Qaeda. I think you meant they’re training in extremist terrorism.”
McCain: “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda, not al-Qaeda. I’m sorry.”
McCain made the comments in Jordan, which he visited en route to Israel from a brief trip in Iraq.
On the Democratic side, Senator Barack Obama has again distanced himself from his former pastor, whose political views have brought national attention. Over the past week, Reverend Jeremiah Wright has been scrutinized in the media for linking the attacks of September 11 to US foreign policy in the Middle East and for saying that the country was founded on racism. On Tuesday, Obama said he disagrees with Wright on several issues but could not ignore their personal ties.
Sen. Barack Obama: “As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions — the good and
the bad — of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.”
Observers called the speech the first time Obama has extensively addressed the issue of race during his fifteen-month campaign.
In other campaign news, Senator Hillary Clinton has picked up an endorsement from the influential Democratic Congressmember John Murtha. The backing is seen as a boost to Clinton ahead of next month’s primary in Murtha’s home state of Pennsylvania.
In Tibet, the Chinese government is claiming more than one hundred people have surrendered in the protests against Chinese rule. Tibetans faced a deadline of midnight Monday to turn themselves in. The protests erupted last week when Buddhist monks took to the streets of Lhasa to mark the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested in the Chinese crackdown. On Tuesday, the Dalai Lama said he would he step down as Tibet’s political leader if the violence continues.
The Dalai Lama: “As early as 1987, again in this very room, the British journalist Jonathan Mirsky — I interviewed here. And he asked me, 'If these things become out of control, violence, tell what you do.' Then I categorically regret. Immediately I told, if things become out of control, then my only option is completely resign, completely resign.”
The protests have reportedly spread to ethnic Tibetan communities outside of Tibet.
In Britain, the Venezuelan government has scored a victory in its legal dispute with the oil giant ExxonMobil. On Tuesday, a British court overturned a ruling freezing $12 billion in Venezuelan assets. Exxon had won the freeze as part of an attempt to recoup an investment in a nationalized Venezuelan oil project. But Venezuela says Exxon is trying to recover more than ten times what its investment was actually worth. In Caracas, Venezuela oil minister Rafael Ramirez hailed the ruling as a vindication.
Venezuela oil minister Rafael Ramirez: “Exxon intended to manipulate and lie to that court, and the court has responded in a very serious manner and has put Exxon in its place. It is a lesson for transnational businesses — Exxon Mobil, in particular — who tried to be above the law.”
Venezuela and Exxon remain in arbitration over the dispute.
In Colombia, the UN is calling for a probe into the deaths of six organizers of a recent protest against the Colombian government and paramilitary death squads. The victims included union workers and human rights activists. Tens of thousands of people took part in the protests on March 6th.
Back in the United States, a group of Indian workers have filed suit against a US oil construction firm for abusive working conditions in the Gulf Coast. The lawsuit accuses Signal International of defrauding and exploiting over 500 Indian nationals who worked in Mississippi and Texas under federal guest worker programs.
The Supreme Court has signaled it’s prepared to overturn a handgun ban in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, a majority of court justices appeared to lean towards ruling the Second Amendment provides individuals the right to own a handgun for self-defense. Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty warned against repealing the handgun ban.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty: “As the Mayor of the District of Columbia, more guns anywhere in the District of Columbia is going to lead to more crime, and that is why we stand so steadfastly against any repeal of our handgun ban.”
The Supreme Court will rule on the case before adjourning in June.