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In Iraq, at least six civilians have been reportedly killed in a US air strike on Basra. Iraqi police say the victims’ home was destroyed in the attack. Meanwhile, reports out of Hilla say US forces called in helicopter strikes earlier today. Both Basra and Hilla saw major fighting last week as US and Iraqi forces launched a crackdown on Shia fighters. More than 500 people were killed. In Baghdad, residents of the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City say they remain under siege.
Sadr City resident: “These masses that you see are living in this daily situation. It is so hard to transport the sick people to hospital. The masses that you see are only part of people that left early in the morning to work. We call for the government to find us a solution, or we will stage a sit-in. This time the sit-in will be terrible. It will be a sit-in, not fighting with weapons.”
Aid convoys have struggled to reach Sadr City residents despite an official end to the crackdown. An Iraqi Red Crescent spokesperson said food is growing scarce.
Iraqi Red Crescent spokesperson: “These families made an appeal to all humanitarian agencies because of the military operations that happened in these areas, which led to the sealing off of these areas. This led to the consumption of all the food stuffs.”
President Bush is in Romania today for the NATO summit, the last of his presidency. On Wednesday, Bush pressed US allies on increasing troop commitments in Afghanistan.
President Bush: “We must win. I agree completely. To ensure that we do win, France is sending additional forces to Afghanistan. The United States is deploying an additional 3,500 marines. Romania is adding forces, as are several other allies. We ask other NATO nations to step forward with additional forces, as well.”
Bush is also pushing the eastward expansion of NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine over Russian objection.
The exiled leader of Hamas has announced Hamas would agree to a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with Israel. In an interview with a Palestinian newspaper, Khaled Mashaal said Hamas has accepted the 2006 prisoners document drafted by members of different Palestinian factions. The agreement calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Earlier this week, the Arab League renewed a six-year-old peace proposal based on similar terms. Successive Israeli governments have either ignored or rejected the offer, which would require the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is reporting dozens of Palestinians have died while waiting for Israeli permission to receive medical care in Israel. The WHO says thirty-two Gaza residents have died awaiting treatment since October. The victims ranged from a one-year-old child to a seventy-seven-year-old man. Six of the dead were waiting for the permits. Others were denied permits because Israeli officials labeled them a security risk. Others had received permits for themselves but had to await Israeli permission to admit Palestinian doctors. And others died while waiting to cross the Erez border crossing into Israel.
In Zimbabwe, final results show the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, has narrowly won parliamentary elections. The MDC won ninety-nine seats, while President Robert Mugabe’s party won ninety-seven. Presidential results have yet to be announced, but Mugabe appears headed toward a run-off vote against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
In Ecuador, lawmakers have approved a ban on foreign military bases. If approved by voters, the measure could bring an end to the US military base in Manta. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has previously said he would not renew the US lease on the base when it expires in 2009.
On Capitol Hill, Senate and Republican leaders have unveiled a new plan to address the nation’s housing crisis. The $15 billion measure would mostly benefit the home-building industry while offering little to millions of homeowners facing foreclosure. Lawmakers rejected proposals including allowing bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage rates in individual cases. Struggling homeowners would mostly benefit from $100 million allocated to counseling services and increased leeway for local authorities to refinance mortgages through tax-exempt bonds. Home-builders would get the most assistance, with $6 billion in tax rebates. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said, “It’s a bipartisan effort not to help the right people.”
In other news from Washington, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke has acknowledged for the first time the US may be in a recession. Speaking before the congressional Joint Economic Committee, Bernanke said “a recession is possible.”
State officials and environmental groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health. The suit comes one year after the Supreme Court ruled the EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate the emissions. The court found the EPA had violated the Clean Air Act by improperly declining to regulate new-vehicle emissions standards to control the pollutants that scientists say contribute to global warming. But one year later, the Bush administration has yet to take any action on the ruling, despite a recent EPA task force finding that the emissions endanger public health.
The Supreme Court has refused to hear a lawsuit from Puerto Rico seeking FBI files in the killing of the Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Puerto Rico had filed the suit after the FBI refused to hand over information on its killing of Rios in September 2005.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has admitted that hundreds of thousands of immigrants awaiting citizenship might not be granted legal status before the November elections. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy says 580,000 immigrants awaiting citizenship likely won’t be allowed to vote.
In South Dakota, abortion opponents are reviving their campaign for an abortion ban two years after voters defeated it. The group VoteYesForLife.com says it has collected three times the needed signatures to put an anti-abortion measure back on the ballot this November. Two years ago, South Dakota voters rejected a measure that would have allowed abortions only to save a woman’s life. The latest measure is slightly less restrictive, also allowing abortions in the case of rape or incest.
In Virginia, Governor Timothy Kaine has stayed all executions until the Supreme Court decides on the legality of lethal injection. Justices heard arguments in January in a case challenging whether lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. A decision could come before the court adjourns in June.
And here in New York, prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in the trial of three police officers accused of killing Sean Bell. The unarmed Bell died on his wedding day in a hail of fifty police bullets. For its last witness, prosecutors called the emergency room surgeon who treated Bell’s friend, Joseph Guzman, who was shot sixteen times. The surgeon, Dr. Albert Cooper, said Guzman nearly died from several intestinal wounds. Defense attorneys for the officers begin presenting their case today.