NATO leaders meeting in Romania have endorsed the US plan for a missile system in Eastern Europe. The backing came as the Bush administration finalized an agreement with the Czech Republic on hosting a radar site as part of the missile program. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said a formal accord will likely come next month.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg: “I met with the US Secretary of State in friendly talks where we discussed the plan to have a radar facility as part of our NATO defense system. Once we are clear about the contents, we will discuss the possibility of signing the agreement. The first week of May looks like a good time to sign.”
The US is in talks with Poland on hosting US ballistic missiles. Majorities in both Poland and the Czech Republic oppose the missile plan, which is widely seen as a first-strike threat against Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to voice his opposition to the missile system today, when he makes his first visit to a NATO summit meeting.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered a nationwide freeze on raids against Shia fighters. The move follows last week’s US-Iraqi offensive that killed more than 500 people in Basra and Baghdad.
The freeze also comes as a senior Iraqi official has told the New York Times more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers abandoned their posts during the operations. The Bush administration had touted the offensive as proof of US success in training Iraqi forces. The 1,000 desertions include more than 100 officers, among them the commander and deputy commander of an entire brigade. Meanwhile, the US military continues daily air strikes around Iraq. On Thursday, six people were killed and fifteen wounded when US forces fought Shia militants in Hilla. A local resident said a US bombing killed civilians.
Hilla resident: “They were innocent people who worked on transporting the wounded from a place that had been targeted by US-led forces. At the time they were taking the wounded to the hospital, the US-led forces bombed the area, killing a number of our brothers, bodyguards in Babil health office, soldiers and policemen in Babil.”
Earlier today, at least fifteen people were killed and eight wounded when a suicide bomber struck a police funeral in the town of Sadiya, north of Baghdad.
Another female employee of the military contractor KBR has come forward with rape allegations in Iraq. In an interview with The Nation magazine, a woman identified by the pseudonym Lisa Smith says two colleagues raped her at a southern Iraqi military base in January. Smith says a supervisor told her to “keep quiet” or face danger. Last year, former KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones sued KBR and its former parent company Halliburton after she says she was gang-raped by employees of the company in Baghdad. Jones has said that thirty-eight other women have come forward to privately recount their own stories of sexual harassment and abuse while working in Iraq. A criminal probe into Jones’s case has lasted more than two-and-a-half years with no charges yet to be filed.
In Zimbabwe, a series of police raids are renewing fears of a government attempt to maintain power following its losses in this week’s elections. On Thursday, police swept the offices of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and sealed off a hotel frequented by foreign journalists. President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party narrowly lost control of parliament to the Movement for Democratic Change in Saturday’s election. Mugabe is likely to face MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a run-off presidential vote.
In China, a leading human rights activist has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for criticizing the government. Hu Jia was convicted of inciting subversion in essays and public comments on the Communist Party’s human rights record.
In Venezuela, lawmakers have approved a new tax on “windfall” oil profits. The measure would collect half of oil revenues above $70 a barrel and 60 percent of revenues over $100 a barrel. The tax needs approval from the National Assembly before taking effect. Venezuelan parliamentarian Angel Rodriguez said the tax is justified by what he called excessive oil company revenues “that go beyond reasonable levels of profitability.”
Back in the United States, federal officials and senior Wall Street executives appeared before the Senate Banking Committee Thursday to defend the controversial government bailout of the investment bank Bear Stearns. The Federal Reserve put up $30 billion to help JPMorgan Chase purchase Bear Sterns last month. The deal has come under criticism at a time when millions of struggling homeowners have received little assistance to deal with record foreclosures. Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke said the government had to protect Bear Stearns to avoid market chaos.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke: “What we had in mind here was the protection of the financial system and the protection of the American economy. And I believe that if the American people understand that we were trying to protect the economy and not to protect anybody on Wall Street, they would better appreciate why we took the actions we did.”
A new poll shows 81 percent of Americans believe the United States is headed in the wrong direction. According to the New York Times, that’s the highest level of dissatisfaction since the poll began in the early 1990s.
On the campaign trail, former President Jimmy Carter has appeared to give his endorsement to Senator Barack Obama. Speaking to reporters in Nigeria, Carter noted that Obama has the support of Carter’s home state of Georgia, his hometown of Plains, and his children and grandchildren. Carter continued, “As a superdelegate, I would not disclose who I am rooting for, but I leave you to make that guess.”
And in New Jersey, a new lawsuit says federal immigration agents have illegally entered homes and made arrests in raids on undocumented immigrants. Attorneys at Seton Hall’s Center for Social Justice have filed the suit on behalf of ten plaintiffs. The suit accuses Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials of using deceit or raw force to gain unlawful entry and seize immigrant suspects. The case will test the legality of a series of tactics used by immigration officials in nationwide raids since May 2006.