Oxfam is warning Burma is on the brink of a massive public health catastrophe, as Burma’s military junta continues to hinder international efforts to help the survivors of Cyclone Nargis. Oxfam says the catastrophe threatens the lives of as many as 1.5 million people who are suffering from disease and famine. UN Emergency Coordinator John Holmes urged Burmese authorities to allow humanitarian agencies to send in technical and health experts to help prevent outbreaks of disease.
John Holmes: "Excellencies, let me conclude in repeating that the extent of this human catastrophe is enormous and that the numbers of people in need may well increase further as we come to understand better the situation on the ground. And I repeat that the sooner humanitarians are allowed in and the less procedural and other obstacles we encounter, the more lives we can help save. The speed with which we deliver assistance to those in need is becoming more and more critical, and the danger of the outbreak of epidemics rises by the hour."
Burma’s military junta has repeatedly delayed aid shipments and rejected visas for foreign aid workers. On Sunday, relief efforts suffered another setback when a Red Cross boat sank after it hit a submerged tree trunk. The boat was carrying one of the first international aid shipments. Earlier today, the first US flight carrying aid was allowed to land in Burma. The C-130 was carrying 28,000 pounds of supplies, including mosquito nets, blankets and water. Samson Jeyakumar of World Vision said Burma’s government must allow more aid to enter the country.
Samson Jeyakumar: "It is very obvious for thousands of people that we help, there are tens of thousands of people who have not yet been reached. And that is what we are trying to do for this moment."
On Saturday, Burma’s military junta went ahead with a national referendum on drafting a new constitution. Critics say the vote will perpetuate and legitimize military rule. The Wall Street Journal reports the military junta has also increased its surveillance in Rangoon and is closely watching the movements of opposition politicians, monks, activists and foreigners. Truckloads of soldiers were seen throughout the city on Sunday, patrolling public areas and monasteries that were at the forefront of pro-democracy protests that erupted across the city in September.
Meanwhile, a top Indian group that monitors climate change in South Asia has warned that Cyclone Nargis is a sign of things to come. Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment warned that destructive cyclones were likely to occur more often unless nations sped up their efforts to curtail the emission of greenhouse gases. Narain said, "The victims of these cyclones are climate change victims, and their plight should remind the rich world that it is doing too little to contain its greenhouse gas emissions." Narain said big polluters in the world, including the United States, should not be able to escape responsibility for what is happening in Burma.
The Burmese cyclone has also impacted the US presidential race. Doug Goodyear has resigned as the coordinator of the 2008 Republican National Convention after it was disclosed that his lobbying firm used to represent the military regime in Burma. Goodyear had been picked to run the convention by Sen. John McCain. Goodyear is the chief executive of the lobbying firm DCI Group. Newsweek reported on Saturday that Burma’s military had paid DCI $348,000 in 2002 and 2003. Other clients of the DCI Group include ExxonMobil and General Motors.
In other campaign news, Senator Barack Obama has gained the support of twenty-one superdelegates since last Tuesday’s primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.
For the first time in the campaign, Obama now has more superdelegates than Sen. Hillary Clinton. During a campaign fundraiser in New York, Clinton vowed to stay in the race.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: "What I hear and what I see is all about how we’re going to finish this nominating contest, which we will do. Then we will have a nominee, and we will have a unified Democratic Party, and we will stand together, and we will defeat John McCain in November and go on to the White House."
Meanwhile, Barack Obama campaigned in Oregon on Saturday.
Sen. Barack Obama: "My faith in the American people has been vindicated, because everywhere I go, people are standing up, and they are saying, we are ready for change, we want something new, we want to turn the page, we want to write a new chapter in American history, and now, Oregon, it is your turn. It is your turn to go ahead and stand up and say it’s time for a change."
At least eighty-one people have died in Lebanon since Wednesday in clashes between Hezbollah-led opposition groups and US-backed pro-government forces. Opposition forces overpowered pro-government militias and took over large parts of the capital city of Beirut late last week before handing over control to the Lebanese army. The fighting shifted to the north and east of the country over the weekend, and fresh clashes were reported in Beirut this morning.
In Iraq, a ceasefire has been reached in Sadr City, ending two months of US-led attacks on the Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. During that time, nearly 1,000 people are believed to have been killed. Thousands more fled their homes to escape the daily air strikes. The ceasefire between the Iraqi government and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was reached on Saturday.
Meanwhile, US-backed Iraqi troops have launched a major attack on Mosul, the largest Sunni city in Iraq. Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent reports Mosul has been turned into a ghost town. He reports that soldiers are shooting at any civilian vehicle on the street that defies the city’s strict curfew. On Sunday, US troops shot dead two men, a woman and child after they failed to follow orders to stop. The Iraqi government claims the offensive in Mosul is needed to crush al-Qaeda in Iraq.
In other Iraq news, the Associated Press reports the private military contractor Blackwater is not expected to face criminal charges for the shooting deaths of seventeen civilians in Baghdad. The final decision on any charges will not be made until late summer at the earliest. The seven-month-old Justice Department investigation is reportedly focused on as few as three or four Blackwater guards who could be indicted in the September 16 shootings.
The United Nations is demanding an investigation into how the Israeli military killed one of its Palestinian schoolteachers by blasting open the front door of her Gaza home with explosives in the presence of three of her children. Thirty-four-year-old Wafer Shaker al Daghma was killed last week as she stood preparing to open the door of her home to the Israeli troops. She was a teacher at a local UN Relief and Works Agency elementary school. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Gazans are without power today after Gaza officials were forced to shut down the region’s only power plant because Israel hadn’t provided enough diesel to run the plant.
In news from Africa, Sudan has cut off ties with the neighboring country Chad. The Sudanese government accused Chad of backing a rebel attack on Khartoum on Saturday. Sudan said around sixty-five people were killed in fighting outside the capital city.
In economic news, the price of oil has topped a new high of $126 a barrel. Anthony Grisanti of GRZ Energy says the price of oil could continue to rise.
Anthony Grisanti: "There are some factors that could cause it to go to $150 a barrel. Number one is, we haven’t even talked about hurricane season, which is going to hit us in another month, and we’ve been lucky for two years. One hasn’t hit the mainland. If one happens to get into the Gulf and starts hitting these oil-producing facilities, things like that, we could easily see $150 a barrel."
In news on Guantanamo, a military judge has disqualified the Pentagon general who has been centrally involved in overseeing the war crimes tribunals of prisoners held at the US military base. The judge said that Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann was too closely aligned with the prosecution. The judge also raised questions about whether Hartmann could carry out his role with the required neutrality and objectivity.
In California, a thirty-year-old environmental activist has been sentenced to nearly twenty years in prison after being convicted of planning to disrupt government and commercial installations. Eric McDavid was accused of plotting to sabotage three sites in California: the US Forest Service genetics lab in Placerville, the Nimbus Dam and a fish hatchery in Rancho Cordova. Supporters of McDavid have accused the FBI of entrapment. A key figure in the alleged plot was a Florida college student who was recruited by the FBI to penetrate the protest movement. McDavid’s lawyers said the conspiracy would have never developed if not for the actions of the informant who helped bring the other activists together.
And here in New York, a white city police officer has been disciplined after acting in a discourteous manner after he confronted a black motorist in the borough of Queens. On May 2, two officers approached and began questioning a motorist who was sitting in his car. One of the officers tried to wrest open the car door. It turned out the motorist was Douglas Zeigler, the head of the Police Department’s Community Affairs Bureau and the highest uniformed black officer on the force. The incident comes at a time when the New York police are coming under increasing scrutiny for racial profiling. During the first three months of the year, the police stopped and frisked a record 145,000 people — most were black or Latino.
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