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Over 12,000 people have died in China following the country’s worst earthquake in three decades. Officials fear the death toll will dramatically increase. The massive earthquake in the Sichuan province flattened schools, shops and homes across the region. At least two large schools collapsed, killing or trapping over 1,900 students. In the town of Hangwang, several thousand people were killed or buried when a major factory collapsed. Up to 6,000 workers were inside the factory at the time of the earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. China has sent tens of thousands of troops into the region to help with the rescue effort. The earthquake comes just months before the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing. One survivor said almost all of the buildings in her neighborhood had collapsed.
Earthquake Survivor: “I was living at the second floor. The building did not collapse, but a lot of things fell over and hit me, and later almost all the buildings near us collapsed. My family is OK, except me.”
The earthquake was China’s deadliest since 1976, when 240,000 people were killed in the city of Tangshan, near Beijing.
In campaign news, Senator Hillary Clinton is expected to easily win today’s primary in West Virginia. Senator Barack Obama all but conceded the state to Clinton weeks ago and has turned his focus to November battleground states. Today, Obama is scheduled to campaign in Missouri and Michigan.
On the Republican front, Senator John McCain campaigned in Portland, Oregon on Monday and outlined his plan to address global warming. McCain broke with the Bush administration and called for reducing greenhouse gases by 60 percent by mid-century and for a “cap and trade system” that would allow companies to buy or trade emissions credits. Many groups have criticized McCain’s environmental record. The League of Conservation Voters has given McCain a lifetime grade of 24 percent on what it considers crucial environmental votes.
In other election news, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr has officially announced plans to run for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination.
Federal immigration agents raided the world’s largest kosher meatpacking plant Monday and arrested as many as 700 workers. It was the largest immigration raid ever in Iowa. The raid at Agriprocessors Inc. was carried out by sixteen local, state and federal agencies, led by ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE said they entered the Iowa plant to execute a criminal search warrant for evidence relating to aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of Social Security numbers and other crimes.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has published a major investigative series on the sub-standard health care offered in immigration detention centers in the United States. According to the Post, eighty-three detainees have died in or soon after custody during the past five years. Most of the people who died were young. Thirty-two of the detainees were younger than forty, and only six were seventy or older.
President Bush is vowing to help arm Lebanon’s army so it can fight Hezbollah. In an interview with the BBC on the eve of his trip to the Middle East, Bush said the US must support the Lebanese government in the ongoing sectarian violence.
President Bush: “So our position, my government’s position, is to support the Siniora government, is to beef up his army, so that he can have a chance to respond to the people who are acting outside the confines of government. And, you know, Hezbollah would be nothing without Iranian support, and Iranians are the crux of many of the problems in the Middle East, whether it be funding of Hezbollah, funding of Hamas, or obviously actions within the young democracy of Iraq. So a lot of my trip is going to be to get people to focus not only on Lebanon, remember Lebanon, but also remember that Iran causes a lot of the problems.”
President Bush arrives in Israel on Wednesday and will then visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Bush also repeated his criticism of Iran over its alleged role in arming Shiite militias in Iraq.
President Bush: “They know that the Iraqi government, along with the US government, wants them to stop sending their weapons from Iran into Iraq, all aiming to kill innocent people. That’s what they’re doing. They’re being very — you know, they’re not being constructive at all. But they absolutely know our position, and when we catch them doing it, they’ll be brought to justice, and we are catching them doing it right now.”
While Bush accused Iran of sending arms to Iraq, new questions have been raised over the claims. The Los Angeles Times reports the US military scheduled a press conference last week in Iraq to show journalists alleged Iranian-supplied explosives that were found in the Iraqi city of Karbala. But the military had to cancel the presentation when it realized that none of the weapons were from Iran. A US military spokesperson blamed the confusion on an Iraqi army general in Karbala who erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin.
Meanwhile, Iran is accusing the United States of meddling in Iranian affairs. On Monday, the Iranian judiciary announced it would file international lawsuits against the United States and Britain, accusing them of providing financial support to a group that bombed a mosque in the Iranian city of Shiraz, killing fourteen people.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is pressing the military junta in Burma to immediately accept more international assistance to help survivors of last week’s cyclone.
Ban Ki-moon: “We are at a critical point. Unless more aid gets into the country very quickly, we face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today’s crisis. I therefore call, in the most strenuous terms, on the government of Myanmar to puts its people’s lives first. It must do all that it can to prevent this disaster from becoming even more serious.”
Authorities in Burma have raised the cyclone death toll to nearly 32,000, but aid groups said the final death toll will be much higher. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown criticized the military junta’s response to the cyclone.
Gordon Brown: “We now estimate that two million people faced famine or disease as a result of the lack of cooperation of the Burmese authorities. This is completely unacceptable. There must be unfettered access to humanitarian agencies. We’ve already made available five million pounds. We’ve got a humanitarian team now in Rangoon to assess all options for getting help through to people in need.”
Two police officers in Inglewood, California have been placed on administrative leave after fatally shooting an unarmed teenager. Police opened fire on a car in Inglewood Sunday after hearing gunshots in the area. But police now admit there is no evidence linking anyone in the car to the gunfire. No weapons were found in the vehicle. Nineteen-year-old Michael Byoune, a passenger in the car, died after police officers shot him at least three times in the torso. The driver of the car, nineteen-year-old Larry White, was wounded. The Inglewood Police have refused to release the names of the police officers.
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chair John Conyers and other lawmakers held a forum in Manhattan on Monday to discuss police-community relations in New York in the wake of the Sean Bell verdict. Hazel Dukes of the NAACP told lawmakers, “We bring you back here today to our city because we are under siege again from our own New York City Police Department.”
The Supreme Court said Monday that it can’t intervene in an important dispute over the rights of South African apartheid victims to sue US corporations in US courts, because four of the nine justices had to sit out the case over apparent conflicts. The lawsuit accuses dozens of prominent US corporations of violating international law by assisting South Africa’s former apartheid government. Because the court couldn’t reach quorum, the court was forced to uphold an appeals court ruling allowing the suit to proceed. For the record, Chief Justice John Roberts owns Hewlett-Packard stock. Justice Stephen Breyer owns stock in Colgate-Palmolive, Bank of America, IBM and Nestle. Justice Samuel Alito holds shares in Exxon Mobil and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Meanwhile, Justice Anthony Kennedy sat out the case because his son is a managing director at the investment bank Credit Suisse.
Pakistan is in a state of turmoil after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party pulled out of the coalition government. Nine ministers from the Pakistani Muslim League quit the cabinet over the delayed reinstatement of judges sacked last year.
And the Pentagon has dropped charges against a Saudi man held at Guantanamo who was was at the center of the military’s controversial torture program. Mohammed al-Qahtani was accused of being the so-called twentieth hijacker in the September 11 attacks. In 2006, al-Qahtani recanted a confession he said he made after he was tortured and humiliated at Guantanamo. Al-Qahtani was the subject of a harsh interrogation plan authorized by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The alleged torture included being beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel. On Friday, the convening authority for military commissions, Susan Crawford, dismissed the charges against al-Qahtani. She dismissed the charges without prejudice, meaning they can be filed again later.