The official death toll from Monday’s earthquake in China has risen to 15,000, with many more feared dead. The number is expected to rise as rescue workers battle rain and landslides to reach victims across the Sichuan province. Tens of thousands of people remain missing. In the town of Yingxiu, Chinese officials say only 2,300 people have been found out of a population of 10,000. The massive earthquake flattened schools, shops and homes across the region. Scores of survivors are trapped beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings and roads in China’s worst earthquake in three decades.
In Burma, there are new warnings of another tropical storm just days after Cyclone Nargis left tens of thousands dead. The United Nations says it’s tracking a storm off the coast of Thailand that could become a significant tropical cyclone over the next day. Authorities in Burma have raised the cyclone death toll to nearly 32,000, but aid groups said the final number will be much higher. Earlier today the charity World Vision says Burma faces what it calls an “apocalyptic” threat from water-borne disease. On Tuesday, the UN warned Burma faces “a catastrophe of monumental proportions” unless relief efforts can match those seen during the Asian Tsunami. But the Burmese military junta continues to come under intense criticism for its response to the crisis. Relief workers are accusing the junta of hoarding international aid and passing out spoiled food to survivors.
In India, up to sixty people have been killed in a bombing attack in the city of Jaipur. Another eighty-four were wounded. Seven blasts exploded within moments of the other in a crowded market area. No one has claimed responsibility.
In Iraq, at least seven people have been killed in overnight clashes between US-led forces and Shia fighters in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. The fighting threatens a tenuous deal to end weeks of fighting. Meanwhile, the civilian toll continues to rise. Local civilians say three victims identified by the US as militants were in fact students asleep in their home.
Baghdad resident: “Three young men were sleeping inside their house. They are students, and their graduation party should be today. Their execution has taken place here. This is one man. Here is another. And the last is on the roof of the house. They are students. They are not gunmen or members of a militia. They are not wanted men.”
Scores of civilians have been killed in a series of intensified US strikes. Relief efforts have also been hampered after US missiles struck Sadr City’s main hospital earlier this month.
President Bush has landed in Israel to take part in celebrations marking the sixtieth anniversary of Israel’s founding in 1948. The trip has been criticized because Bush has no plans to mark what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, for the more than 700,000 Palestinians driven from their homes that same year. As Bush arrived, at least five Palestinians were killed in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. The dead included a teenage boy riding his bicycle and another civilian.
Before his departure, Bush singled out Iran, calling it the “biggest threat to peace in the Middle East.”
President Bush: “The message to Iran is that, you know, your desire to have a nuclear weapon, coupled with your statements about the destruction of our close ally, has made it abundantly clear to everybody that we have got to work together to stop you from having a nuclear weapon. I mean, to me it’s the single biggest threat to peace in the Middle East is the Iranian regime.”
Meanwhile, President Bush is claiming he has given up golfing as a gesture to the sacrifice of US troops and their families. In an interview with the Politico, Bush said, “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families… to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.” Presidential historian Robert Dallek said, “That’s his idea of sacrifice, to give up golf?”
On the campaign trail, Senator Hillary Clinton has scored a widely expected victory over Barack Obama in West Virginia’s Democratic primary. Clinton won with 67 percent of the vote to Obama’s 26 percent. But the results will have almost no effect on Obama’s delegate lead. Despite the numbers, Clinton told supporters in West Virginia the win bolsters her fight for the nomination.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “So this race isn’t over yet. Neither of us has the total delegates it takes to win. And both Senator Obama and I believe that the delegates from Florida and Michigan should be seated. That is why I am carrying on, and if you give me a chance, Democrats, I’ll come back to West Virginia in the general election, and we’ll win this state, and we’ll win the White House.”
Obama, meanwhile, was in Missouri, where he continued to focus his remarks on Republican candidate John McCain.
Sen. Barack Obama: “The Bush-Cheney ticket won’t be up for reelection, but Bush-Cheney policies will, because John McCain has decided that he is running for George Bush’s third term in office. That’s what his campaign has been about, to offer the American people four more years of the same approach that has failed the American people over the last eight years.”
Democrats have scored another upset victory in a special congressional election. On Tuesday, Democratic candidate Travis Childers beat Republican Greg Davis for the vacated seat in Mississippi’s First Congressional District. The district had gone Republican since 1995. It was the third straight Democratic special election win this year. The string of Republican losses in conservative districts is seen as a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the Bush administration that could heavily affect the upcoming November elections.
The Colombian government has extradited fourteen paramilitary leaders to the United States for trial on drug charges. The unprecedented move comes as Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and the White House are seeking to win congressional approval of a controversial Colombian trade deal. Democrats have held up the agreement partly over human rights concerns. Uribe is also trying to diffuse allegations of his own ties to Colombian paramilitaries. The extraditions are drawing criticism, because they’ll allow the fourteen leaders to avoid charges for murders and other human rights abuses. They’ll be tried in the United States on drug charges at a time when the Bush administration has shown a willingness to reduce sentences in return for cooperation. José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch said, “These men are not going to be held accountable for the human rights violations they committed. Victims in Colombia will not be able to confront their tormentors and receive the reparations they deserve.”
In Italy, a judge has ruled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other top officials can be called to testify on the CIA kidnapping of the Egyptian cleric Abu Omar. Omar was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to US bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt. There, he says, he was tortured during a four-year imprisonment. Twenty-six Americans and five Italians have been indicted in the case. In Egypt, Abu Omar said Berlusconi should be held responsible.
Abu Omar: “I think, without a doubt, that Berlusconi knew about this case, because this case touched upon the sovereignty of Italy, and if the head of the Italian military intelligence services was involved, he takes his decisions with direct permission from the head of state. And according to the employment hierarchy, Berlusconi has direct responsibility for this matter on the basis that the head of intelligence is his direct subordinate.”
Berlusconi would become the first head of state to testify over the CIA’s kidnapping and torture program.
And back in the United States, the Washington Post is reporting the US government has forcibly injected hundreds of foreign nationals with dangerous psychotropic drugs during their deportation. The involuntary drugs are normally used to treat serious psychiatric disorders. But they have been used on more than 250 deportees since 2003. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was found to have repeatedly violated its own rules allowing sedation only if deportees suffer from mental illness or have become dangerously aggressive.