China has declared three days of national mourning as the official death toll from last week’s massive earthquake has topped 32,000. Officials say the total number dead could eventually exceed 50,000. Recovery efforts were hampered Sunday when a powerful aftershock rattled some of the worst-hit areas of Sichuan province. The aftershock killed three people and injured more than 1,000. Survivors are pressing the Chinese government to help the nearly five million people left homeless after last week’s earthquake.
Xiong Wei, earthquake victim: “The situation now is that we are lacking in food and water supplies, money and clothes. Look at my shirt; there are even bloodstains on it. Also, on the financial front, we need to know how the government will deal with the displaced people. I feel these are the key issues.”
Meanwhile, in Burma the official death toll from Cyclone Nargis has now reached 78,000, but aid organizations say the actual death toll may be much higher. The aid group Save the Children is warning that 30,000 Burmese children under the age of five could starve to death within weeks unless emergency aid and food supplies can reach them. The British medical charity Merlin says around 80,000 people who have fled low-lying areas of Burma are in a desperate condition. Doctors from Merlin have set up makeshift medical centers and are visiting the thousands of wounded and traumatized. Jonathan Pearce, an aid worker with Merlin, described the situation.
Jonathan Pearce: “The monsoon has hit this town with a vengeance now, and the people here are suffering more than ever. In conditions like these, acute diarrhea and pneumonia could become real killers in a few days.”
In campaign news, Senator Barack Obama is reportedly planning to declare himself the effective Democratic nominee Tuesday night at a rally in Iowa following the Kentucky and Oregon primaries. Obama is expected to win enough delegates on Tuesday to secure more than half of the total pledged delegates. On Sunday, Obama spoke before a crowd of 75,000 people in Portland, Oregon. It was the largest campaign rally of this election year. While Senator Hillary Clinton has pledged to remain in the race, the Washington Post reports that top fundraisers of the two candidates have had private talks about merging the campaigns.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Senator Obama responded to President Bush’s remarks that meeting with Iran’s leader was akin to appeasement of Nazi Germany. During a speech in South Dakota, Obama outlined his views on diplomacy and Iran.
Sen. Obama: “I believe we need to use all elements of American power to pressure Iran, including tough, principled and direct diplomacy. That’s what John F. Kennedy did. That’s what Ronald Reagan did when dealing with the Soviets, and that’s what the President’s own Secretary of Defense wants to do. Understand, George Bush’s Secretary of Defense suggests that we talk directly to Iran. So, I don’t know if George Bush is calling his own Secretary of Defense an appeaser. I don’t know who he’s talking about.”
Senator Obama went on to criticize President Bush’s and Senator John McCain’s foreign policy.
Sen. Obama: “It’s time to present Iran with a clear choice: if it abandons its nuclear programs, support for terror and threats to Israel, then Iran can rejoin the community of nations; if not, Iran will face deeper isolation and steeper sanctions, but in the Bush/McCain world view, everyone who disagrees with their failed Iran policy is an appeaser.”
In other campaign news, Senator McCain’s national finance co-chair Tom Loeffler has resigned after it was revealed his lobbying firm has collected nearly $15 million from Saudi Arabia since 2002. Loeffler is the fifth high-ranking McCain adviser to resign in recent weeks due to his lobbying ties. On Thursday, McCain’s energy adviser Eric Burgeson stepped down after it was revealed he is lobbyist on energy issues for Barbour Griffith & Rogers. Last week, two other McCain staffers resigned after acknowledging they had lobbied for the military junta in Burma. McCain’s campaign recently issued a new policy that requires all campaign personnel to either resign or sever ties with lobbying firms or outside political groups. But several prominent lobbyists retain key posts in McCain’s campaign. McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis is on leave from the lobbying firm he has run for years. And McCain’s top political adviser Charles Black is the founder of the Washington lobbying firm Black & Associates.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is back in the news. On Friday, during a speech before the National Rifle Association, he joked about someone assassinating Barack Obama.
Mike Huckabee: “But the reality is — and I’m worried, because, frankly, within the — [crash in background] — that was Barack Obama, he just tripped off a chair. He’s getting ready to speak, and somebody aimed a gun at him, and he — he dove for the floor.”
Former governor Mike Huckabee later apologized. He said, “I made an offhand remark that was in no way intended to offend or disparage Sen. Obama.” Obama has been under Secret Service protection since last year after his campaign received racially motivated threats.
The US military is planning to build a new 40-acre prison complex in Afghanistan near Kabul. The $60 million site will replace the makeshift prison at the Bagram military base, where the US is currently holding about 630 prisoners. Some of the prisoners at Bagram have been held for five years without charge.
US commanders in Iraq have admitted a US soldier has been disciplined and removed from Iraq for using a copy of the Koran for target practice. Last week, Iraqi police found a desecrated copy of the Muslim holy book at a small shooting range near Baghdad. The book was riddled with fourteen bullet holes and had graffiti inside the cover. The military has not released the soldier’s name or detailed how he would be disciplined.
In other news from Iraq, nearly 1,000 people have been detained in a major crackdown in Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city. US and Iraqi forces have been raiding homes in Mosul over the past five days in an attempt to capture supporters of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The price of oil remains at near record levels despite a promise by Saudi Arabia to pump an additional 300,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Saudi Arabia made the announcement on Friday while President Bush was meeting with Saudi’s King Abdullah. In exchange, Bush has pledged US support for a Saudi nuclear power program. As part of the deal, Washington will help Saudi Arabia receive enriched uranium for its nuclear reactors.
The Washington Post is reporting staff members at a veterans facility in Texas were urged not to diagnose soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, because so many veterans were seeking government disability payments. In an email, psychologist Norma Perez wrote, “Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out.” Instead, Perez recommended the veterans be diagnosed with “adjustment disorder.” Veterans diagnosed with PTSD can be eligible for disability compensation of up to $2,500 a month. Those found to have adjustment disorder generally are not offered such payments. A recent study estimated about 300,000 US military personnel who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD or major depression.
Tension is rising again between the governments of Venezuela and Colombia. Over the weekend, Venezuela accused sixty Colombian troops of illegally entering a border region of Venezuela. Meanwhile, a leading commander of the FARC rebel group in Colombia has surrendered. Nelly Avila Moreno turned herself in on Sunday.
Benjamin Jealous has been selected the new president and chief executive of the NAACP. The thirty-five-year-old former newspaper publisher becomes the youngest leader in the group’s ninety-nine-year history.
Senator Edward Kennedy remains hospitalized two days after he suffered a seizure at his Cape Cod home. The seventy-six-year-old Democrat is undergoing a series of tests at a hospital in Boston. Kennedy’s doctor says he is not in any immediate danger. Kennedy has served in the Senate since 1962.
In business news, a New York man is suing the airline Jet Blue for $2 million after he was forced to sit in the airplane’s bathroom for hours during a cross-country flight. Gokhan Mutlu was flying standby from San Diego to New York. He was initially given a seat, but during the flight the pilot told him he would have to give up his seat to a flight attendant. The only other available seat on the packed flight was on the toilet.
On Friday, scores of Palestinians and Arab Americans gathered at the United Nations to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe.
Saifeedan Anmousa, Columbia University student: “The Nakba is not a historic event that happened sixty years ago, and this is why we’re commemorating it. This is not just about talking about the history, this is about the reality that is going on today. The Nakba is still alive in every Palestinian refugee camp around the Arab world, in every checkpoint in the West Bank, with every bomb that is thrown into Gaza and with every child that is murdered in the West Bank.”
The Arab News reports Israel is calling on the United Nations to stop using the word “Nakba” after a comment by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Carmon, told Israeli Radio, “Nakba is a tool of Arab propaganda used to undermine the legitimacy of the establishment of the State of Israel, and it must not be part of the lexicon of the UN.”
And the artist Rosyln Zinn has died. She was the wife of historian and author Howard Zinn. They were married for sixty-four years.