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In Nepal, a national assembly vote is expected today that would abolish monarchal rule and declare a republic. Thousands of people have lined the streets of the capital Kathmandu ahead of the vote. Former Maoist rebels won national elections last year on a promise to abolish the monarchy. The elections came out of a 2006 peace deal that saw the Maoists end their uprising against King Gyanendra. Gyanendra had been forced to give up his absolute powers following a groundswell of protest.
New figures show a dramatic increase in post-traumatic stress disorder among US troops. According to the Pentagon, new cases of PTSD surged more than 46 percent last year, bringing the five-year total to nearly 40,000. The number of cases rose as President Bush extended Army tours and expanded the occupation of Iraq under the so-called troop surge.
Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has accused the Bush administration of deliberately manipulating the public to wage the war on Iraq. In a new memoir, McClellan writes, “Over that summer of 2002, top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war… In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage.” He continues, “What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.” McClellan also faults the White House press corps for its conduct before the Iraq invasion, saying it was too easy on the Bush administration. He also criticizes Bush for his handling of Hurricane Katrina. McClellan says the White House spent the first week following Katrina “in a state of denial.” He also says White House deputy Karl Rove staged an Air Force One flyover of New Orleans as a photo-op to counter public criticism of the White House response. McClellan resigned in April 2006 after nearly three years as Bush’s press secretary.
At least three Iraqi witnesses appeared before a federal grand jury Tuesday investigating last September’s killing of seventeen Iraqis by guards with the military company Blackwater Worldwide. No charges have been filed in what’s become known as the Nissor Square massacre. Blackwater is immune from prosecution in Iraq under a US-imposed law. Prosecutors say they’re still unsure whether Blackwater can be charged in the United States. One witness left the court building clutching a family photograph.
In Burma, more than twenty people were arrested Tuesday protesting the extended house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The protest came hours after the junta announced it was extending Suu Kyi’s detention for between six months to a year. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won national elections in 1990 but was kept out of office by the junta. She has spent twelve of the last eighteen years in detention. Aye Chan Naing of the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma said the junta is even breaking its own rules.
Aye Chan Naing: “Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest by the regime under the State Protection Act in 2003, and according to this law, they cannot keep her more than five years. So it means that they have to release her during this month, and this is another clear example of the regime breaking their own rules and regulations.”
Suu Kyi’s extended detention could further complicate international aid efforts in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. Donors have been reluctant to send aid out of fear the junta will use it to solidify power. On Tuesday, aid groups renewed criticism of the junta for blocking access to the worst-hit areas. Thomas Gurtner of the Red Cross said Burma remains on the brink of further catastrophe.
Thomas Gurtner: “There is no doubt that unless we manage to have a quantum in the output of aid, we are going to see a major deterioration of the situation.”
The cyclone has left at least 130,000 people dead or missing in Burma.
A new report from the British charity Save the Children says children in post-conflict zones face ongoing sexual exploitation and abuse from peacekeepers and aid workers. At least twenty-three organizations and peacekeeping missions were linked to sexual exploitation of children in Haiti, Ivory Coast and South Sudan. Corinna Csaky of Save the Children says more cases are likely unreported.
Corinna Csaky: “This new report is showing that children, some as young as six, are being sexually exploited and abused by peacekeepers and by aid workers. And for all the reported allegations of abuse, we think that there are many, many more that are unreported. We believe there is a chronic silence surrounding this abuse, and we’d like organizations to do something about it, to help children speak out about the abuse against them.”
The study found several different types of abuse, including trading food for sex, rape, child prostitution and pornography.
On the campaign trail, Republican candidate John McCain was confronted with antiwar protesters Tuesday at a speech in Colorado. Speaking at the University of Denver, McCain was interrupted several times by protesters yelling “endless war.”
Sen. John McCain: “This may turn into a longer speech than you had anticipated. And by the way, I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends. I will never surrender in Iraq.”
McCain used the speech to try to distance himself from President Bush on foreign policy, saying he would re-engage in multilateral diplomacy.
Sen. John McCain: “It’s a vision not of the United States acting alone, but building and participating in a community of nations all drawn together in this vital
common purpose. It’s a vision of a responsible America, dedicated to an enduring peace based on freedom.”
Despite trying to separate himself from Bush on foreign policy, McCain enlisted the President’s help for three fundraising events in Arizona and Utah. The two appeared together at an event last night in Phoenix, their only scheduled joint appearance. No cameras were allowed. Speaking in Nevada, Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama said McCain is trying to hide his close ties to Bush.
Sen. Barack Obama: “Today, John McCain is having a different kind of meeting. He’s holding a fundraiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona. No cameras. No reporters. And we all know why. Senator McCain doesn’t want to be seen, hat in hand, with the President whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years.”
In other campaign news, Senator Obama says he’s accepted Senator Hillary Clinton’s explanation for controversial comments invoking the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy to justify her continued stay in the Democratic presidential race. In an interview in South Dakota Friday, Clinton cited Kennedy’s assassination as an example of a contest continuing through June.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just — I don’t understand it.”
Clinton explained she was trying to cite a historical precedent for a June presidential contest. While not apologizing for the remark, Clinton did say, “I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive.” The Obama campaign initially criticized Clinton for invoking the assassination of a candidate. Obama has received Secret Service protection since the early stages of his campaign.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu arrived in Gaza Tuesday to begin a probe into the killing of nineteen Palestinians by Israeli troops in 2006. The Israeli government had previously blocked Tutu’s UN-backed investigation by denying him entry. Speaking in Gaza City, Tutu condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “For us, what is happening in Gaza is unacceptable. We have already seen and heard enough to move us close to tears.”
Tutu also called on Hamas to end rocket attacks on Israeli towns and said the two sides should begin peace talks.
Meanwhile, on the West Bank, at least ten Palestinians were wounded when Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets on a protest against Israel’s separation wall. Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinian protesters gathered near the West Bank village of Nillin trying to sabotage the wall. Israel continues the wall’s expansion despite a World Court ruling declaring it illegally built on occupied territory.
The Asia Times is reporting a former assistant secretary of state is claiming the Bush administration is planning an air strike against Iran within the next two months. The anonymous official said the US attack would target the headquarters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds force. Last week, the Bush administration denied an Israeli news report that President Bush plans to attack Iran before the end of his term.
And in Argentina, a former army commander has gone on trial for human rights abuses during Argentina’s seven-year dictatorship beginning in 1976. Luciano Benjamin Menendez faces charges of kidnapping, torturing and killing left-wing dissidents at a clandestine torture center known as La Perla. On Tuesday, dozens of activists gathered outside the courtroom in Cordoba to mark the beginning of the trial. Some 30,000 people are believed to have died under the Argentine dictatorship.