The first major international delivery of aid has finally landed in Burma amidst new fears the death toll from this week’s cyclone could top 100,000. The initial toll was 22,000, but a US diplomat says another 80,000 people could have died. At least one million people are said to be homeless. A UN relief plane landed earlier today after waiting nearly forty-eight hours for clearance from Burma’s military junta. The junta is coming under intense criticism for delaying international relief. The UN’s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, says Burma is facing a “major catastrophe.”
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “I think it’s clear to all of us that we are faced here with a major catastrophe in, in particular, the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar. You’ve seen those official casualty figures. It is not impossible, in fact I think it’s quite likely, that those figures will continue to rise and that we are really facing, as I say, a major catastrophe there.”
Cyclone Nargis was the largest to hit Asia since 1991.
In Iraq, residents of the Sadr City district of Baghdad say they’re being warned to flee their homes in advance of an intensified US-led assault on Shia fighters. Sadr City has seen relentless violence in a nearly two-month campaign against followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. UNICEF says around 6,000 people have already been forced to flee. Up to 150,000, half of them children, are said to be cut off from aid in areas isolated by the US military. Medical care has declined following Saturday’s US missile strike that damaged several ambulances at Sadr City’s main hospital. At least four people were killed and thirteen injured in fighting overnight. At the White House, the veteran correspondent Helen Thomas questioned Press Secretary Dana Perino about the killing of innocent Iraqis.
Dana Perino: “Helen.”
Helen Thomas: “Yesterday, according to the New York Times, we dropped a bomb on a home in Sadr City and burned alive a pregnant woman and her children. How long is the siege of Sadr — how long are we going to keep bombing Iraqis?”
Perino: “Well, I’m not aware of that particular report. I have not — I’ve not seen it.”
Thomas: “Well, it was pretty buried in the stories.”
Perino: “OK. Well, the operation against the militias in Sadr City will continue until they root them out. And that is expressly in order to protect people like you just mentioned.”
Thomas: “Root who out? The Iraqis? In their own country?”
Perino: “It is Prime Minister Maliki’s government which is going after the militia, which is appropriate.”
Thomas: “Why are we bombing these people?”
Perino: “Any time anyone that is an innocent civilian is hurt in a conflict, we obviously regret it, and we go out of our way to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
A new report says nearly ten million children worldwide are dying every year from treatable ailments like diarrhea and pneumonia. Overall, Save the Children estimates more than 200 million children under the age of five do not get basic medical care.
On the campaign trail, Senator Hillary Clinton is promising to continue her White House bid despite growing calls for her to exit the race. Many political analysts say Tuesday’s primary results in North Carolina and Indiana make Senator Barack Obama the presumptive nominee. Obama leads by about 150 delegates with six contests to go. On Wednesday, Clinton disclosed she’s lent her campaign $6.4 million over the past month, on top of a prior loan of $5 million.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “I’m trying to make sure that their investment is a good one and because we are being outspent. Everybody knows that. We, historically, in the last several months have been outspent two-to-one, three-to-one, four-to-one, even five-to-one, but we’ve remained competitive, and I have been willing to loan that money to my campaign so that, you know, we could be competitive. And I think it’s paid off.”
Meanwhile, a prominent supporter of Clinton, former Senator George McGovern, has announced he’s switching over to endorsing Obama.
On the Republican side, Senator John McCain is expected to pull in over $7 million today at a fundraiser here in New York. It’s expected to be his largest single one-event take so far.
The FBI has raided the offices of the independent government agency established to protect federal whistleblowers. On Tuesday, more than a dozen agents made off with computers and documents belonging to Office of Special Counsel head Scott Bloch. Bloch has been accused of obstructing a 2006 inquiry into his conduct. But critics say the FBI could be trying to intimidate Bloch as he leads probes into the Bush administration. Bloch’s investigations have focused on the firing of US attorneys and the alleged use of federal agencies for political ends.
In other news, the FBI has withdrawn a national security letter issued to the Internet Archive, an online resource preserving older versions of websites. The national security letter was only revealed Wednesday under a gag order barring discussion of the case. The Internet Archive says last year the FBI demanded it hand it over extensive personal information on one of its users. The Archive says it fought the letter with the help of the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, because it exceeded the FBI’s authority to collect information. Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said, “A miscarriage of justice was prevented here because the Archive decided to fight the unlawful demand for information and an unconstitutional gag. The big question is, how many other improper National Security Letters have been issued by the FBI and never challenged?”
In Michigan, the State Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling blocking government and state universities from offering health insurance to same-sex couples. Michigan passed a gay marriage ban in 2004.
In Philadelphia, six police officers have been removed from street patrols after they were videotaped beating three unarmed African American men. A local television news helicopter captured the scene of around a dozen officers pulling the victims from their car and kicking and punching them as they lay on the ground. The beating occurred after the shooting death of a police officer who had been pursuing three robbery suspects, two of whom were later caught. The three victims have all been charged with assault, conspiracy and endangering another person. The officers who beat them have not been charged.