The United Nations is criticizing Burma’s military junta over what it calls an “unprecedented” refusal to allow in desperately needed aid. It’s been nearly one week since Cyclone Nargis killed up to 100,000 people and left more than a million homeless. But UN officials say the Burmese junta is refusing to allow free entry to dozens of aid workers. UN Emergency Coordinator John Holmes appealed to the junta to lift its restrictions.
UN Emergency Coordinator John Holmes: “We are simply trying to help the government of Myanmar to carry out their responsibilities to aid these people in desperate need and increasingly desperate need, as we can all see from the reports we are seeing. We are simply trying to help people. There are no other political motives in this, and therefore we really do — I do appeal very strongly indeed to the government of Myanmar both to step up their own relief efforts to help people on the ground and to change their attitude completely to the efforts that we are making to get these relief supplies in.”
At least one UN relief flight was sent back Thursday because the junta said its personnel had not received permission. In the Burmese capital Rangoon, the price of water has shot up at least 500 percent. A survivor of Cyclone Nargis described the damage to his home.
Survivor: “Heavy wind started blowing, and that damaged our houses. After that, the tide water rose. When the water started coming up, we could no longer stay in our homes, so we moved out. There is only one home left without damage in this village, so we all stayed together in that house.”
The US military is denying an Iraqi government claim to have arrested the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. On Thursday, Iraqi officials said Abu Ayyub al-Masri had been captured in the northern city of Mosul. But the Pentagon now says the apprehended suspect only had a similar name. Meanwhile, the US-led assault on the Shia stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad continues. At least four people were killed and more than fifty wounded in overnight clashes.
The military contractor KBR is being linked to new sexual harassment and abuse allegations in Iraq. Three former Iraqi employees of KBR say they witnessed a culture of sexual harassment in the company’s operations at the British embassy. A female cleaner says she was offered double her pay to have sex with a KBR supervisor. She says she was fired after she refused. Two former KBR employees, Jamie Leigh Jones and Mary Beth Kineston, have also come forward with rape allegations while working for KBR in Iraq.
In Lebanon, at least eight people have been killed and fifteen wounded in what’s being called the worst domestic violence since the civil war. Fighting between pro-government forces and Hezbollah intensified Thursday after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said a government crackdown is “tantamount to a declaration of war.”
Hassan Nasrallah: '’Whoever declares war on us, even if a father or a brother, let alone a political adversary, we reserve the right to confront and defend our arms and existence. The telecom network is not part of the resistance's arms, it is the most important part of the resistance.”
Nasrallah rejected a government offer to end the crisis by declaring the crackdown a “misunderstanding.” Hezbollah says it will only accept a complete rescission. UN Lebanon envoy Terje Roed-Larsen warned the crisis marks the worst instability since the end of the civil war.
Terje Roed-Larsen: “The riots that started yesterday in Lebanon show tragically that the country today confronts challenges of a magnitude unseen since the end of the civil war. The electoral void, combined with the stalled functions of parliament and the defiant maneuvers of militias, are all threats to Lebanon’s ability to operate as a sovereign democratic and independent state. These developments can have serious regional repercussions.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israelis and Palestinians held diverging commemorations Thursday to mark the sixtieth anniversary of Israel’s founding. In Israel, celebrations were held across the country, including rallies, fireworks displays and naval parades. In the Occupied Territories, Palestinians gathered to mark what they call the “Nakba,” or catastrophe. At least 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes upon Israel’s founding in 1948. In Northern Israel, thousands of Palestinians wearing black armbands held a rally where an Arab village once stood. Arab Israeli parliament member Muhammad Baraka said his family had been expelled from the village.
Muhammad Baraka: “We want to emphasize that when Israel celebrates its independence day, it is our Nakba Day. We want to tell our true story. We want to tell our true story. I was born in this village, and there are others who were expelled from their lands. We are here to say we are alive.”
Israeli independence was declared on May 15, 1948, but is celebrated each year according to the Jewish calendar. Palestinians will mark the Nakba on May 15th. Meanwhile, here in New York, more than sixty members of the group Rabbis for Human Rights held what they called an “alternative celebration” of Israeli independence. The group planted two trees to symbolize the coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.
Rabbi Brian Walt: “What Rabbis for Human Rights means to me is it means the deepest vision of Judaism, which is a vision of justice for all people. And what Rabbis for Human Rights symbolizes for me is the deep commitment to act upon that vision of justice, not only for Jewish people, but for all people, both in Israel so that there will be justice for both Israelis and Palestinians and, more generally, for the world, that there be justice for every people in the world.”
Meanwhile, back in Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is denying allegations he took bribes from an American land developer. Olmert says he’ll step down if he’s found to have committed wrongdoing.
On the campaign trail, Senator Hillary Clinton is coming under criticism for racially charged comments she’s made to press her case for staying in the contest. In an interview with USA Today, Clinton said she would be the stronger candidate because she appealed to more voters. Clinton cited an Associated Press article that discussed, in her words, “how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said. Clinton was in West Virginia Thursday, the next primary state in her race with Senator Barack Obama.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “Some in Washington wanted us to end our campaign, and then I won New Hampshire, then we had huge victories on Super Tuesday, then we won Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania, and I was never supposed to win Indiana. Well, I’m running to be president of all fifty states, and I want to be sure that we count all fifty states.”
The CIA has been ordered to release a 2002 memo said to outline harsh interrogation methods allowed on foreign prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union calls the memo “one of the most important torture documents still being withheld by the Bush administration.”
A newly disclosed memo shows the US Office of Special Counsel shut down an investigation into the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman last year. Siegelman is currently free on bail while he appeals a conviction on corruption charges. Critics say he is the target of a political witch hunt. More than fifty former state attorney generals have called for a congressional investigation into Siegelman’s case. The new memo shows Special Counsel Scott Bloch ordered investigators to abandon the probe over their objections. Siegelman says Bloch should explain why he shut down the investigation.
The State Department is imposing an unusual gag order on Congress members briefed on a pending US nuclear deal with India. The Washington Post reports lawmakers have been told to keep quiet out of fear public disclosure would threaten the agreement. The information they received is not classified. But State Department officials are said to be concerned over Indian opposition fears that the deal would harm Indian sovereignty. India would receive access to US nuclear technology for the first time. Critics say the agreement would encourage nuclear production regionally and worldwide, because it effectively rewards India for developing nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association said, “The administration’s unwillingness to make their answers more widely available suggests they have something to hide from either US or Indian legislators.”
The Pentagon has canceled the assignment of a general to oversee US military operations in Pakistan amidst objections to his previous position as commander of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. Major General Jay Hood oversaw Guantanamo from 2004 to 2006. The cancellation follows weeks of public criticism in Pakistan over his appointment.
On Capitol Hill, the House has approved a measure to help homeowners refinance their loans and stay in their homes. Thirty-nine Republicans joined Democrats despite the threat of a White House veto. The measure would allow hundreds of thousands of homeowners to trade high-rate loans for government-backed mortgages. The bill now goes to the Senate.
And Bolivia has set plans for a national vote of confidence on the government of President Evo Morales. Morales agreed to the referendum after the opposition-controlled upper house of parliament proposed it. Earlier this week, Morales rejected an unofficial autonomy vote by the country’s richest region of Santa Cruz. The proposals included giving Santa Cruz more control over land distribution and rich oil and gas reserves. Morales has pushed for a more equal distribution of Santa Cruz resources to include all of Bolivia.