Tens of thousands of protesters are gathering in London around the meeting of world leaders at the G20 summit. Thousands of British police have been deployed since demonstrations began over the weekend. Several large protests are expected today. President Obama arrived in London on Tuesday and held talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier today.
In Pakistan, at least twelve people have been killed in a suspected US missile attack near the Afghan border. The strike comes one day after Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for killing at least twelve people in an attack on a police academy in Lahore. Mehsud called the bombing a response to the US attacks. More than 340 people have been killed in US strikes inside Pakistan since last August.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been sworn in following his formal approval by the Israeli parliament. On Tuesday, Netanyahu vowed to seek peace with Palestinians but effectively ruled out negotiating the borders of a future Palestinian state. Israel seeks to retain control of vast swaths of the occupied West Bank for Jewish-only settlements.
In Iraq, at least seven people were killed and thirty-eight wounded in a suicide bombing in the city of Mosul. The attack came as British forces formally began their withdrawal from Iraq and handed formal control of Basra province to the United States. Most of Britain’s 4,100 troops are expected to withdraw by the end of May.
At the Hague, a summit on Afghanistan has yielded the first contact between the Obama administration and the Iranian government. On Tuesday, the US envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, had a brief, unplanned meeting with Iran’s deputy foreign minister. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the exchange.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial. It was unplanned. And they agreed to stay in touch. Separately, at my direction, a letter was delivered to the Iranians focusing on three US citizens currently unable to return to the United States from Iran. The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation.”
Iranian leaders have called on the US to apologize for previous actions, including the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government.
Also at the Hague conference, Clinton expressed willingness to reach a truce with low-level Taliban fighters, saying those who abandon the Taliban should be granted an “honorable form of reconciliation.”
The Afghan government, meanwhile, is coming under international pressure to drop a law that effectively legalizes rape within marriage and further restricts women’s rights. According to The Guardian of London, the law bans women from refusing to have sex with their husbands and says they can only seek work, education or medical care with their husbands’ permission. Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the measure into law last month.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is calling for the indictment of President Bush and Israeli leaders on charges of war crimes. Addressing the Arab League summit in Doha, Chavez criticized the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in light of US-Israeli actions.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “This genocide that was governed by the United States for eight years after Bush ordered the bombing of Iraq, where thousands and thousands of children were killed and entire families, innocent men and women. Why don’t they go after Bush — he truly committed genocide — or the Israeli government, which also commits genocide?”
Bashir is currently in Saudi Arabia in defiance of an international warrant for his arrest. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the former Jordanian Queen, Queen Noor, criticized Sudan’s actions in Darfur but said the US is guilty of double standards in supporting Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.
Queen Noor: “Were there not so many cases where Western pressure has been brought to bear on Arabs, but Israel’s, for example, disproportionate killing of civilians in Gaza during the recent and also in Lebanon in 2006, during the crisis there, if those cases had not taken place with relatively little Western outcry, you would find a very different attitude, I think, towards what’s taken place in Sudan.”
The Obama administration has reversed the Bush administration policy of boycotting the UN Human Rights Council. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the US will seek a seat on the council when three become available next month.
A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation says the global economy is in a worse decline than previously thought. The OECD says world trade will drop 13 percent this year. Chief economist Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel called the current crisis the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel: “The world economy is in the midst of its deepest, most synchronized recession in our lifetimes, certainly since the 1930s, I would say, caused by a global financial crisis and deepened by a collapse of world trade.”
A top official in Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime has apologized for his role in the mass killings that killed some 1.7 million people. Kaing Guek Eav ran a prison where an estimated 17,000 people were tortured and murdered. On Tuesday, Eav told a war crimes tribunal he apologizes for his crimes and said he’s full of “shame and regret.”
The Obama administration is set to open talks today on a new arms control deal with Russia. The New York Times reports US and Russian negotiators will propose reducing their stockpiles down to around 1,500 warheads apiece, down from the 2,200 agreed to under President George W. Bush. US officials say they will resist efforts to include the warheads that will be used if the Obama administration goes ahead with Bush’s so-called missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Rather than defending against missiles, the plan is widely seen as a first-strike weapon against Iran.
A new estimate from Bloomberg News says the cost of the financial bailout through direct spending, loans and aid guarantees has reached $12.8 trillion. The figure amounts to more than $42,000 for every person in the US and approaches the nation’s entire economic output last year.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congress members Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have introduced a measure to reduce US emissions of greenhouse gas. The measure exceeds President Obama’s proposals for emissions cuts, seeking a 20 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020, compared to Obama’s 14 percent. It would also impose stricter efficiency standards and require that the US draw a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
In Minnesota, the Democratic challenger Al Franken has won a key court victory in the ongoing legal wrangling over his 2008 Senate race against Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled that only 400 absentee ballots are eligible for a review and recount. Coleman was seeking a far greater number to overcome Franken’s 225-vote lead. Coleman’s attorney says he’ll appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has rejected the tobacco giant Philip Morris’s challenge to a $150 million judgment won by the widow of a longtime smoker. Mayola Williams of Oregon was awarded $80 million in 1999. The sum has nearly doubled because of the interest accrued as Philip Morris, now known as Altria, challenged the ruling over the last decade.
In media news, the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times and fifty-eight other newspapers has filed for bankruptcy protection. The Sun-Times Media Group cited the current economic downturn and hundreds of millions in back taxes stemming from when it was controlled by the jailed media tycoon Conrad Black. The move makes Chicago the first US city to have both major newspapers file for bankruptcy.
And here in New York, Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez has revealed that Reverend Al Sharpton received a half-million-dollar private donation last year at the same time as he launched a campaign to support charter schools. Writing in today’s New York Daily News, Gonzalez reports the money came from a private hedge fund managed by former New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy. Sharpton launched the charter school initiative with the current chancellor, Joel Klein. He received the money indirectly at the same time as he began paying some $1 million in back taxes.