The G20 summit has begun in London following a day of protest from thousands of people. On Wednesday, dozens were arrested at demonstrations throughout London’s financial district. A number of protesters broke into the Royal Bank of Scotland and wrote "thieves" on the bank’s walls. One man involved with the protests died after collapsing in the street.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the summit, President Obama joined Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to announce a new round of talks on lowering nuclear arsenals.
President Obama: "I believe [what] we’ve begun today is a very constructive dialog that will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest, like the reduction of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of our nonproliferation treaties, our mutual interests in dealing with terrorism and extremism that threatens both countries, our mutual interests in economic stability and restoring growth around the world, our mutual interests in promoting peace and stability in areas like the Middle East."
Obama is scheduled to visit Moscow for a summit in July.
US military commanders have asked the Obama administration for an additional 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan next year. The request comes on top of the additional 21,000 troops President Obama has authorized since taking office. General David Petraeus made the disclosure in testimony Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Gen. David Petraeus: "There will be nothing easy about the way ahead in Afghanistan or Pakistan or in many of the other tasks in the Central Command area. Much hard work lies before us, but it is clear that achieving the objectives of these missions is vital. And it is equally clear that these endeavors will require sustained, substantial commitment and unity of effort among all involved."
If Obama approves the request this fall, the US occupation of Afghanistan would increase to some 70,000 troops.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration also said Wednesday it’s preparing to ask Congress for $3 billion in military aid for the Pakistani government over the next five years.
In Afghanistan, at least thirteen people were killed and another fourteen wounded in an attack on a government office in Kandahar. A Taliban spokesperson claimed responsibility for the attack.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Taliban’s Pakistan wing is threatening to attack areas in the United States in response to American drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people. Baitullah Mehsud made the threat as he took responsibility for an attack on a police academy in Lahore.
Meanwhile, here in this country, a group of Nevada peace activists has launched a daily vigil to protest US attacks in Pakistan. The group "Ground the Drones" is gathering daily outside the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the new Israeli Foreign Minister says his government is not bound to respect US-brokered agreements reached since the Annapolis summit in late 2007. Avigdor Lieberman made the assertion in his inaugural Foreign Ministry address.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: "Annapolis, the government of Israel has never ratified, not the government of Israel and not the Knesset (parliament) of Israel. Annapolis was never ratified. So, whoever wants to have fun can continue to have fun. I have seen all the generous offers made by Ehud Olmert, but I have not seen any results."
Lieberman also signaled a readiness to launch new attacks on Palestinian land, saying "those who wish for peace should prepare for war." In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian cabinet member Samir Abdullah called on the Obama administration to pressure Israel to respect prior agreements.
Samir Abdullah: "We are awaiting difficult times with this government, and we hope that the international community and all parties which invested in the peace process and the United States, that initiated the Annapolis process and hosted it, should deal with Israel as it dealt with other countries which turned its back to the international legitimacy and to the will of the international community."
The Obama administration has yet to respond publicly to Lieberman’s remarks.
In Guatemala, a television reporter has been killed and a camera operator seriously wounded in an apparent targeted shooting. Rolando Santis of Telecentro 13 was on his way to an interview when a group of assailants fired on his vehicle. The unnamed camera operator is in critical condition.
The private military company Blackwater is being sued for allegedly killing three security guards working for state-owned Iraqi media. A new lawsuit filed on behalf of surviving relatives says the guards were shot on February 7th, 2007 at a traffic circle in Baghdad. Some twenty Blackwater employees who witnessed the shooting allegedly refused to cooperate with Iraqi police and destroyed key evidence. The suit names Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe, along with several other companies controlled by Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
On Capitol Hill, the House has approved a weaker version of a bill to cap executive payments at bailed-out firms. The measure follows moves by Senate Democrats to quash last month’s much trumpeted House measure that would have imposed a 90 percent tax on bonuses. The new House measure limits the scope of bonuses that can be considered "excessive" and gives the Treasury greater leeway in oversight.
In economic news, a new report says the US private sector lost more jobs last month than previously thought. The survey company ADP Employer Services says private firms cut 742,000 jobs in March, up from the previous estimate of 706,000.
A new internal audit has found a government program to improve worker safety has failed to do its job. Labor Department investigators say the Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed to collect data, carried out incomplete inspections and missed out on identifying hazardous workplaces because it misspelled company names or didn’t realize two subsidiaries had the same owner. The report also criticizes the Bush administration’s move to restrict the number of companies subject to special attention, saying better oversight might have improved workplaces where fifty-eight workers lost their lives.
And the Obama administration has announced it will drop all charges against former Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Stevens lost his seat in November just days after being convicted on federal ethics charges. But on Wednesday, Justice Department lawyers said they’ve uncovered new evidence of prosecutorial misconduct that called the case into question. Attorney General Eric Holder says he will not seek a new trial.
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