Gay rights advocates have won two major new victories. On Tuesday, the Vermont state legislature voted to override a veto from Governor Jim Douglas and legalize gay marriage. Vermont becomes the first state to recognize same-sex marriage through legislative action. At least nine other state legislatures are considering similar measures.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the city council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The vote sets up a showdown with Congress, which approves D.C.’s laws under Home Rule.
President Obama is back in the United States after stopping in Turkey and Iraq following his European trip. On Tuesday, Obama addressed troops at Camp Victory, a US base near the Baghdad airport.
President Obama: “This is going to be a critical period, these next eighteen months. I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it’s something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.”
Obama did not travel beyond the US military base. His visit came as nearly forty people were killed in a series of bombings around Baghdad. Earlier in the day, Obama wrapped up his visit to Turkey. Speaking before a town hall-style gathering of Turkish students in Istanbul, Obama was asked to explain his differences with the foreign policy of former President George W. Bush.
President Obama: “I opposed the war in Iraq. I thought it was a bad idea. Now that we’re there, I have a responsibility to make sure that as we bring troops out
that we do so in a careful enough way that you don’t see a complete collapse into violence.”
Obama was also asked about his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, where he has yet to make any change from the US support of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
President Obama: “I will say this, that I believe that peace in the Middle East is possible. I think it will be based on two states, side by side, a Palestinian state and a Jewish state.”
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, meanwhile, reports the Obama administration has begun warning Democratic lawmakers of a looming confrontation with the new Israeli government on fulfilling its obligations. The White House has told Democrats to expect resistance from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on upholding the Israeli government’s pledge to freeze settlement activity and accepting the principle of a Palestinian state. Although Obama’s efforts would go further than the Bush administration’s, critics say they still fail to meet minimal Palestinian rights.
Back in Iraq, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President Bush has had his prison sentence reduced from three years to one. Muntadhar al-Zaidi drew worldwide attention when he hurled his shoes at Bush during a news conference in December. Zaidi was convicted of assaulting a foreign leader. An Iraqi court said Zaidi’s jail term was shortened because he had no prior criminal record.
In Peru, former president Alberto Fujimori has been sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for overseeing a series of human rights abuses during the 1990s. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel found Fujimori guilty of “crimes against humanity,” including ordering massacres that killed twenty-five people and the kidnappings of two political opponents. The verdict marks the first time an elected head of state has been extradited back to their home country and convicted of human rights abuses.
A group of Democratic lawmakers has wrapped up a visit to Cuba. The five-day trip included meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro and former president Fidel Castro. Congress member Barbara Lee of California said the Castros renewed calls for direct talks with the United States.
Rep. Barbara Lee: “All of us are convinced that President Castro would like normal relations with Cuba and would see normalization, ending the embargo, as beneficial to both countries. And we were very proud and humbled by the fact that we were one of the first United States delegations to meet with President Castro.”
The Obama administration is expected to announce plans to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances to Cuba at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad later this month. The move would allow Cubans living in the United States to travel freely to the island, instead of once a year as at present. But Obama has still rejected calls to lift the embargo.
In Britain, newly released video shows a protester who died during last week’s G20 protests in London was shoved by police officers shortly before his death. Forty-seven-year-old Ian Tomlinson was on his way home and wasn’t apparently taking part in the protests. Video shows him standing alone away from a group of demonstrators when he is approached by police. An officer shoves Tomlinson from behind, sending him to the ground. Tomlinson suffered a fatal heart attack moments later. The video was released by The Guardian newspaper, which says it will hand the tape to British police.
Back in the United States, the Wall Street Journal is reporting the taxpayer-funded bailout will soon extend to the life insurance industry. Treasury officials are set to announce plans to use money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Only life insurance companies that own federally chartered banks will be eligible.
In Illinois, Democratic Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley has won the race to fill White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s vacant congressional seat. Quigley won with 70 percent of the vote.
In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken has increased his lead over Republican Norm Coleman in the ongoing recount of their disputed Senate race. On Tuesday, Franken’s lead grew to 312 votes after the tallying of previously excluded absentee ballots. Franken’s lead is virtually insurmountable, but Coleman has promised continued legal challenges.
And a federal judge has ordered a probe of six Justice Department lawyers involved in the prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens. Stevens lost his seat in November just days after being convicted on federal ethics charges. But last week the Justice Department dropped the case after saying it had uncovered widespread prosecutorial misconduct. On Tuesday, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan said he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the attorneys.