In Sri Lanka, at least 430 civilians, including 100 children, have died after the Sri Lanka military shelled a civilian area under the control of the Tamil Tigers. But the actual death toll may be far higher. A pro-Tamil Tiger website estimates 3,200 civilians have died in what was the heaviest attack in the military’s attempt to eliminate the separatist group. Doctors say at least 1,100 people have been injured. The United Nations described the scene as a “bloodbath.” Doctors and priests working inside the civilian area blamed the attack on the Sri Lankan military. One Catholic priest inside the war zone said, “They are fighting civilians. They’re using cluster bombs, cannons. They’re shooting towards people.” But the Sri Lankan government accused the Tamil Tigers of shelling their own civilians. Sri Lanka has banned all journalists and international organizations from the conflict zone. On Sunday, the Sri Lankan government deported three British journalists after they had reported on conditions in government-run refugee camps. A coalition of international human rights groups have called for the UN Security Council to urgently hold talks on the conflict.
The US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi will reportedly be set free later today after an Iranian court reduced her prison term to a two-year suspended sentence. Once released, Saberi is expected to be allowed to leave Iran. Saberi was sentenced last month to eight years in prison after being convicted in a secret trial of spying for the United States.
The nation’s unemployment rate has reached 8.9 percent, the highest in twenty-six years. Five hundred thirty-nine thousand workers lost their jobs in April. The current unemployment rate would jump to nearly 16 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. African American workers remain the hardest hit by the economic crisis. The official black unemployment rate is now 15 percent, but economists estimate the actual rate is closer to 27 percent. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner attempted to put a somewhat positive spin on the latest unemployment numbers.
Timothy Geithner: “They’re encouraging, in some sense, because the rate of decline in the economy as a whole is slowing. You’re seeing some signs of stability. But these are enormously large numbers. You know, you had more than half a million Americans lose their jobs again. And it just underscores the fact that the economy as a whole is still going through a very challenging period.”
The United Nations is estimating at least 360,000 people have fled heavy fighting in northwest Pakistan, causing the largest displacement crisis in Pakistan’s history. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees projects that there will soon be one million internally displaced persons in Pakistan. The refugees are fleeing the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani military claims it has killed 700 Taliban militants in recent days.
President Obama’s National Security Adviser, General James Jones, said Sunday that the US will continue carrying out air strikes in Afghanistan despite criticism from the Afghan government. During an interview on Meet the Press, Afghan president Hamid Karzai said the strikes are undermining US efforts in Afghanistan
Hamid Karzai: “Our villages are not where the terrorists are. And that’s what we keep telling the US administration, that the war on terrorism is not in the Afghan villages, not in the Afghan homes. Respect that. Civilian casualties are undermining support in the Afghan people for the war on terrorism and for the relations with America. How can you expect a people who keep losing their children to remain friendly?”
Meanwhile, US and NATO forces have been accused of using white phosphorus munitions in Afghanistan. In one incident reported by Human Rights Watch, an eight-year-old Afghan girl was severely burned by white phosphorus in March. Her father said NATO forces had fired the rounds that caused her injuries.
A federal jury in Montana has acquitted chemical company W.R. Grace and three of its executives on all counts for knowingly exposing residents of Libby, Montana to asbestos poisoning. An estimated 1,200 residents of Libby have died or developed cancer or lung disease from exposure to asbestos-containing ore from a mine in the town. Community activist Gayla Benefield said, “They’ve gotten away with murder again, and that’s just the way it will always be.” Shares of W.R. Grace rose 36 percent on the news of the acquittal.
A group of doctors, hospitals, drug makers and insurance companies are pledging to help slow the explosive growth of healthcare spending over the next decade. The voluntary pledge doesn’t aim at cutting healthcare spending overall, but merely restraining its rate of growth. In a letter to President Obama, the healthcare providers said they would reduce costs by simplifying administrative costs, making hospitals more efficient, reducing hospitalizations, managing chronic illnesses more effectively, and improving healthcare information technology. The voluntary cuts are being offered in an effort to stave off new government price constraints that might be imposed by Congress. According to the White House, the plan could save $2 trillion over the next decade. The trade groups making the pledge include the American Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the Service Employees International Union.
The Obama administration said on Friday it will keep a Bush-era rule that plays down the link between the threatened status of the polar bear and climate change. Conservation and environmental groups criticized the Interior Department’s decision. Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said, “The special rule is a death warrant for the polar bear. With its sea-ice habitat rapidly disappearing, the polar bear needs the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.” Alaska Governor Sarah Palin hailed the Obama administration’s decision as a “clear victory for Alaska,” because it removes the link between bear protection and climate change and should help North Slope oil and gas development.
The publication Aviation Week reports the Pentagon is requesting a record $50 billion for its secret black budget. This marks a three percent increase over last year’s total. The Pentagon budget for secret operations is now larger than the entire military budget of Britain, France or Japan.
In his weekly radio address, President Obama called on Congress to pass a “Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights” that would impose tighter regulation on the credit card industry.
President Obama: “Americans know that they have a responsibility to live within their means and pay what they owe. But they also have a right not to get ripped off by the sudden rate hikes, unfair penalties and hidden fees that have become all too common in our credit card industry. You shouldn’t have to fear that any new credit card is going to come with strings attached, nor should you need a magnifying glass and a reference book to read a credit card application. And the abuses in our credit card industry have only multiplied in the midst of this recession, when Americans can least afford to bear an extra burden.”
The Israeli government and settler organizations are secretly working to surround East Jerusalem with nine national parks, pathways and sites, drastically altering the geography of the city and to strengthen Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, a move not recognized by the international community. The Guardian newspaper reports, under an eight-year plan, a series of nine national parks, trails and tourist sites based on apparent Jewish historical spots would be established, most under the control of settler groups working together with the Israeli government. The sites would also create a link to Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. The Israeli organization Peace Now says the secret plan for East Jerusalem might prevent the ability to reach a two-state solution.
In other news from the Middle East, President Obama has renewed economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria. The sanctions were first put in place by President Bush four years ago.
In South Africa, Jacob Zuma has been sworn in as the country’s new president. He becomes South Africa’s third post-apartheid leader.
Jacob Zuma: “In the presence of everyone assembled here and in full realization of the high calling, I assume as president of the Republic of South Africa, I, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, swear that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law.”
In other news from Africa, at least sixty-five people have died in the Somali capital Mogadishu in heaving fighting between rival Islamist groups. More than 190 people have been injured.
And the White House Correspondents Association dinner was held Saturday in Washington. The comedian Wanda Sykes provided the evening’s entertainment.
Wanda Sykes: “It is truly an honor to be here. It really is. I keep getting asked the same question: you know, are you nervous? Are you nervous? I’m like, 'With this administration, what is there to be nervous about?' You know, if I do a good job, I get great press; and if I screw it up royally, Tim Geithner will give me a bonus.”