In his first public response to days of protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has defended Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the rightful winner of last week’s presidential election. Addressing thousands of people at Tehran University, the ayatollah appealed for calm and called for an end to the protests calling for a new election. Khamenei’s comments come after six days of massive street demonstrations organized by backers of presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi. On Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters rallied in Tehran to mourn those killed over the past week. Meanwhile, the Iranian human rights attorney and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has called for new elections under the watch of international monitors.
Shirin Ebadi: “I think that if new elections are organized without international observers, no matter what the outcome of these elections are, they could be protested or rejected by one or the other parties.”
The US Senate has overwhelmingly approved a $106 billion emergency spending bill to expand the war in Afghanistan and to continue the war in Iraq. The vote was 91–5. Voting against the war-spending bill was Democrat Russ Feingold, Independent Bernie Sanders and three Republicans: Jim DeMint, Mike Enzi and Tom Coburn. The spending bill also includes $420 million for the Mexican government to fight the drug war, as well as increased funding for the International Monetary Fund. The House passed a similar war-spending bill earlier this week. Much of the spending bill will go toward expanding the US war in Afghanistan. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted civilian casualties in Afghanistan have become a major strategic vulnerability in that war.
Robert Gates: “It is clear that we need to do much more to overcome what I believe is one of our greatest strategic vulnerabilities. The Afghan people must be reassured that US and NATO forces are there as friends, partners and, along with Afghan security forces, their protectors, as well.”
Defense Secretary Gates has said the US is moving ground-to-air missile defense systems to Hawaii as tensions escalate between Washington and North Korea. Robert Gates said that the US is concerned that Pyongyang might soon fire a missile toward Hawaii.
Prisoners attempting to challenge their convictions have been dealt a major setback by the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled Thursday that criminals do not have a constitutional right to DNA testing after their conviction. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said it is up to the states and Congress to decide who has a right to testing that might prove innocence long after conviction. In the dissenting opinion, John Paul Stevens wrote, “There is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done.” The Innocence Project says DNA testing has exonerated 240 people nationwide, at least seventeen of whom had been sentenced to die.
The Supreme Court has also issued a ruling that will make it much harder for older workers to win workplace age discrimination claims. In another 5-4 decision, the court ruled that workers bear the full burden of proving that age was the deciding factor in their dismissal or demotion. The business community praised the decision, while the National Senior Citizens Law Center and AARP sharply criticized it.
Immigrant rights groups are outraged over the sentencing of two white teenagers involved in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant in the town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The teenagers will serve as little as six months in jail. Last month, an all-white jury exonerated the two former high school football players of the most serious charges in connection with the fatal beating.
One hundred US-born children have filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the deportations of their parents until Congress overhauls US immigration laws. The Miami-based American Fraternity organization argues that the constitutional rights of these children are being violated because they will likely have to leave the country if their parents are deported.
In West Virginia, fourteen anti-coal protesters were arrested Thursday when they attempted to scale a 150-foot-high excavating machine at a mine owned by Massey Energy and unfurled a huge banner that read “Stop Mountaintop Removal.” The piece of equipment, known as a dragline, can remove house-sized chunks of blasted rock and earth. The protest shut down Massey’s Twilight Mine for several hours.
In Los Angeles, a group of teachers have ended their twenty-four-day hunger strike to protest budget cuts. The teachers said they will now organize a campaign to recall some members of the Los Angeles Unified School Board. Thousands of Los Angeles teachers may soon be fired as the district faces a $700 million budget gap.
The Peruvian Congress has overturned two controversial land laws that led to an indigenous uprising and dozens of deaths in the ensuing police crackdown. The laws would have opened large areas of the Peruvian Amazon to logging, dams and oil drilling. Indigenous leader Daysi Zapata praised the decision by the Peruvian Congress.
Daysi Zapata: “Today is a very historic day for all indigenous people and the entire country of Peru. We, the indigenous peoples, are present here because we believe that the demands of the indigenous peoples are just.”
Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford has surrendered to FBI agents. The chairman of the Stanford Financial Group is to appear in court this morning. Earlier this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against Stanford and his top executives of conducting an $8 billion fraud.
In California, a federal judge has struck down laws in two Northern California cities banning military recruitment of minors. Voters in Arcata and Eureka passed the laws last November.
The US Senate has unanimously approved a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation of African Americans. A disclaimer tacked on at the end of the bill said nothing in the resolution authorizes or supports reparations for slavery.
Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi turns sixty-four today. She remains under house arrest. Activists across the world are marking her birthday with vigils and protests.
And Hortensia Bussi, the widow of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, has died at the age of ninety-four.