At least forty people are reportedly dead following a bomb attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s Swat Valley. It’s the ninth bombing to hit Pakistan since government forces launched a US-backed attack on Taliban militants in April. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today for talks with Pakistani leaders on supporting the offensive. The meeting comes as the United Nations is warning it could be forced to reduce its Pakistan relief efforts unless it receives additional aid. Manuel Bessler of the UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance cited dwindling supplies.
Manuel Bessler: “Some of the clusters are running short. And in this sense, we have to use all opportunities to bring to the attention of the international community the urgent need to fund this operation. When we are short in funding, short in resources, we will be forced to scale down our operation.”
Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other northwest areas.
President Obama is in Germany today on the third stop of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. One day after his speech in Cairo, Obama played down expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his administration.
President Obama: “The United States can be a partner in solving the problem, but ultimately the parties involved are going to have to make a decision that the prosperity and security of their people is best served by negotiations and compromise. And we can’t force them to make those difficult decisions. What we can do is to provide them a framework and a forum and the support for such an outcome to be achieved.”
The Obama administration has clashed with Israel over a US insistence that Israel end settlement expansion. But it’s refused to leverage massive US aid to Israel or push for the settlements’ complete dismantlement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hopes Obama will follow his Cairo speech with meaningful pressure on Israel.
Saeb Erekat: “President Obama’s speech laid the ground for the two-state solution. Now, I hope that in the next few months President Obama will lay a real plan with time lines, monitors and mechanisms to implement and translate the vision of two states from a vision to a realistic political track.”
Obama will pay tribute to victims of the Nazi Holocaust when he tours the Buchenwald concentration camp later today. He’ll then head to France to commemorate D-Day on Saturday.
In North Korea, state officials have remained silent on the trial of two detained US journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Their trial was supposed to open on Thursday, but there’s been no word on whether it’s begun.
The UN’s top human rights official is calling for an independent probe into the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said attacks by both Taliban militants and US-led forces should be investigated.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “The government of Afghanistan and all states involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims.”
In Somalia, at least fourteen people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in the capital Mogadishu. The ongoing fighting has caused a new wave of displacements, with around 70,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in the past month. Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour said the humanitarian situation is dire.
Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour: “You can imagine a situation where nearly half of the country’s entire population are in need of humanitarian aid, where borders are closed, where displacements is taking place, where droughts are actually frequent. One emergency after the other. This is no longer a normal situation. This is an extraordinary humanitarian situation.”
Seven thousand Somali refugees are now pouring into neighboring Kenya each month.
A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release secret evidence it says justifies the continued imprisonment of over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners. US District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected the government’s blanket request to keep the documents sealed, saying it must seek court approval to keep specific information under wraps. The case was brought by prisoners’ attorneys and a coalition of media groups. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, saying, “For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse.”
The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has ties to the FBI spying on Muslim Americans, as well as reported links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd has been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. A congressional aide, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Mudd had direct knowledge of the torture of foreign prisoners while serving as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis. Mudd’s confirmation hearing is expected next week.
New figures show consumer and commercial bankruptcies are on pace to reach more than 1.5 million this year. The figure is the highest since Congress passed legislation making it harder to file for bankruptcy in 2005.
A new study, meanwhile, says ballooning medical bills are now responsible for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says the percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical bills increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, the last year for which data is available. More than 75 percent of bankrupt families had health insurance but were still crippled by medical debts.
The former chief executive and co-founder of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial has been charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. On Thursday, federal regulators said Angelo Mozilo and two other Countrywide execs misled shareholders about the failings of their vast holdings in subprime loans. Countrywide played a major role in the subprime mortgage scandal, holding one of every six mortgage loans in the United States.
In Tennessee, school officials have rescinded a ban on websites containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two Tennessee school districts last month for installing software that prevented students from accessing LGBT websites.
And in Kansas, hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral of the murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday as he ushered during services at his Wichita church. On Thursday, the suspect in his killing, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, made a brief call to the Associated Press from his jail cell but refused to talk about the murder. Scott Roeder’s brother, David, has said Roeder has suffered from mental illness. Tiller’s funeral will be held at the College Hill United Methodist Church, whose members have previously supported Tiller’s abortion clinic. More than forty-five vigils have been held across the country to honor Tiller since his murder.