A North Korean court has sentenced two US journalists to twelve years of hard labor after they were convicted of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the charges “baseless.”
Hillary Clinton: “We are incredibly concerned on both a diplomatic and, on my behalf, a personal basis. I have met with their families, and I share the grave anxiety that they feel about the safety and security of these two young women. We call again on the North Korean government to release them and enable them to come home as soon as possible. We have explored other approaches, including the use of special representatives strictly for this humanitarian mission. But as things stand now, we know that they’re in the middle of a trial in Pyongyang, and we hope that the trial is resolved quickly and that the young women are released.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has announced it is considering adding North Korea back to a list of state sponsors of terrorism and to seek a way to interdict North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.
A US-backed coalition led by Saad al-Hariri appears to have won Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, defeating Hezbollah. The outcome is seen as a blow to Syria and Iran and welcome news for the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which backs the so-called “March 14” coalition led by Saad al-Hariri, the son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.
In another closely watched election, center-right parties retained control of the European Parliament in an election that ended on Sunday with a record low turnout.
The nation’s unemployment rate has surged to 9.4 percent, the highest it has been since 1983. 345,000 jobs were lost during the month of May. The current unemployment rate would jump to 16.8 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. The latest government statistics also reveal the nation’s long-term unemployment rate is at the highest it’s been since the government began keeping records in 1948. 4.5 percent of the work force has been out of work for fifteen weeks or more.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: “I would say to you that the number, in terms of unemployment rate, is still very, very high and not acceptable. We know that we have to do much, much more to put American workers back to work. We have seen some leveling off in comparison to the last few months, that we do see jobs that aren’t being lost as quickly, but I think that’s just — that’s going to happen between now and, I think, the next few months.”
The anti-abortion activist accused of killing Dr. George Tiller has warned that more violent acts are planned against abortion providers. In a phone interview from jail, Scott Roeder told the Associated Press, “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” Roeder called the AP on Sunday, one day after 1,000 people gathered in Wichita, Kansas, for the funeral of Doctor Tiller. On Friday, the Justice Department announced it had launched a federal investigation into Tiller’s death.
In Peru, dozens of people are believed to have been killed in clashes between police and indigenous activists in the northern Peruvian Amazonian province of Bagua. Peruvian authorities have declared a military curfew, and troops are patrolling towns in the Amazon jungle. For weeks, indigenous activists in Peru have been protesting a series of presidential decrees that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors. We’ll have more on Peru after headlines.
In Somalia, more than 100 people have been killed in clashes between rival armed groups in some of the heaviest fighting this year. Meanwhile, the director of a prominent Somalia radio station was assassinated on Sunday. Mukhtar Mohammad Hirabe died after being shot in the head five times. Hirabe is the fifth journalist killed in Somalia this year.
An independent commission investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending has found the Pentagon has failed to provide adequate oversight over tens of billions of dollars in contracts to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wartime Contracting Commission found US reliance on private-sector employees has grown to “unprecedented proportions,” yet the government has no central database of who all these contractors are, what they do, or how much they’re paid.
This comes as the Iraqi government has arrested five US contractors in connection with the killing of another US contractor. If the case proceeds to an Iraqi court, the five men will be the first Americans to be tried under Iraqi law. The men are accused of murdering sixty-year-old James Owen Kitterman, president of Peregrine, a contracting company based in Kuwait. Four of the five detained contractors work for North Carolina-based Corporate Training Unlimited, a security firm headed by Donald Feeney, who, along with his son, Donald Feeney III, has been detained.
A new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has found global military spending rose four percent last year to a record $1.46 trillion despite the global financial crisis. Overall military spending has increased by 45 percent since 1999. The US remains the biggest spender, accounting for 58 percent of the total global spending increase during the past decade.
On Friday, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the six million victims of the Holocaust during a somber visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
He laid a white rose on the “living memorial” on the site where survivors erected a temporary monument for Buchenwald’s liberation in April 1945.
President Obama: “To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened, a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history. Also to this day, there are those who perpetuate every form of intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism and more, hatred that degrades its victims and diminishes us all.”
A former State Department analyst and his wife have been arrested on accusations they spied for the Cuban government for nearly thirty years. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the charges ridiculous and questioned the timing of the arrests. Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn were arrested just days after the Organization of American States lifted its forty-seven-year suspension of Cuba.
The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has withdrawn from consideration amid questions about his links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd had 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, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man Friday in the village of Nilin during the weekly protest against the construction of Israel’s separation wall through the West Bank. Medics said the thirty-five-year-old Aqel Srour was hit in the chest by a live bullet, and another protester was wounded, when soldiers fired at the protesters. On Saturday, close to 200 Israelis and Palestinians gathered near the West Bank city of Hebron to show their objection to the ongoing building of illegal Jewish settlements. An attempt to erect their own outpost named “Obama 2” near the Jewish settlement of Sussiya was foiled by Israeli security forces, who tore the makeshift construction down. Meanwhile in Gaza, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians along the Gaza border earlier today. Israel claimed the men were militants trying to cross into Israel.
Prominent gay rights activist Cleve Jones has called for a national march on Washington in October to demand that Congress establish equal rights for the lesbian, gay and transgender community. Jones conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and is the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
And the longtime civil rights and AIDS activist Dr. Alan Berkman has died. Berkman was a founder of Health GAP, which campaigns to eliminate barriers to global access to affordable life-sustaining medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS. During the 1970s, Berkman provided medical care to Native American activists at Wounded Knee, as well as to inmates injured during the Attica prison uprising. In the 1980s, Dr. Berkman was sentenced to eight years in jail for treating activists tied to the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground following a shootout with police in Nyack, New York.