Honduras is facing growing regional and international pressure to restore the overthrown President Manuel Zelaya. Earlier today, the thirty-five-member Organization of American States said it would suspend Honduras unless Zelaya is returned to office within three days. The ultimatum follows Tuesday’s unanimous decision by the UN General Assembly to condemn the coup. Addressing the UN, Zelaya stuck by his vow to return to Honduras on Thursday despite threats of arrest.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: “A crime has been committed, a crime against humanity, a crime which we all regret. I am going to return on Thursday, because they expelled me by force, and I’m going to return the same way I always return: as a citizen and as the president.”
Zelaya is expected to meet with US officials in Washington today, but not President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile in Honduras, protests against the coup continued with traffic blockades in various parts of the country and the teachers’ union announcing an indefinite strike. There were also reports of the brief jailing of at least seven journalists.
In Iraq, at least forty people were killed and another 100 wounded in a bombing in the northern town of Kirkuk. The attack came hours after US troops completed their withdrawal from major Iraqi towns and cities to surrounding military bases. It was the latest in a string of recent bombings that have killed over 250 people in the past ten days. At the White House, President Obama praised the pullback and called it a step toward Iraqi sovereignty.
President Obama: “The future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy, and today’s transition is further proof that those who have tried to pull Iraq into the abyss of disunion and civil war are on the wrong side of history.”
In other Iraq news, an auction for foreign oil companies to develop Iraqi oil ended Tuesday with just one winning bid. It’s the first time Iraq has opened up its oil since nationalizing production in 1972.
The Israeli military has seized a ship trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza in international waters. On Tuesday, Israeli forces boarded the Free Gaza movement’s Spirit of Humanity and towed it to the Israeli port of Ashdod. The twenty-one activists on board have been reportedly denied attorneys and are set to be deported. The kidnapped passengers include former Congress member and presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney and the Irish peace activist and Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire. Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev dismissed the boat’s humanitarian mission.
Mark Regev: “Israel every day is allowing humanitarian support to reach the people of Gaza — food stuffs, medicines, energy and so forth. This boat was not about that. This boat was about political activists who have been apologists for the Hamas regime, who have nothing whatsoever to say about Hamas’s brutal treatment of the people of Gaza.”
The sailing was the Free Gaza movement’s first since it aborted an attempt in January after the Israeli navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board. That sailing had come just weeks after an Israeli navy vessel deliberately rammed another of its boats, almost forcing it to sink. Issam Younis of Gaza’s Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemned the kidnapping.
Issam Younis: “This would reveal the fact that Gaza is under occupation, Gaza is an occupied territory, and Israeli authorities are imposing an unprecedented siege over the Gaza Strip. It’s not only closing the borders and have this effective control over the movement for the individuals and goods, but this time the sea. They impose very severe restrictions on the movement at sea, so shipments that are on their way to Gaza full of humanitarian aid were not allowed.”
The seizure of the Free Gaza ship came as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Washington for talks with US envoy George Mitchell. Despite weeks of pressure from the Obama administration, Barak maintained Israel’s refusal to commit to freezing the expansion of West Bank settlements.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “It’s a little bit too early to predict. We are considering every positive contribution that Israel can make towards the taking off of a significant, important peace effort. And, of course, we’re always taking into account our security interests and demands, as well as the need to see always the whole picture, the wider picture, and to deal with each and every issue, including the settlements, within this wider framework.”
The US has called for the settlement freeze but so far refused to threaten the cutoff of billions of dollars in US aid. Israel has continued to expand settlements despite agreeing to halt construction under the six-year-old Road Map.
Democrat Al Franken has been declared the winner in his Minnesota Senate race against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. On Tuesday, Coleman conceded the race after the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch legal appeal seeking a recount. The ruling ends an eight-month legal battle and holds the potential to alter the political landscape in Washington. Seating Franken will give Democrats effective control of sixty seats, enough to theoretically overcome a Republican filibuster. After the court’s verdict, Franken addressed cheering supporters in Minnesota.
Al Franken: “I’m not going to Washington to be the sixtieth Democratic senator. I’m going to Washington to be the second senator from the state of Minnesota, and that’s how I’m going to do this job. I promise to do my best, to work hard, to stand on principle when I believe I must and, yes, to compromise when I believe that that is in the best interests of the people of Minnesota.”
Democratic leaders say Franken could be seated as early as Monday.
The Supreme Court has apparently delayed a ruling in the case of the Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis, an African American, was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony since the trial. Three witnesses say another man later admitted to the killing. The Supreme Court has reportedly informed Davis’s lawyer it won’t issue a decision in the case until it reconvenes in September.
The CIA’s former top officer in Algeria has been indicted on allegations of sexual assault while serving in his post. Andrew Warren was arraigned and released on Tuesday in a Washington, DC court. Warren has been accused of drugging and raping two women in 2007 and 2008.
Human rights groups are urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit Iran or send a special envoy to investigate the crackdown on protests against last month’s disputed elections.
Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson: “The Secretary-General should insist on making a trip to Iran to insist that there be investigations and prosecutions of violence by the Basij military forces. There should continue to be a review of Iran’s record at the United Nations. Diplomats from capitals, east and west, who are still in — have relations and should have relations with Iran, should raise protests, both privately and publicly, about the conduct of Iran’s government.”
Meanwhile, the Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi called on Iran to release all political prisoners, now estimated to surpass 200.
Roxana Saberi: “They are detained without due process of law, and the whereabouts of most of them are unknown. They have little or no contact with the outside world. They are likely under severe psychological and, in some cases, physical pressures. Many may be forced to make false confessions, and they have no access to lawyers. This is very similar to the treatment that I received.”
In Nigeria, the oil giant Shell is being accused of covering up devastating oil spills by blaming them on sabotage by local militants in the Niger Delta. Amnesty International says Shell has exploited Nigeria’s political instability and lack of oversight to evade its responsibility for spills caused by its own faulty equipment. An estimated 13 million barrels of oil have been spilled in the Niger Delta, equivalent to an Exxon Valdez disaster every year for forty years.
Back in the United States, the retail giant Wal-Mart has announced it supports proposals requiring businesses to provide employees with mandatory health insurance as part of healthcare reform. Wal-Mart has previously opposed mandate proposals and even fought them in court. But in a letter to President Obama co-signed by the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress, the firm said mandates are critical to controlling rising healthcare costs.
And former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman is requesting a new trial in his controversial corruption case. Siegelman was convicted in 2006 but is free on bail pending an appeal. In a court filing, Siegelman’s attorneys say a new trial is warranted because of prosecutorial misconduct and newly discovered evidence. Critics say Siegelman was the target of a political witch hunt in part orchestrated by former Bush administration deputy Karl Rove.