One week after the military coup that overthrew him, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was prevented from returning to Honduras Sunday after the coup government refused to allow his entry. Honduran military forces blocked runways at Honduras’s main airport, forcing Zelaya’s plane to turn around and eventually go on to El Salvador. Heavily armed Honduran soldiers used tear gas and machine guns to disperse an unarmed crowd of tens of thousands of people who had come to greet Zelaya. At least two people were reportedly killed and many more wounded.
President Obama is in Russia today for talks on a new treaty to reduce US and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Negotiators have agreed to a modest weapons cut but remain in a standstill over the fate of the proposed US missile system in Eastern Europe. The Obama administration has refused to renounce the Bush administration-backed system, even though it’s widely seen as ineffective in its stated purpose of missile defense and actually intended as a first-strike weapon against Iran. The US is also rejecting Russian calls for a sharp reduction in the numbers of long-range missile launchers and heavy bombers under a new treaty. Obama meanwhile has won an agreement to let military flights bound for Afghanistan fly over Russian territory.
In China, at least 140 people have been killed and more than 800 wounded in the western Xinjiang region. On Sunday, hundreds of protesters clashed with police at a rally demanding justice for the killing of two Uyghur workers at a southern Chinese factory last month. The Chinese government says a group of exiled Uyghurs caused the unrest, but protesters accuse the police of cracking down on a peaceful gathering.
Here in the United States, the Washington Post is reporting the nation’s heathcare industry has hired more than 350 former government officials and members of Congress to sway healthcare reform efforts on Capitol Hill. According to lobbying records, three out of every four major healthcare companies have at least one former government insider on the payroll. Nearly half held positions under key committees and lawmakers, including Senators Max Baucus and Charles Grassley. Baucus is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which is largely steering healthcare reform efforts. Baucus’s aides recently held a meeting with a group of lobbyists that included two of his former chiefs of staff. The Washington Post says the healthcare industry is now spending $1.4 million a day on lobbying, totaling $126 million in the first fiscal quarter.
A bankruptcy judge has cleared the way for the sale of the auto giant General Motors. Bondholders, unions or consumer groups could still appeal the ruling before it takes effect later this week.
New figures show the unemployment rate has reached a twenty-six-year high of 9.5 percent. The US lost 467,000 jobs last month, the first time monthly losses rose since a peak of 741,000 in January.
In media news, the Washington Post has canceled and apologized for a planned event series that would have brought together lobbyists, government officials, corporate sponsors and its own journalists. The so-called “salons” were to be held at the home of Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth. They were disclosed after the website Politico published details of a promotional flyer offering corporate sponsorships ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. The first dinner was scheduled to focus on healthcare. The Washington Post says it might still hold the events in the future, but maintains any discussions there would be “on the record” and not private, as the flyer claimed.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has announced she’ll step down later this month. On Friday, Palin said she wants to avoid becoming a lame-duck governor after deciding not to seek reelection.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin: “I promised efficiencies and effectiveness. That’s not how I’m wired. I’m not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual. I promised that four years ago, and I meant it. That’s not what is best for Alaska at this time. I’m determined to take the right path for Alaska, even though it is unconventional and it’s not so comfortable.”
Palin ran as Senator John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee in last year’s elections and is considered a top Republican hopeful in 2012. Her replacement, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, says he thinks Palin’s mounting legal bills over a series of ethics complaints forced her to step down. Palin’s legal team, meanwhile, has warned news outlets not to publish stories speculating whether she’s under federal investigation. In a four-page letter, Palin’s attorney warns that media groups could be sued if they grant space to rumors that Palin is being investigated for alleged embezzlement in the construction of a sports arena. The FBI says Palin is not under investigation.
Vice President Joe Biden has said the US wouldn’t prevent Israel from attacking Iran if the Israeli government decides it’s an existential threat. Biden made the comment during an interview with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos.
Vice President Joe Biden: “If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice.”
George Stephanopoulos: “But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?”
Vice President Biden: “Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination, that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”
George Stephanopoulos: “You say we can’t dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny overflight rights here in Iraq. There are ways we can stand in the way of a military strike.”
Vice President Biden: “I’m not going to speculate, George, on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what’s in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what’s in our interests.”
Biden spoke during a visit to Iraq, where on Friday he was greeted by hundreds of Iraqi protesters in Baghdad calling for an end to the US occupation.
A group of around 100 US peace activists have arrived in Egypt hoping to bring aid to the Gaza Strip. The activists are part of the group Viva Palestina, which conducted another aid mission from Europe earlier this year. Their arrival in Egypt comes as Israel is set to deport today a group of foreign activists kidnapped in international waters last week as they tried to reach Gaza. The Free Gaza delegation included former Congress member and presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney and the Irish peace activist and Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire. Both McKinney and Maguire are among those expected to be deported today.
In Pakistan, at least ten people were killed Friday in the latest US drone attack. The bombing hit alleged militant hideouts in Pakistan’s South Waziristan region near the Afghan border.
A Pakistani attorney, meanwhile, has filed a legal challenge seeking to have the drone attacks prosecuted under international law. The attorney, M. Tariq Asad, filed the petition to Pakistan’s Supreme Court last week. Asad wants the Pakistani government to submit a complaint to the World Court on the drone attacks’ killing of hundreds of people in Pakistan.
The former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Binyam Mohamed has filed a legal challenge seeking to prevent the destruction of evidence he says proved he was tortured in US custody. Mohamed says the government is facing a pending deadline to destroy an image taken of him shortly after he was beaten by several guards. The image is to be destroyed since Mohamed is no longer jailed, but Mohamed says he needs it toward his lawsuit against the US for unlawful incarceration.
And in Afghanistan, two US soldiers were killed this weekend during an operation in the Paktika province. It’s the same area where a US soldier disappeared last week and is now believed to have been captured by militants. The US has meanwhile expanded its major attack in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, site of the the largest Marine offensive since the Vietnam War. Over the weekend, US forces seized several key districts near the Afghan border with Pakistan.