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Two American journalists are on their way back to the United States following their release from imprisonment in North Korea. Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV were freed after a visit by former President Bill Clinton. On Tuesday, Clinton met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and held what North Korean state media described as “wide ranging” and “exhaustive” talks. The freed journalists are on their way to Los Angeles to reunite with their families. The father of Laura Ling, Douglas Ling, welcomed the news of his daughter’s release.
Douglas Ling: “I’m so glad, and I’m so thankful for all the people that — their prayers and thoughts. I’m very thankful to the State Department. I’m very thankful for the government for doing all they can to gain their release.”
Reporter: “It must be an emotional time for you.”
Douglas Ling: “Well, it has been an emotional yo-yo, positive and then negative. You know, one day is good, one day is bad.”
Clinton was the highest-profile American to visit North Korea since his own secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, went there in 2000.
In Honduras, demonstrations continued Tuesday for the return of the ousted president Manuel Zelaya. Hundreds marched in the capital Tegucigalpa, flanked by riot police. The coup regime, meanwhile, said armed forces shot and killed a driver who had failed to stop at a military checkpoint. It was at least the fifth coup-related death since Zelaya’s ouster in June. Meanwhile, the head of the Honduran armed forces and leader of the military overthrow, General Romeo Vasquez, appeared on television to appeal for public support. Vasquez denied a coup had taken place.
General Romeo Vasquez: “We are in a country of laws. And being in a country of laws, it is a democratic country. There was no coup, like others have said, because if there had been a coup, a curfew would have been installed. And I can tell you that all these people who have been causing turmoil would have been jailed. However, we are in a country where freedom prevails.”
The general’s comments came as the coup regime came under scathing criticism from a visiting UN official. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to free expression, called the coup government “a dictatorial government…which is closing the spaces of the democracy.” As La Rue spoke, the Honduran radio station Radio Globo said it’s being threatened with closure. The Honduran military has reportedly ordered regulators to shut the station down. Radio Globo has been one of the few Honduran media outlets to criticize the coup regime. Zelaya, meanwhile, was in Mexico City, where he launched a new international effort to return home. Appearing with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Zelaya renewed his acceptance of a Costa Rica-backed agreement to resolve the Honduran crisis.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: “I continue to stick with my mandate, fighting to oust the power-grabbers using all peaceful weapons. Maybe this is the most civilized way to do this — the international community, diplomacy, the democratic letter from the United Nations, the letter from the OAS, and all peaceful instruments — so that this return happens with all guarantees of peace and that the people stop suffering with the repression they are enduring at this moment.”
Zelaya later urged the United States to increase pressure on the coup regime. Speaking to CNN, Zelaya said, “Honduras depends on Washington. The US only needs to tighten its fist, and the coup will last five seconds.”
In Iran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been sworn in for a second term. Ahmadinejad took the oath of office earlier today, nearly eight weeks after his victory in disputed national elections that sparked a wave of protests. On Tuesday, the Obama administration said it recognizes Ahmadinejad as Iran’s elected leader, though it did not say whether it accepts the election’s legitimacy. The Iranian government, meanwhile, is claiming it plans to prosecute officials responsible for the torture and abuse of prisoners jailed in the election protests. On Tuesday, state-controlled media said “all guilty parties…will be relieved of their responsibilities.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the dominant West Bank Palestinian faction Fatah is holding its first conference in twenty years. On Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians retain the right to resist Israeli occupation.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “I would like to point out that we, as the Palestinian people, when we adopted the choice for peace, we reiterated our genuine right to legitimate resistance, which guaranteed our rights internationally. Our holding onto peace does not signify our incompetence to face up to the consistent (Israeli) attacks, which are violations of the peace process.”
Fatah is embroiled in a bitter internal struggle with the Gaza-based Hamas, with both sides challenging the other’s legitimacy. In his speech, Abbas called for unity with Hamas but also described its leaders as “coup makers.”
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a group of Republican lawmakers met with Israeli officials Tuesday in what they billed as a solidarity mission with the Israeli government. Republican Whip Eric Cantor spoke after meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Republican Whip Eric Cantor: “We are here, first and foremost, to reconfirm the message that the US Congress stands staunchly on the side of Israel in its struggle, and we are here to figure out how to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.”
House Democrats will follow the Republicans later this month with a thirty-five-member delegation led by House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
In Afghanistan, Taliban fighters launched rockets at the capital of Kabul Tuesday in the biggest attack of its kind in recent years. Some of the reported nine rockets landed near Western embassies. Meanwhile, hundreds of Afghan women held a rally for women’s rights ahead of national elections later this month. Afghan activist Asila Jamal called for the repeal of several laws that undermine women’s rights.
Asila Jamal: “On behalf of five million women voters, we call on the presidential candidates to recognize the rights of women, politically and socially, in the society, and also to give the opportunity for women to enjoy the implementation of justice and to reform some harmful laws, special family laws that are continuously harming the lives of women.”
Here in the United States, five people are dead after a gunman attacked a health club near Pittsburgh Tuesday night. The gunman killed four people before reportedly taking his own life. A witness described the attack.
Witness: “I was standing right by the free weights, right by the aerobics room, and I just kept hearing shots, about thirty shots. And I had just seen people running, running all around, and I just started ducking down, running for my life. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen.”
Another fifteen people were reported wounded in the shooting.
New figures show just nine percent of eligible homeowners have been aided by the latest government program to help prevent foreclosures. The Treasury Department says just over 235,000 people have received loan modifications under the $75 billion taxpayer-funded initiative. The Treasury singled out the bailed-out banks Bank of America and Well Fargo as among those that have most failed to assist eligible borrowers.
In healthcare news, single-payer advocates continue to stage actions across the United States. Last week, nine protesters with Des Moines Catholic Worker were arrested at the Iowa headquarters of Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Among the group was eleven-year-old Frankie Hughes, who spoke out last Thursday at a rally in Washington, DC.
Frankie Hughes: “We wrote a letter to John Forsyth, the CEO, asking him questions about how much money he makes. He did not answer. We refused to leave until our questions were answered, but instead they arrested us. I did this because other people are out there suffering. The only way we can get healthcare for everyone is to get healthcare for everyone.”
In California, the state prison system has been ordered to reduce its population by 27 percent within two years. On Tuesday, a panel of federal judges said California’s prison population needs to decline by 40,000 to address an overcrowded prison healthcare system that leads to one preventable death a week.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has begun debate on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Twenty-eight Republicans say they’ll vote against Sotomayor, not enough to block her approval.
Two human rights groups are opposing the pending State Department nomination of a Goldman Sachs executive over his ties to a company linked to atrocities in Sudan. Last week, President Obama said he would nominate Robert Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, to a top economic position at the State Department. The Genocide Intervention Network and Investors Against Genocide say Hormats played a key role in backing a public offering by PetroChina, whose parent company holds a majority stake in the Sudanese government’s oil production. The groups say those ties have helped support human rights abuses committed by Sudan.
And two birthdays were celebrated at the White House Tuesday. President Obama turned forty-eight, and veteran correspondent Helen Thomas turned eighty-nine. Obama surprised Thomas by singing “Happy Birthday.” Thomas reportedly wished for world peace and healthcare reform.