The United Nations’ main food aid agency has suspended assistance in southern Somalia over what it calls unfair demands by the militant al-Shabab group. On Tuesday, World Food Programme spokesperson Peter Smerdon said al-Shabab’s demands had brought relief operations to a halt.
Peter Smerdon: "We are very concerned about the people of Somalia who need assistance, but we simply couldn’t continue after a spate of escalating demands, harassment and problems with armed groups in the south. So we have temporarily closed about five offices. We’ve pulled the staff out. We’ve pulled out virtually all the equipment. And we need security to return. If we are assured of security and we see evidence that there is security for us to operate, we will go back as soon as possible, because obviously people are going to go hungry."
Up to a million southern Somalia residents face starvation as a result of the food aid suspension.
President Obama has faulted the intelligence community for failing to act on information that could have prevented the failed Christmas Day jetliner attack. The suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was not added to a terrorism watch list despite information linking him to militants known to be plotting attacks on the United States. On Tuesday, Obama said US intelligence agencies had failed to "connect the dots."
President Obama: "It now turns out that our intelligence community knew of other red flags that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike not only American targets in Yemen, but the United States itself. And we had information that this group was working with an individual who was known — who we now know was in fact the individual involved in the Christmas attack. The bottom line is this: The US government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list."
Obama also announced he would suspend the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Yemen, where an al-Qaeda-linked group is said to have planned the failed attack.
President Obama: "With respect to Yemen, in particular, there’s an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time, along with our Yemeni partner. Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the attorney general, and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time. But make no mistake. We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda."
Around half the 198 remaining Guantanamo prisoners are Yemeni nationals. Just under forty have already been cleared for release. In a statement, the Center for Constitutional Rights said, "Dozens of men from Yemen who have been cleared for release after extensive [government] scrutiny...are about to be left in limbo once more due to politics, not facts…Halting [their] repatriation is unconscionable."
In Egypt, around fifty-five people were reportedly wounded Tuesday when Egyptian forces clashed with members of an international delegation trying to bring humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. Several protesters were hospitalized with injuries from rocks and tear gas. The Viva Palestina convoy of nearly 200 trucks departed Britain last month. Convoy leader and British lawmaker George Galloway said the group protested after Egypt tried to force dozens of trucks to pass through Israel.
George Galloway: "Together with myself and other leaders of the convoy, we were involved in negotiations with the Egyptian authorities about their determination to remove more than fifty-five of our vehicles and send them to the Israeli checkpoint. We refused this because it’s a breach of the agreement that we reached in Aqaba between the government of Egypt and the Turkish side, and it is completely unconscionable that 25 percent of our convoy should go to Israel and never arrive in Gaza, because nothing that goes to Israel ever arrives in Gaza."
The Egyptian government has blocked hundreds of Palestinian solidarity activists from entering Gaza around the one-year anniversary of the US-backed Israeli assault that killed over 1,300 Palestinians.
Republican Senator John McCain has joined calls for the appeal of the dismissal of criminal charges against five Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians. Last week a federal judge in Washington threw out all charges against the five Blackwater operatives, citing prosecutor misconduct. On a visit to Iraq, McCain said the Justice Department should appeal the decision.
Sen. John McCain: "We do respect the rule of law. We hope and believe that the ruling will be appealed. Our sympathy goes out to the families of those who were killed and injured in this very unfortunate and unnecessary incident. And so, we deeply regret that this decision was made, but it is in accordance with the rule of law."
Bolivia has announced plans to hold an indigenous summit on global climate change. Bolivian President Evo Morales unveiled the proposed conference on Tuesday.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "Because of an historical responsibility to humanity, we are organizing the first conference on climate change and the rights of Mother Earth for indigenous people. I’m here to announce this to Bolivia and to the world."
The conference is scheduled for April in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba.
Back in the United States, two Democratic senators have announced plans to retire. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut say they won’t seek re-election in the mid-term race later this year. Both had been expected to face tough challenges for their respective seats and the Democrats’ nominal control of the Senate. In another loss for the Democrats, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter also announced he won’t run for a second term.
In other news from Washington, Democratic leaders have begun talks over reconciling the differing Senate and House healthcare reform bills. The news website Politico reports several aides have confirmed Democratic leaders will bypass the formal conference committee process in favor of private negotiations.
Here in New York, ten people were arrested Tuesday at a rally for the jailed immigrant rights leader Jean Montrevil. Montrevil was arrested last week at a regular immigration check-in. He now faces deportation to Haiti for a twenty-year-old drug conviction for which he has already served eleven years. He has not broken any laws since then. Montrevil is married to an American citizen and is the father of four US citizen children. He is a longtime community leader in New York City and active in a number of immigrant rights groups. On Tuesday, protesters blocked traffic trying to prevent the transfer of prisoners into a Manhattan immigration jail. Organizers say eight clergy members were among those arrested.
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