The death toll from last week’s earthquake in China’s Tibetan province of Qinghai has surpassed 2,000. Nearly 200 people are still listed as missing, and over 12,000 have been wounded. The Chinese cabinet has declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.
Air travel is slowly resuming in Europe after volcanic ash from Iceland grounded flights for over five days. European officials say they expect 60 percent of flights to be operational today. Flights to and from Britain remain closed, and British officials say a new cloud of ash from Iceland could extend the delay.
In Iraq, the US and Iraqi governments are claiming to have scored a major victory with the killing of two top militant leaders. An Iraqi unit backed by the US reportedly carried out the operation on Saturday. Vice President Joe Biden said the killings could mark a “devastating blow” to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Vice President Joe Biden: “Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the former leaders of AQI, are the ones who plotted, planned and executed terrorist attacks against the Iraqis in recent past, as well as against Americans. Their deaths are potentially devastating blows to al-Qaeda Iraq. But equally important, in my view, is this action demonstrates the improved security, strength and capacity of Iraqi security forces.”
Despite Biden’s claims, there is uncertainty around the identity of the second militant, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. The Iraqi government has already claimed to have killed or captured him on previous occasions, and US officials have questioned whether he is even a real person or a fictionalized persona invented by Iraqi militants.
The Iranian government has barred Iran’s two remaining legal opposition parties following the imprisonment of two of their leaders. The Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mujaheddin of the Islamic Revolution Organization had been the only groups authorized to participate in Iran’s political system. The move came one day after two high-ranking officials from the parties were each sentenced to six years in prison.
A Brazilian federal court has delayed bidding on a major hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rainforest for the second time in less than a week. The $11 billion Belo Monte project was approved for construction earlier this year. A judge suspended the bidding last week to allow opponents to air their objections. That order was overturned days later, but on Monday the same judge responded with another ruling calling for a delay. Also on Monday, hundreds of indigenous activists rallied outside the Brazilian Congress to oppose the dam.
Amazonian Activist: “Large sums of money are pouring in from Europe, France, Switzerland, Germany, China and Japan. They are occupying all of the Amazon, building dams and water deposits for their own benefit. They don’t care about what will become of the Indian lands. We will be forced out of their lands. We won’t have homes. The indigenous population will be practically massacred.”
New Zealand has become one of the last holdout countries to ratify the UN declaration of indigenous rights, leaving only the US and Canada in opposition. New Zealand cabinet member Pita Sharples announced the move on Monday.
Pita Sharples: “I come with humble heart to celebrate the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. The New Zealand government has long discussed this matter and has recently decided to support it.”
The UN General Assembly passed the sweeping declaration granting native peoples the “right to self-determination” in 2007 with an overwhelming 143 votes in favor. New Zealand was one of only four countries to vote against the declaration, along with the US, Australia and Canada. Australia has also reversed its position.
In Egypt, a top government adviser has asserted that security forces can open fire on pro-democracy protesters. The official, Interior Ministry adviser Hamed Rashed, made the comments in response to parliamentary questions over a government crackdown on a pro-democracy protest earlier this month. Rashed said officers are authorized to fire live ammunition at crowds that attack police. In related news, Egyptian activists are raising concerns over US funding cuts to governance aid in Egypt. The Obama administration’s recent budget request included a $25 million cut in funding for Egyptian civil society groups. The State Department is also now only allowing funding for groups authorized by the Egyptian government and is considering a plan to create a separate fund that would remove future congressional oversight on US aid.
The Obama administration has summoned a top Syrian diplomat over allegations Syria has transferred long-range Scud missiles to the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Israel leveled the weapons transfer allegations against Syria earlier this month. Syria denies the allegation and says Israel could be trying to lay the groundwork for a military attack.
Member states of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, have kicked off a summit in Venezuela. On Monday, Cuban President Raul Castro, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega joined Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at a parade marking Venezuela’s bicentennial. The celebration comes days after Venezuela marked the eighth anniversary of the US-backed coup that briefly removed Chavez from office. Addressing the crowd, Chavez called for continued resistance to foreign interference.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “Here, the people and the soldiers are prepared to defend to the very last millimeter this sacred land that will never be ruled by a foreign power — a free and independent country.”
The financial giant Citigroup has announced a $4.4 billion first-quarter profit, its highest in almost three years. The firm has received over $45 billion under the taxpayer bailout of Wall Street. The news comes days after another bailed-out firm, JPMorgan Chase, posted a $3.3 billion first-quarter profit, a 57 percent increase from last year.
In other financial news, Politico is reporting Goldman Sachs has retained President Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig, for legal representation. Craig resigned from the Obama administration late last year. The news comes days after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil suit accusing Goldman of securities fraud for selling a mortgage investment that was established to fail. The investment consisted of pools of risky mortgages that had been packaged together. The New York Times reports top Goldman executives, including chair and CEO Lloyd Craig Blankfein, were actively involved in overseeing the company’s mortgage unit.
Hundreds of people gathered in Oklahoma City on Monday to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people and wounded over 600 others. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano addressed a crowd that included survivors of the attack and relatives of the dead.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: “We honor the continued need for vigilance against the violent ideologies that led to this attack, so that we can recognize their signs in our communities and stand together to defeat them. And above all, we remind ourselves that what defines us as a nation, as a people and as communities is not what we have suffered but how we have risen above it, how we have overcome.”
As the ceremony was held, hundreds of people gathered in Washington, DC for a pro-firearm rally on Capitol Hill. Speakers urged the crowd to support lawmakers who oppose gun control. The right-wing Chicago radio host Erich Muller was among those to attend.
Erich Muller: “My message to the federal government is obey the laws. We have a right to have guns. I live in the city of Chicago. It is a bloodbath, and I don’t have a right to protect my family. The average response time, 911 call, is fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes — I don’t have that kind of time. I need a gun to protect myself. It’s my right as an American.”
Another pro-gun rally was also held nearby in Virginia, where attendees openly carried guns on their hips and over their shoulders. It was the first armed rally in a national park since President Obama signed a law authorizing weapons in national parks last year.
The pro-gun rallies were also held within hours of a murder-suicide shooting in Tennessee. A gunman shot three women in a hospital waiting area, killing one and wounding the two others. He then turned the gun on himself, taking his own life. At least one of the surviving victims is in critical condition.
The news website ProPublica is reporting the Obama administration is preparing to nominate a leading white-collar criminal defense attorney to serve as deputy attorney general. James Cole previously served at the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Division under the Clinton administration. Since entering private practice, Cole’s clients have included the failed insurance giant AIG, where he served as an independent monitor until last year.
Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine have subpoenaed the Obama administration for information relating to last year’s deadly shootings at the Ford Hood military base. The senators say government officials have ignored their requests for information on what was known about the gunman, Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, before the attack that left thirteen people dead. The subpoenas are the first congressional subpoenas of the Obama presidency.
Arizona has moved a step closer to enacting what’s being described as the harshest anti-immigrant measure in the country. On Monday, the Arizona State Senate approved a revised version of a bill that would force police officers to determine the immigration status of someone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. The Arizona House passed the measure last week. Republican Governor Jan Brewer is expected to sign it into law within the next five days. Immigrant rights groups say they might seek federal intervention to overturn the bill.
And in Pennsylvania, a suburban Philadelphia school district has admitted to capturing at least 56,000 photographs and screenshots from cameras on computer laptops issued to its students. The Lower Merion School District has previously acknowledged it monitored students by remotely activating the laptops’ cameras. School officials have claimed they were trying to recover missing or stolen computers. The family of a student targeted by the monitoring has filed a federal lawsuit against the Lower Merion district. The student, Blake Robbins, was photographed over 400 times during a fifteen-day period last year, sometimes as he slept or was half-dressed. The district used images from Robbins’ laptop to accuse him of consuming drugs, only to realize that what it thought were drugs was actually candy.