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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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The United Nations says the flooding in Pakistan has displaced an additional one million people in the last two days. The warning comes as hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated from the southern city of Thatta. At the United Nations, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the flooding has significantly affected over 17 million people.
Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “The extent of the flooding continues to spread, particularly in the southern tip of the Sindh province as the floodwaters get down right to the south of Pakistan and begin, we hope, to escape finally into the sea. But this means, as I said, that more people being affected as the flooding continues to spread even if it begins, we hope, some of the water start to recede further north. What that means is that the numbers affected have continued to rise steadily. Our latest estimate is that 17.2 million people have been significantly affected.”
The UN says some eight million people are in need of emergency aid. Aid officials meanwhile are warning they’re coming under threat from Taliban and other militant groups. In Washington, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said the US is monitoring the threats.
P.J. Crowley: “We are concerned that extremist elements within Pakistan including the TTP may well decide to attack foreigners who are in Pakistan, helping the people in Pakistan, or may choose at this time to attack government institutions in Pakistan that are responding on behalf of the Pakistani people. I think that just underscores the bankrupt vision that these extremists have, and we are conscious of that threat. We are working with the government of Pakistan to deal with that threat, but it is something that we are watching very carefully.”
The Washington Post is reporting the CIA has made regular payments to a number of top officials in the Afghan government. Some have been used as informants, while others have been paid to ensure access for US officials. The payments have continued despite concerns the US is backing the Afghan government corruption it’s claimed to oppose. According to the New York Times, one of the officials is Mohammed Zia Salehi, who was arrested on bribery charges last month.
The UN Security Council is calling for increased measures to prevent a repeat of the recent mass rapes of almost 200 women and five young boys in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwandan and Congolese rebels carried out the rapes between July 30th and August 3rd within miles of a UN peacekeeping base. The UN was notified days later but waited three weeks to respond. The top UN envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Robert Meece, visited the area on Thursday.
Robert Meece: “I have had an opportunity to talk to base personnel and to the local chief. I think I have a better understanding, but this is a very difficult environment. It’s absolutely necessary that we do all possible for civilian protection and to prevent these kinds of horror. But this is also a very difficult environment in which we work. The countryside is very rough, and there is very little access.”
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says he’s made progress in talks with Cuban officials on released a jailed US contractor. The contractor, Alan Gross, was arrested in December on suspicion of being a US spy after handing out equipment to Cuban opposition groups. Speaking in Havana, Richardson rejected linking Gross’s case to the jailing of the Cuban Five, who are serving lengthy sentences in the US for trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups responsible for attacks inside Cuba.
Bill Richardson: “The Obama administration asked me to raise at the highest levels the case of Alan Gross, and I’ve done so with several officials. I’ve been informed by the Cuban government that the Gross case is at a very sensitive investigatory and legal process. I do believe, as I want to emphasize, that I’ve made inroads on this case. I believe that the two cases of the Cuban Five and the Gross case are separate, and I believe both countries are treating them separately.”
A US citizen is on his way back to the United States after eight months in prison in North Korea. Aijalon Mahli Gomes was freed today after former President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea to win his release. Gomes was imprisoned in January after North Korea claimed he unlawfully crossed over from China. Carter’s visit came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il traveled to China. There has been speculation Kim is seeking to win Chinese support for a transfer of power to his son, Kim Jong-un.
South Africa’s main labor union is threatening to widen a nationwide state workers strike in a campaign for increased wages. Over a million state workers have already walked off the job this month. On Thursday, the head of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, said all two million union members could soon take part.
Zwelinzima Vavi: “In seven days, the whole of this economy will stand still. The wheels in the mining industry that turns for gold to come up into surface, and diamond and coal, will come to a stop. Everything will come to a standstill.”
An Israeli military court has convicted a prominent Palestinian activist who heads a group opposing Israel’s separation wall through the West Bank. Abdallah Abu Rahma of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall faces sentencing on multiple charges including incitement. Abu Rahma’s attorney, Gaby Lasky, said the Israeli military is trying to silence nonviolent protest.
Gaby Lasky: “Regretfully, I don’t believe that there are high chances of changing this conviction, since, as I’ve said, the use of the court in this matter has been a political use, illegitimate use, and we have to remember that these are the courts of the occupier being used against the occupied.”
In a statement this week, the European Union condemned Abu Rahma’s conviction, calling him a “human rights defender” whose prosecution could be used “to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest.”
The New York City taxi driver stabbed by a drunken passenger in an anti-Muslim attack has spoken out for the first time since the attack earlier this week. The victim, Ahmed Sharif, was slashed across his face, neck and hands after the suspect, Michael Enright, asked him several questions about his religion, including whether he’s a Muslim and observing Ramadan. Speaking Thursday at City Hall, Sharif described the moment his neck was slashed.
Ahmed Sharif: “The knife was in front of my throat. When I go little bit back, this came right over there. If this one, if can put it here [pointing to his throat], I’m not supposed to be talk right now, I’m dead. So when the attack come from the back, it was a shock. Still I’m scared. I mean, still I have a view of the knife when I close my eye.”
The attack on Sharif came amidst the ongoing hysteria over a proposed Islamic cultural center near New York’s Ground Zero. Enright faces multiple charges including felony attempted murder as a hate crime. He’s being held without bail. Aliya Latif of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Enright should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Aliya Latif: “Indeed crimes motivated by racial and religious hatred implicate entire communities and, as such, demand our utmost attention. To that end, Mr. Sharif’s case should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, to serve as both a legal deterrent and public repudiation of violent bigotry.”
More reports continue to emerge of anti-Muslim acts. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says a man entered a mosque in Queens Wednesday night and shouted anti-Muslim slurs as he urinated on prayer rugs.
The Obama administration is backing the effort of major utility companies to dismiss a case seeking to impose curbs on emissions of greenhouse gases. A group of plaintiffs including eight state governments and the City of New York has filed suit seeking to force the Tennessee Valley Authority and five other utilities to reduce their emissions each year for a decade. On Thursday, the Justice Department said the case is unnecessary because the Environmental Protection Agency has sought to limit emissions. But environmentalists criticized the move because the curbs have only been proposed, not enacted.
In West Virginia, two protesters opposed to mountaintop removal mining were arrested Thursday after blocking an entrance to the state Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston. The activists had chained themselves to a barrel with the slogan “Department of Easy Permits.” Both are members of the group Climate Ground Zero.
And the charity of billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda is under criticism following the disclosure it’s substantially increased its holdings in the agribusiness giant Monsanto to over $23 million. Critics say the investment in Monsanto contradicts the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s stated commitment to helping farmers and sustainable development in Africa. In 2007, the Gates Foundation said it would review its holdings after a lengthy exposé in the Los Angeles Times revealed it had invested nearly $9 billion in companies whose practices run counter to the foundation’s charitable goals.