Occupy Wall Street protesters are celebrating in Lower Manhattan today after successfully defying orders to evacuate the encampment they have held for nearly four weeks. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had said Zuccotti Park — renamed Liberty Plaza by protesters — would have to be cleared following a request by its owners that it be cleaned. But protesters were also told they would be barred from returning with the camping gear they have used to occupy the square in a round-the-clock action that has drawn international attention and sparked parallel actions nationwide. Thousands of people began congregating in the square before sunrise in a show of defiance to the forced evacuation. Hours later, New York City officials announced the request to clear the park had been withdrawn. The decision led to cheers at Liberty Plaza, with protesters chanting their signature rallying cry, “We are the 99 percent.”
In Denver, dozens of riot police have raided a park near the Colorado State Capitol to break up a protest encampment after activists defied an evacuation order Thursday night. Dozens of protesters have remained near the park and are vowing to return.
As the Occupy protests spread in the United States, more solidarity actions are planned around the world on Saturday. Protesters in cities from London to Auckland, New Zealand, have organized rallies under the banner of “October 15th.”
President Obama is vowing to seek new international sanctions on Iran over U.S. allegations the Iranian government plotted to carry out an attack inside the United States. Two alleged operatives were indicted this week on charges they sought to hire a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador. In his first public comments on the charges, Obama pledged to further isolate Iran.
President Obama: “What we’re going to continue to do is to apply the toughest sanctions and continue to mobilize the international community to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and that it pays a price for this kind of behavior. Now, we don’t take any options off the table in terms of how we operate with Iran, but what you can expect is that we will continue to apply the sorts of pressure that will have a direct impact on the Iranian government, until it makes a better choice in terms of how it’s going to interact with the rest of the international community.”
The Obama administration has insisted the plot is legitimate, despite widespread doubts. Those involved were easily detectable, and U.S. investigators thought it to be so outlandish, they doubted Iranian involvement from the beginning of their probe. Speaking before the Senate Banking Committee, David Cohen, the Treasury Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said U.S. sanctions could include new measures against Iran’s Central Bank.
David Cohen: “All options to increase the financial pressure on Iran are on the table, including the possibility of imposing additional sanctions against the CBI. If Iran continues to choose its path of defiance, we will continue to develop new and innovative ways to impose additional costs on Iran.”
The U.S. Department of State has confirmed it has made direct contact with Iran over the allegations. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland acknowledged that contact had been made, but refused to disclose specifics.
Victoria Nuland: “We are not prepared at the moment to go any further on the question of who spoke to whom and where, but just to confirm that we have had direct contact with Iran.”
The Obama administration is vowing to approve long-delayed so-called “free trade” deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea following congressional approval earlier this week. In a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Vice President Joe Biden urged South Korean lawmakers to ratify the accord.
Vice President Joe Biden: “In an oath of our discussions today, it is our mutual hope that your national assembly will ratify it very soon, and this agreement will be recognized by all as a win for both of us and bring—bring the world’s first and 12th largest economies even closer together.”
In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos has praised U.S. approval of the “free trade” deal, calling it “historic.” Critics, though, are warning the trade agreement will undermine Colombian sovereignty and human rights. Colombian Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo said the measure will further concentrate wealth in the hands of the rich.
Colombian Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo: “I can say that this is the worst decision Colombia has made in the history of the republic. It is the worst decision since 1819, when we got independence from Spain, because the free trade agreement is a 1,300-page document drafted in the United States according to guidelines of American multinational companies that will make Colombia the country the United States wants it to be.”
The hunger strike against inhumane conditions at California’s state prisons has reportedly ended after three weeks. Thousands of inmates at Pelican Bay and other state prisons resumed their fast last month to demand swifter action on promises to change conditions in long-term solitary confinement they had won to end the first hunger strike in July. Among the new promises, prison officials have vowed to review the cases of all inmates already in isolated units because they have been deemed to have gang ties, not because of their behavior behind bars.
At least 20 people have been killed in the Syrian government’s ongoing crackdown on opposition protesters. The dead reportedly included 10 civilians in the northern town of Binnish. The United Nations estimates more than 3,000 people have been killed since protests erupted earlier this year. In a statement today, the top U.N. human rights official, Navi Pillay, condemned what she called the “remorseless toll of human lives” in Syria, which she said could face “a full-blown civil war.”
Protests continue in Greece over sweeping austerity measures that have cut jobs, slashed services and raised taxes. A new study has found that the economic crisis in Greece is having a major impact on public heath. Researchers at the University of Cambridge say Greece’s worsening economic situation has increased depression, suicides, drug abuse and prostitution. Study co-author Alexander Kentikelenis said the figures are “shocking.”
Alexander Kentikelenis: “We have been able to find reports by the minister of health and other officials quoting a 25 percent rise in suicides in 2010 and a 40 percent rise in suicides in the first half of 2011. Now, this makes quite a shocking—this is quite shocking information. However, we need to relate that to the rapidity of the economic change, essentially the downturn in the economy. Previous studies have shown that the rapidity of economic change does have an adverse effect on public health.”
The Republican-controlled House has approved new restrictions on access to abortion. The Protect Life Act would prevent any use of health insurance available under the new healthcare law for plans offering abortion coverage. The bill would also bar the federal government from denying funding to healthcare providers that refuse to offer abortions. Critics say the measure would allow providers to refuse abortions even in life-threatening circumstances. Democrats have vowed to block the bill if it comes before the Senate.
A billionaire hedge fund manager has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for fraud and conspiracy in the largest insider trading case to come out of the financial crisis. Using secretly recorded conversations and the testimony of co-conspirators, prosecutors argued Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon Management reaped profits by illegally tipping off associates. Rajaratnam’s sentence is one of the longest ever in an insider trading case but is far lower than expected.
A former New York City Police Department narcotics detective has testified officers commonly planted drugs on innocent people in order to meet arrest quotas. Stephen Anderson made the disclosure at the corruption trial of another officer. Anderson says the practice was so widespread that it came “from supervisors or undercovers and even investigators.”
The longtime gay rights activist Frank Kameny has died at the age of 86. Kameny was known as one of the leading figures of the gay rights movement. He reportedly coined the slogan “Gay is good,” and his homemade protest signs are now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.