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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the midst of a landmark trip to Burma, the most high-level U.S. official to visit there in 50 years. Earlier today, Clinton began talks with the Burmese junta. Clinton said the Obama administration will not lift sanctions immediately but would be prepared to do so in the future if democratic reform is enacted.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We’re not at the point yet that we can consider lifting sanctions that we have in place because of our ongoing concerns about policies that have to be reversed. But any steps that the government takes will be carefully considered and will be, as I said, matched, because we want to see political and economic reform take hold, and I told the leadership that we will certainly consider the easing and elimination of sanctions as we go forward in this process together.”
Ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s talks with the junta, the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gave a rare video address from her home in Burma. Suu Kyi said she would support the lifting of sanctions if a series of conditions were met.
Aung San Suu Kyi: “The United States has made it quite clear what they expect the government of Burma to do, if sanctions are to be lifted, and we certainly support this. We have always said that the best way to get sanctions lifted in Burma is to meet the conditions that were set by the Congress when sanctions were imposed—for example, the release of political prisoners, negotiation with the—negotiations with the democratic opposition, humanitarian access to conflict areas, and so on. So, if these conditions are met, then the time will certainly have come for sanctions to be relaxed.”
At least 18 people were killed in separate attacks in the Iraqi province of Diyala earlier today. The violence comes amidst Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Iraq ahead of the deadline for a U.S. withdrawal at the end of month. After a meeting with top Iraqi officials, Biden said the withdrawal will proceed on schedule.
Vice President Joe Biden: “A promise made is a promise kept, and we are keeping our promise. We kept our promise to withdraw our troops from Iraq cities in 2009. We kept our promise to end our combat mission in the summer of 2010. And now we are keeping our promise we made back in 2008 to remove our troops from Iraq by the end of this year. Our troops, as I said, are leaving Iraq, and we are embarking on a new path together, a new phase of this relationship, a relationship, again I emphasize, between two sovereign nations.”
Despite the withdrawal plans, the United States is leaving behind thousands of private contractors, and there’s already talk of negotiating the military’s return by stationing troops as “trainers” of the Iraqi army. On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said there’s “no doubt [that] U.S. forces have a role in providing training of Iraqi forces.”
The New York Times is reporting President Obama has ruled out an apology for the recent NATO air strikes that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. Officials within the State Department, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, had argued condolences were needed in order to restore relations between the two governments. Pakistan has responded to the attacks by blocking all NATO logistical supplies that cross the border into Afghanistan. On Wednesday, Pakistani officials said they’ve given the United States until December 11 to vacate a strategic airbase used to launch drone strikes in Pakistan’s restive tribal region.
Britain is cutting off diplomatic ties with Iran in the aftermath of the storming of the British embassy in Tehran by protesters earlier this week. Britain has now withdrawn all its staff from Tehran while also ordering the closure of the Iranian embassy in London and the expulsion of its diplomats. The move comes ahead of a key European Union meeting today where foreign ministers could approve a new round of sanctions. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he expects to see punitive action on Iran.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague: “I hope we will agree today additional measures that will be an intensification of the economic pressure on Iran, peaceful, legitimate economic pressure, particularly to increase the isolation of the Iranian financial sector. But that of course is to be discussed at the meeting.”
Six of the world’s major central banks, including the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, have reached an agreement to help reduce the loaning and borrowing costs of foreign banks. The move will reduce by half the costs of an existing mechanism wherein foreign banks borrow from their own central banks after dollars are purchased from the Fed.
The Obama administration is facing widespread calls to keep its pledge to actively engage in efforts for a binding agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gases at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. On Wednesday, a coalition of 16 environmental groups signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling the United States “a major obstacle” to progress on averting environmental catastrophe. Signatories included Greenpeace USA, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oxfam America, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the World Wildlife Fund. The letter’s release came as the European Union delegation in Durban issued a rare challenge to the United States, urging it to uphold its promises. The European Union climate negotiator in Durban, Artur Runge-Metzger, said the United States needs to do more to address climate change.
Artur Runge-Metzger: “I think what we expect from the United States is that they stick very clearly to their pledge they have been making in Cancún, and that they show very clearly that they are going to implement what they have promised in their domestic actions. I think they have taken some measures, but some more things need to be done. So that is clearly what we would expect from the United States.”
In news from Durban, activists with Canada’s Indigenous Environmental Network staged a protest on Wednesday outside of the local offices of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.
Ben Powless: “We are here to protest Shell’s involvement in Canada, in the tar sands in northern Alberta, and their violations of human rights in indigenous communities.”
Democracy Now! will broadcast from the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban all next week.
Israel has agreed to release around $100 million in Palestinian tax and customs payments it had withheld to punish the Palestinian Authority for seeking membership at the United Nations. The PA had warned the move was illegal and would again push it toward financial collapse following similar Israeli moves in the past.
British public sector workers have wrapped up a 24-hour general strike that marked the largest in generations. Around two million teachers, hospital staff, garbage collectors, firefighters and border guards hit the streets on Wednesday in a strike organized by a coalition of 30 trade unions.
Protester: “The only people who need a compromise are the bankers. They need to take the cuts for the mess they’ve made of our country. It’s as simple as that. We have to take the strength of today, and we have to go out and fight and fight and fight, until we win. We are not going to give up. This is from Tahrir Square. They show us the way. We will fight until we win.”
The total number of arrested in the raids on Occupy encampments in Los Angeles and Philadelphia early Wednesday morning has now topped 350 people. Nearly 300 were arrested when around 1,400 officers raided the Occupy L.A. site at City Hall. Fifty people were arrested when Philadelphia police cleared the protest camp at Dilworth Plaza. To date, more than 5,000 people have been arrested in Occupy Wall Street crackdowns nationwide.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg boasted to an audience at MIT Tuesday night that the New York City Police Department is his own personal army. Bloomberg said, “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.” The mayor has been accused of using New York City’s massive police department as his own private force to clear out Occupy Wall Street protesters from their home base in Lower Manhattan and execute scores of arrests throughout the city.
In Arizona, police in riot gear have pepper-sprayed and arrested demonstrators protesting the American Legislative Exchange Council. At least seven people were arrested Wednesday after some 200 protesters affiliated with the Occupy movement marched to a resort in Scottsdale where ALEC was hosting a meeting between large corporations and conservative state lawmakers to draft model bills.
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain is vowing to stay in the race despite the latest claims of a Georgia woman who says the two had a lengthy extra-marital affair. The woman, Ginger White, says she came forward as a show of support to the three women who have accused Cain of sexual harassment, two of them publicly. To support her claims of an affair, White has produced telephone records showing multiple calls and text messages from Cain. Speaking in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Cain brushed off speculation he is considering dropping out of the race.
Herman Cain: “It ain’t over 'til it's over. A few of our warm-weather supporters have, you know, gotten off the Cain train, but the good news is many of our solid supporters are still on. And once we clear up this most recent accusation, I think a lot of people are going to see it for what it was worth. And then, once we do that, I’m still going to work hard to do well here in the great state of New Hampshire.”
In Canada, new details have emerged about alleged police negligence in the case of a British Columbia serial killer who murdered scores of women. Catherine Galliford, an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, says police could have nabbed the killer, Robert Pickton, more than three years before he was eventually arrested. According to Galliford, police had enough evidence to search Pickton’s farm in 1999 but took no action. Police had already compiled a file on Pickton that included his prior arrest for stabbing a sex trade worker multiple times on his property. Despite being a potential suspect in the disappearances of a number of women who turned out to be his victims, surveillance on Pickton was halted after just two weeks because his trailer was located too far from a road to be visible. No further action was taken. Pickton went on to kill 14 women during the intervening period until his 2002 arrest, which itself resulted from an unrelated firearms case. The remains of 33 women were ultimately found on Pickton’s farm. He claims to have killed 49 women. Galliford has also accused the officers investigating the women’s disappearances of sexually harassing her, as well as neglecting the case by watching pornography on the job and leaving work early to go drinking. She is slated to testify at a public inquiry into the police’s handling of the murders in January.
Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has announced plans to run for president. Anderson says he will run for the newly formed Justice Party, which he hopes will grow into a grassroots movement.
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