At least four people have been killed and hundreds are wounded in the Bahraini government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests. In an overnight raid, heavily armed riot police attacked thousands of demonstrators in the capital Manama with rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades. Women and children were among the wounded. More than 600 people have reportedly been treated for injuries, and some 60 people are said to be missing. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally in the Middle East, hosting the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. On Wednesday, new White House Press Secretary Jay Carney continued the Obama administration’s equivocal stance on the Bahrain protests.
Jay Carney: “Bahrain, like all the countries in the region, needs to respect the universal rights of its citizens, their right to protest, the right to have their grievances heard, and that they should refrain from violence, on both sides. And, you know, we are obviously watching events in Bahrain and around the region very closely.”
In Libya, state forces have killed at least five people in growing rallies against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule. Protesters have set fire to police stations and outposts in separate cities. The Libyan government has begun limiting internet access, and there are reports protesters have been warned they will be met with live bullets if they join another round of protests set for today.
In Yemen, two people were killed Wednesday when police opened fire on a crowd in the southern city of Aden. At least four people were wounded in the capital Sana’a when student protesters clashed with supporters of U.S.-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In Iran, violence broke out Wednesday at the funeral of a student killed during an opposition protest earlier this week. Both pro- and anti-government demonstrators have blamed the other side for the killing.
In Iraq, state forces killed three people Wednesday after a large crowd rallied over a lack of government services in the city of Kut. Hundreds of protesters have gathered in the southern city of Basra today, demanding the ouster of the local governor.
The unrest in Iraq comes as the Obama administration continues to float the prospect of a prolonged U.S. occupation. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a congressional hearing that Iraq will face strong challenges if the United States follows through on a planned withdrawal later this year. Gates repeated previous assertions that a withdrawal could be delayed if the U.S.-backed Iraqi government requests it.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “There is certainly, on our part, an interest in having an additional presence. And the truth of the matter is, the Iraqis are going to have some problems that they’re going to have to deal with if they’re — if we are not there in some numbers. They will not be able to do the kind of job in intelligence fusion. They won’t be able to protect their own airspace. They — they will not — they will have problems with logistics and maintenance. But, it’s their country. It’s a sovereign country. This is the agreement that was signed by President Bush and the Iraqi government. And we will abide by the agreement, unless the Iraqis ask us to have additional people there.”
The New York Times is reporting a secret Obama administration report predicted top U.S. allies in the Middle East were ripe for revolt in the absence of democratic reforms. President Obama is said to have ordered the assessment last year to gauge how the United States could balance its so-called “strategic interests” in the region with calls for democracy. The existence of the report suggests the Obama administration was more prepared for the prospect of a democratic uprisings than it has let on. The White House has claimed it was caught off-guard when the youth-led protest erupted against longtime U.S. ally, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, last month. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initially called Mubarak’s government “stable … and [responsive] to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the United States will step up its monitoring of social media to better understand pro-democracy sentiment in the Middle East.
James Clapper: “We’re not like Sherwin Williams paint; we don’t cover the earth equally. And so, frankly, Tunisia was probably not up there on our top ten countries we were watching closely. So there is the aspect of, you know, the spread, the balance of our collection — priorities, exactly — so that obviously we’re going to work on that. I think the notion of — as the chairman correctly observed, is, you know, we’re going to pay a lot more attention to social media and what else could we do there to extract a warning from this.”
In other testimony Wednesday, CIA Director Leon Panetta said the U.S. would likely imprison Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda figures at the military base in Guantánamo Bay should they ever be captured. No new prisoners have been sent to Guantánamo since Obama took office. Panetta’s statement has been interpreted as an admission the White House intends to continue using Guantánamo, despite its pledge to shut it down.
Officials in Switzerland say they have uncovered funds belonging to either the family of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak or his senior ministers. It is unclear how much money was found. Egypt’s new military government has asked countries worldwide to freeze accounts linked to Mubarak’s regime.
Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño has begun withdrawing the police occupation of the main University of Puerto Rico campus in San Juan after two months. SWAT teams and riot squads took over the campus in December following a massive student strike against fee hikes and privatization. Hundreds of students have been arrested, and some have reported being beaten, including sexually harassed and tortured, in the ensuing crackdown. An estimated crowd of more than 15,000 marched against the police occupation last Saturday. Speaking on the House floor, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois condemned the crackdown on Puerto Rican students.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez: “I want to talk to you today about a part of the world where the rights of citizens of all walks of life to protest and speak their minds is being denied, with clubs and pepper spray, a part of the world where a student strike led the university to ban student protests anywhere, anytime on campus, and where, when the students protested the crackdown on free speech, they were violently attacked by heavily armed riot police. What faraway land has seen student protests banned, union protesters beaten, and free speech advocates jailed? The United States of America’s colony of Puerto Rico.”
A Somali national has been sentenced to over 33 years in prison for his role in the 2009 kidnapping of an American cargo captain in the Indian Ocean. Abduwali Muse survived the incident after Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat. Muse was tried as an adult, but his family claimed he was only 15 years old at the time of his capture.
In Wisconsin, an estimated crowd of more than 10,000 rallied at the State Capitol Wednesday in protest of a bill that would eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for public workers and slash their pay and benefits. Teachers, students, public workers and their supporters filled the statehouse for several hours, chanting slogans and beating drums. It was the largest rally at the Wisconsin Capitol in years. Classes at Madison schools were canceled after a large number of teachers called in sick to join the demonstration. Despite the protests, the state legislature’s budget-writing committee advanced the measure late last night. More rallies are planned for today as the Wisconsin State Senate takes up the bill.
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