Human Rights Watch is reporting at least 332 people have been killed in Libya in a massive government crackdown on pro-democracy activists. Despite the violence, the protests against the 42-year reign of Muammar Gaddafi appear to be gaining steam. Civilians have reportedly taken control of Benghazi, Libya’s second city. Oil workers at the Nafoora oil field have gone on strike. And protests have spread to the capital city of Tripoli. There are reports that the home of Libya’s parliament in Tripoli has been set on fire. On Sunday, Gaddafi’s son vowed to institute a series of reforms, but he warned that the protests could lead to a “civil war.” In the United States, a group of protesters gathered outside the White House on Sunday, calling on the Obama administration to pressure the Gaddafi government.
Yahia Dagouri, demonstrator: “All that we need is the American government to ask him to stop. He will listen. When he knows there will be a pressure, an international pressure, he will stop. He needs to understand. Enough bloodshed! There’s kids, babies, women, old people are dying every day by his bullets. Enough is enough.”
In Bahrain, protesters have won a symbolic victory by reclaiming a key public square in the capital city, Manama, where four protesters were killed by riot police last week. Thousands of protesters are now camped out in the Pearl Roundabout following days of violence by the U.S.-backed regime. The New York Times reports Bahraini forces fired on hundreds of funeral-goers from a helicopter, and security forces on the ground fired on ambulances that tried to help the wounded.
In the United States, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has asked the State Department to review U.S. military aid to Bahrain following last week’s bloody crackdown. U.S. law prohibits aid to military or security units that engage in human rights abuses. Protesters in Bahrain have vowed to stay in the streets.
Bahraini Protester: “We will stay until we achieve our demand. We are here. This is our country. If they come back, we will stay here. If they hit us, we will stay here. We want to achieve the national unity of Bahrain, and we will insist on our demands until we achieve all of them.”
In Yemen, U.S.-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to step down today after 11 days of anti-government protests. At least 12 people have died in Yemen since Thursday, including a teenage protester who was killed earlier today in Yemen’s southern port of Aden.
Pro-democracy protests have also spread to Morocco, where tens of thousands of people marched Sunday calling for constitutional reforms.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has reportedly decided he will not stand in the next presidential election due in four years. Bashir has led Sudan since 1989. Sudanese officials have denied the announcement is tied to the wave of protests sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. But Sudanese opposition figures said Bashir made the decision to head off potential massive protests.
On Capitol Hill, House Republicans have approved a budget bill that cuts more than $61 billion from current spending levels and targets key elements of the Obama administration’s agenda, including the nation’s new healthcare law. If the Republican bill became law, federal funding for Planned Parenthood would be cut off. Federal family planning and teen pregnancy prevention grants would end. Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be eliminated. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be prohibited from imposing regulations curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA’s budget would decrease by $3 billion. Pell Grants for lower-income college students would be reduced by $5.6 billion. And food aid for poor pregnant women and women with children up to the age of five would be cut by $747 million. The House and Senate are set for a showdown over the budget that could result in the temporary shutdown of the government.
In Wisconsin, some 80,000 people rallied on Saturday in the largest protest to date in Madison against Republican Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to cut pay and eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Ann Green, protester: “This is not about money. It’s never been about money. It’s about the Republican Party trying to squash Democrats, trying to squash union rights. And I’m sick of it.”
In news from Britain, activists from the group U.K. Uncut held demonstrations outside more than two dozen branches of Barclays bank over its failure to pay its fair share of taxes. In 2009, the bank made $18.2 billion in profits but paid just one percent of that in taxes. This comes at a time when the British government is slashing public services due to lack of funds.
At the United Nations, the Obama administration used its veto power for the first time to block a Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlement activity to be declared “illegal.” The final vote on the measure was 14 to 1. Co-sponsors of the resolution included Britain, France and Germany. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice defended the vote.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice: “Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said his country “deeply appreciated” the United States for its use of the veto, but Palestinian officials reacted with shock. A day of rage is being organized in the West Bank and Gaza for Friday.
Ahmed Assaf, spokesperson for Fatah: “The Palestinian people want the American administration to be the sponsor of the peace process, not of settlements and occupation. When it voted for the sake of Israel, it supported Israel’s continued building of settlements.”
In news from Afghanistan, NATO forces have been accused of killing 64 civilians in air and ground strikes over the past four days in northeastern Afghanistan. Tribal elders said the strikes hit a village and that women and children were killed inside their houses. NATO forces denied the account, saying that targets of the attack were militants. Earlier today, a suicide bomber struck a government administrative center in northern Afghanistan, killing about 30 people. The news comes amid reports that United States is entering direct talks with the Taliban.
In Pakistan, at least seven people died in a suspected U.S. drone strike along Pakistan’s western border. It marked the first drone strike in Pakistan in weeks. The Washington Post is reporting that the CIA conducted a record 118 drone strikes in Pakistan last year. According to independent sources, the strikes led to the deaths of at least 581 militants. Of those killed, only two of the militants killed appeared on a U.S. list of “high-value” targets.
A federal jury has found a former Pennsylvania judge guilty in a so-called “kids-for-cash” scheme, in which he took money in exchange for sending juvenile offenders to for-profit detention centers. Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella, Jr., was accused of taking $2.8 million in bribes and kickbacks for putting juveniles into detention centers owned by friends. The former judge faces a maximum sentence of 157 years in prison. He is free on bail. On Friday, a woman confronted the judge outside the courtroom and blamed him for her son’s suicide.
Sandy Fonzo: “My kid’s not here! He’s dead, because of him! He ruined my [bleep] life!”
The woman, Sandy Fonzo, said her son Edward Kenzakoski was never the same after Judge Ciavarella sentenced him for a first-time offense of possession of drug paraphernalia. In 2009, Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out thousands of juvenile convictions handed down by Ciavarella.
A prominent Palestinian activist has been forced to cancel a U.S. speaking tour because the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem refused to grant him a visa in a timely manner. Omar Barghouti is a founding member of the Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment, Sanction campaign.
In news from Africa, Indymedia activists in Mali have just launched a community radio station in Bamako. The station’s antenna was built from scratch by participants of the Dakar Indymedia Convergence.