Egypt’s pro-democracy uprising is seizing new momentum one day after one of the largest turnouts of protesters so far. Al Jazeera is reporting the Egyptian cabinet building has been evacuated today as protesters gather outside. Tent camps are also being set up outside the Egyptian parliament in a bid to increase pressure on the Egyptian government. Egypt’s labor movement meanwhile has launched new strikes across the country, with an estimated 10,000 workers taking part. In its latest attempt to calm the protests, the Egyptian government has released at least 34 political prisoners. On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square in another display of festive protest. Thousands also took to the streets in the port city of Alexandria.
Protester: '’We are here to protest because we have been under oppression for 30 years, 30 years under injustice and oppression and poverty and illness and all. Enough is enough. We are tired and bored. Enough is enough.'’
The Obama administration has been forced to increase its criticism of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in the wake of a number of attacks on activists and journalists in Egypt. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs addressed the ongoing crackdown.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “The government has got to stop arresting protesters and journalists, harassment, beatings, detentions of reporters, of activists, of those involved in civil society. We would call on all of those prisoners, as we have, to be released immediately. We believe that there has to be a process; that in this process that results in free and fair elections, that the emergency law be lifted, as we’ve talked about many times; that specific constitutional changes are made; and that we take concrete steps, as I’ve said, to — to free and fair elections.”
Despite its public criticism, the Obama administration has yet to publicly leverage billions in annual U.S. aid to Egypt to increase pressure on President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. President Obama is expected to continue seeking full aid to Egypt when he submits his 2012 budget to Congress next week. According to the Los Angeles Times, Egypt is due to receive a wide variety of U.S. military hardware over the next year, including F-16 fighter jets, naval vessels, air defense missiles and surveillance radar. As the budget request nears, many top lawmakers, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), have eased off their calls for cutting aid to the Egyptian government. Here in New York, dozens of people took part in a solidarity action with the Egyptian protesters outside the Egyptian consulate.
Protester: “Egypt was supposed to be a democratic country, but now it’s not because of Hosni Mubarak, who’s been there for 30 years, and he’s not helping anybody at all. He has more money than anybody has right now, and that’s not right. The country is not even worth as much as he is! That’s so bad! Like, are you kidding me? He has to go!”
The House has temporarily rejected a measure to extend certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. One of the provisions authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access library records and other records in the course of surveillance; and the third provision allows for surveillance of so-called lone wolfs—targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group. The 277-to-148 vote fell short of the two-thirds needed to approve the measure under a special procedure allowing quick passage of bills with wide support. Democratic opponents were joined by 26 Republicans, including eight lawmakers backed by the Tea Party. Sixty-seven Democrats joined with Republican supporters to vote in favor of the extension. With those numbers, the measure is expected to pass later this week when it’s put to a regular vote. Speaking on the House floor, Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio urged Republican lawmakers to reject the bill.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “Many members of Congress, including those supported by my friends in the Tea Party, maintain their goal is to get rid of big government, get government out of their lives. Well, how about the PATRIOT Act, which has the broadest reach and the deepest reach of government into our daily lives? Shouldn’t we be thinking about that? Some want to get government out of healthcare, some want to get government out of retirement security. How about getting government out of people’s bedrooms, out of people’s financial records, out of people’s medical records? Vote no on extending the PATRIOT Act.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has appeared in a London court for a second day of hearings over his potential extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sex crimes. Assange’s attorneys called to the stand a former Swedish prosecutor who attacked his country’s handling of Assange’s case. After the hearing, Assange’s attorney, Mark Stephens, challenged Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny to come to Britain and testify.
Mark Stephens: “Ladies and gentlemen, today we have seen Hamlet without the princess. We have seen a prosecutor who has been ready to feed the media with information but has been unprepared to come here and subject herself to the cross-examination she knows she cannot withstand. I challenge you, Marianne Ny: Marianne Ny, come to London, come on Friday, subject yourself to the cross-examination by Geoffrey Robertson QC.”
Appearing with his attorney, Assange discussed WikiLeaks’ ongoing release of U.S. diplomatic cables.
Julian Assange: “In relation to my WikiLeaks work, which of course is a separate topic, it goes on. It continues. Every day we are publishing serious content around the world and especially about the Middle East. And that gives me great heart, as does ongoing support of the world for my staff and our mission.”
Newly released classified U.S. diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks show the Yemeni government detained 28 alleged al-Qaeda members on behalf of the United States despite an investigation finding no evidence they were involved in terrorist acts. According to a cable from 2005, the suspects were arrested after returning to Yemen from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Despite plans to release the detainees, Yemen agreed to continue jailing them following U.S. objections.
A U.S. appeals court has agreed to a hear the federal government’s appeal of a decision to clear five former operatives with the private military firm Blackwater in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre behind closed doors. The five guards had been charged with killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians during an unprovoked attack in Baghdad. The charges were dismissed after a judge ruled prosecutors had used incriminating statements they had made while under State Department immunity. At the request of both the government and the suspects, the appeal will be closed entirely to the public. A ruling is not expected for three months.
A delegation of visiting U.S. Congress members has threatened to cut aid to Pakistan unless it releases a U.S. citizen jailed over the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis. Raymond Allen Davis, an employee of the U.S. consulate, admitted to fatally shooting two people he said threatened him while he was driving in Lahore last month. A third Pakistani was reportedly run over and killed by a U.S. consulate vehicle that arrived at the scene. Last weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton canceled a meeting with Pakistan’s foreign minister to protest Davis’s detention. The State Department says Davis holds a diplomatic passport and is entitled to full criminal immunity. The Obama administration has demanded his immediate release. On Tuesday, CounterPunch.org released a number of revelations questioning Davis’s role at the consulate. Davis and the U.S. embassy have claimed that he was hired as an employee of Hyperion Protective Consultants, a Florida-based security firm. But an article posted on CounterPunch says no such company has been located at the given address, and the Florida Secretary of State office has no record of a Hyperion Protective Consultants. Pakistani journalists have speculated Davis is a CIA agent or a private contractor working for a mercenary firm. According to CounterPunch, U.S. officials failed to report Davis was driving a rental car rather than an embassy vehicle and possessed two handguns, a substantial amount of ammunition, three cell phones and a telescope. The incident has sparked massive protests in Pakistan. The wife of one of the victims committed suicide on Sunday.
The Haitian government says it has issued a diplomatic passport to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, opening the way for his return home from almost seven years in exile in South Africa. Aristide was ousted in 2004 in a U.S.-backed coup. Aristide’s attorneys say they have yet to receive the passport but expect to begin preparing for his return in the coming weeks.
In California, the American Civil Liberties Union is accusing Los Angeles prison guards of severely beating a defenseless prisoner. ACLU jail monitor Esther Lim says she witnessed two deputies at the Twin Towers jail kicking, punching and tasering prisoner James Parker as he lay unconscious for at least two minutes. Lim says the deputies repeated the commands, “stop resisting” and “stop fighting,” as though they were reading from a script. Parker has been charged with felony counts of battery and resisting an officer in connection with the incident.