A major tsunami has struck Japan’s northern coastline following a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake—one of the strongest ever recorded. Japanese television showed cars, ships and even buildings being swept away by a vast wall of water. Widespread fires are burning out of control. At least 220 people had been killed, but the death toll is expected to rise significantly. The Japanese government has declared a nuclear emergency. At least 2,000 residents near the Fukushima nuclear power plant have been evacuated from their homes after the cooling system at the plant failed. The Japanese government says it has deactivated 11 of the nation’s 55 nuclear plants. Meanwhile, a fire has broken out in the turbine building of the Onagawa nuclear plant. A tsunami warning has been issued for nearly the entire Pacific Ocean Basin.
In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is preparing to sign a measure that will strip most public employees of their right to collectively bargain. The Wisconsin State Assembly passed the bill Thursday in a mostly party-line vote. The move came one day after Republican senators approved the measure in a surprise session that caught Democrats and protesters off-guard.
In Indiana, thousands of people rallied at the statehouse in Indianapolis Thursday against measures that would weaken unions and public schools. The head of Indiana’s AFL-CIO, Nancy Guyott, addressed the crowd above a banner reading, “Hoosiers Standing Up for the Middle Class.”
Nancy Guyott: “Let’s let the word go out to the Wall Street robber barons, to the out-of-state special interests, and to the political ideologues who seem to care more about politics than people: that the working men and women of Indiana have come back to take back the people’s house for the people of Indiana.”
All but three Democratic members of the Indiana House remain in neighboring Illinois to deny Republicans a quorum to vote on the proposals.
Protests are also ongoing in Michigan, where state Republicans have approved one of the most extreme measures targeting the public sector so far. Under the bill, emergency financial managers would be allowed to break union contracts, dismiss elected officials, and even dis-incorporate entire municipalities. On Thursday, dozens of people rallied against the bill in Detroit following major protests in the state capitol of Lansing.
The Gaddafi regime in Libya has intensified its assault to retake rebel-controlled towns. Clashes are raging in the key oil port city of Ras Lanuf after dozens of pro-Gaddafi forces landed by boat. The regime appears to have taken full control of the town of Zawiyah after fighting that reportedly left scores of civilians dead. In an interview, Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, vowed to crush the rebellion even if it receives foreign backing.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi: “If they want to support the militia, do it. But I will tell you from now, ’You’re going to lose. We will win.’ And we are not afraid of the American fleet, NATO, France, Europeans. This is our country. We live here, we die here. We will never ever surrender to those terrorists. Libyan nation is so united now. We are so strong.”
The Libyan regime’s advances have heightened speculation of an international effort to assist the rebels. At a NATO meeting in Belgium, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said military options remain on the table.
Robert Gates: '’We all agreed that NATO will only act if there is demonstrable need, a sound legal basis and strong regional support. We also agreed to continue planning for all military options.'’
The Obama administration has announced plans to send a U.S. aid team to the rebel-controlled eastern Libya. Testifying before a House panel, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also announced she will meet with members of the Libyan opposition.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We remain engaged with the Libyan sanctions committee at the United Nations to consider tougher measures as the situation develops, and we are reaching out to the opposition inside and outside of Libya. I will be meeting with some of those figures, both here in the United States and when I travel next week, to discuss what more the United States and others can do.”
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton has announced plans to travel to Egypt and Tunisia next week for the first time since popular uprisings forced out U.S.-backed dictators in both countries.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Next week, I will travel to Cairo and Tunis to speak directly with the Egyptian and Tunisian people. I will be meeting with their transitional leaders, and I intend to convey strong support of the Obama administration and the American people, that we wish to be a partner in the important work that lies ahead as they embark on a transition to a genuine democracy. We have an enormous stake in ensuring that Egypt and Tunisia provide models for the kind of democracy that we want to see.”
The United Nations now reports more than 250,000 people have fled Libya to escape the fighting. Meanwhile, at least two foreign journalists remain missing following their arrest by Gaddafi’s forces earlier this week. Guardian reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and Andrei Netto of the Brazilian newspaper, Estado, are being held at undisclosed locations. Soazig Dollet of Reporters Without Borders condemned their arrests.
Soazig Dollet: “There were clear declarations from the Foreign Ministry of—the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Libya that those journalists entered illegally, are collaborating with al-Qaeda forces. So there’s really a concern for those two journalists who had been arrested on Sunday in Zawiyah, and we really hope for their release coming soon.”
The protests in the Middle East and North Africa have spread to Saudi Arabia. On Thursday, three people were wounded when Saudi police opened fire on a peaceful march in the eastern city of Qatif. The shooting comes ahead of a “day of rage” organized for today. Protests are illegal in Saudi Arabia, and the government has warned Saudi residents against taking part. A number of people have been arrested in several small demonstrations this week.
In Yemen, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets nationwide today in one of the largest anti-government protests so far. The rallies come one day after U.S.-backed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh attempted to quell the unrest by proposing a new constitution, an offer the opposition immediately rejected.
A cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been killed in a U.S. attack in Afghanistan. Sixty-five-year-old Yaar Mohammad Khan was shot dead during a nighttime U.S. raid on his home. U.S. soldiers were trying to arrest Khan’s son. The reasons for his shooting have not been explained. Karzai has repeatedly called for an end to the nighttime raids. The killing comes just over a week since nine Afghan boys were mistakenly killed by NATO gunships.
New York Republican Congressman Peter King has opened a controversial hearing on what he calls the “radicalization” of the American Muslim community. Critics have described the hearings as a modern-day form of McCarthyism designed to stoke fear against American Muslims. King opened on Thursday by condemning criticism as “political correctness.”
Rep. Peter King: “Let me make it clear today that I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward, and they will. To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee: to protect America from a terrorist attack. Despite what passes for conventional wisdom in certain circles, there is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings.”
On Capitol Hill, the Republican-controlled House Energy and Power Subcommittee has voted to strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of authority to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions from the country’s largest polluters. Republicans plan to bring the measure to a full House vote.
Mexican prosecutors have reopened investigations into the deaths of 21 people during the 2006 protests against the Oaxaca state government. The victims include the independent American journalist Brad Will. The 36-year-old Will was shot and killed while covering the popular uprising against then-Governor Ulises Ruiz. Will’s own camera captured the shooting, with armed men firing into the crowd from a distance.