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Japan remains in a state of emergency three days after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the country. An estimated 10,000 people have died, and Japan is facing the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. Japanese authorities are scrambling to avert a meltdown at the stricken Fukushima nuclear reactor after a second hydrogen explosion rocked the facility. Nuclear fuel rods are now fully exposed at Reactor No.2 at the nuclear plant. The power plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, said water levels inside the nuclear reactor were almost empty, raising fears of a meltdown. It is unclear how far the radioactive contamination has spread. U.S. military officials have reported that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates.
In Wisconsin, more than 100,000 people filled the streets of Madison Saturday in what what has been described as the state’s largest protest ever. The massive rally was held one day after Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill to strip most workers of their right to collectively bargain. The AFL-CIO put the size of the crowd on Saturday at 185,000. Speakers at the rally included many of the 14 Democratic senators who had fled the state three weeks ago in an attempt to stall the legislation. State Senator Fred Risser, 83, has represented his district for nearly five decades.
Senator Fred Risser: “The fight for workers’ rights is continuing. We may have lost the ballot in the legislature, but there’s a couple other battles coming up. There’s a battle on the legal grounds—failure to follow the laws in Wisconsin on open meetings.”
On Friday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker held a ceremony in his office to sign the anti-union legislation. He told reporters he hopes Wisconsin will inspire other states to pass similar laws.
Gov. Scott Walker: “For us, we’re doing this to lead the way in our own state, to get Wisconsin working again. But if along the way we help lead a movement across the state to pass true fiscal reform, true budgetary reform, to ultimately inspire others across this country, state by state, and in our federal government, inspire others to stand up and make the tough decisions so that they too make a commitment to the future, so that our children, in all states and across the country, ultimately don’t have to face the dire consequences we face, because previous leaders have failed to stand up and lead, I think that’s a good thing and a thing we’re worthy — we’re willing to accept as part of our legacy.”
Labor protests are continuing across the country. In South Carolina, thousands of teachers, religious leaders and state workers gathered at the capitol building on Sunday in opposition to cuts targeted at education, healthcare and other state services. In Austin, Texas, more than 10,000 protesters swarmed the grounds of the capitol Saturday to denounce Gov. Rick Perry’s proposal to fire educators, increase class sizes and cut programs. On Friday, protesters in Maine filled the capitol building to take a stand against Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to strip $18 million from the state’s Fund for a Healthy Maine. Also on Friday, concerned parents and citizens in Maryland’s Prince George’s County gathered at a local school to protest budget cuts that could leave hundreds of low-income, magnet high school students without school buses. Meanwhile, protests in response to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to tax the public and private pensions of senior citizens are scheduled for Tuesday in Lansing.
In news from Libya, forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi have succeeded in taking back several key cities from rebel forces, including the oil port cities of Ras Lanuf and Port Brega. The next battlefront is expected to be the city of Ajdabiya, about 95 miles south of Benghazi. On Saturday, unidentified gunmen killed an Al Jazeera cameraman named Ali Hassan al-Jaber in the city of Benghazi. Meanwhile, the the Arab League has called on the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on Libya and said Gaddafi’s government had lost legitimacy. President Obama spoke about Libya during his news conference on Friday.
President Barack Obama: “Across the board, we are slowly tightening the noose on Gaddafi. He is more and more isolated internationally both through sanctions as well as an arms embargo. In addition to that, we’ve provided a host of humanitarian aid measures to make sure that people are not adversely affected as they cross the borders into Tunisia or Egypt, and we will continue to do that. And what we’ve done is we’ve organized in NATO a series of conversations about a wide range of options that we can take.”
Several Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, have begun sending troops to Bahrain to help support the royal family after a month of protests. The move comes just one day after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain. On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators cut off Bahrain’s financial center. More than 100 people were injured after police fired tear gas at protesters and attacked them with batons.
In Yemen, security forces killed two peaceful protesters and injured more than 100 in the capital of Sana’a. Human Rights Watch reports that security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and then live ammunition at demonstrators at the entrance to Sana’a University early Saturday morning. Eyewitnesses described the attack.
Witness: “They fired live bullets from a small street, and the police protected them. The police fired tear gas and toxic bombs on us. They are protecting the bullies.”
Five Jewish settlers were murdered in their West Bank home on Saturday in the deadliest attack inside a settlement in years. Israeli media reported that the children were boys aged three and 11, and a one-month-old girl. Israel responded to the attack by approving hundreds of new homes in West Bank settlements. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the murders. There have been reports that the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades has claimed credit for the attack.
The U.S. Department of State’s chief spokesperson resigned on Sunday just days after he criticized the military’s treatment of suspected Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning. Last week, P.J. Crowley spoke before a small group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and accused the Pentagon of being “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” in its treatment of Manning. Manning has been held in solitary confinement since June on a Marine brig and has been forced to be naked for up to seven hours at a time. In his resignation, Crowley said his comments “were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership.” Crowley went on to say, “The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.” On Friday, President Obama defended the military’s treatment of Manning.
President Obama: “With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety, as well.”
In WikiLeaks news, a federal judge has given the U.S. government permission to obtain personal records from the social networking site Twitter about several people tied to WikiLeaks. The government had requested account information, including screen names, mailing addresses, telephone numbers, credit card and bank account information, and internet protocol addresses.
The nuclear crisis in Japan touched off mass anti-nuclear protests across Europe this weekend. In Germany, some 50,000 protesters formed a 27-mile human chain from Germany’s Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant to the city of Stuttgart. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently announced plans to extend the life of 17 German nuclear plants for an average 12 extra years. A large anti-nuclear protest was also held in France. Eva Joly is French member of the European Parliament.
Eva Joly: “The idea that it is dangerous but that we can cope with it, that is finished today. And we know how to get out of the nuclear plants: we need renewable energy, we need windmills, we need géothermie, and we need solar energy.”
New statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that nearly 21 percent of young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were unemployed last year. The unemployment rate for non-veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 was 17.3 percent.
In California, the FBI has arrested a school bus driver in the city of Madera for allegedly vandalizing a central California mosque and firebombing a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota traveled to New Hampshire over the weekend to speak to supporters at a number of invitation-only and pay-for-your-seat events, as well as a Tea Party fundraiser. Although she has not officially declared her intention to run for president in 2012, observers believe the announcement is likely. But her political ambitions may have been dealt a setback when she flubbed the country’s basic history during a speech in New Hampshire.
Rep. Michele Bachmann: “What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty. You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world, at Lexington and Concord.”