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HeadlinesMarch 16, 2011

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Japan Races to Cool Reactors as Radiation Fears Grow

Mar 16, 2011

Japan’s nuclear crisis is intensifying. A second reactor unit at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant may have ruptured and appears to be releasing radioactive steam. It is unclear how serious the breach might be, but the vessel that possibly ruptured is the last fully intact line of defense against large-scale releases of radioactive material. Several explosions have hit the plant since Friday’s devastating earthquake. The radiation levels around the plant are so high that Japanese authorities abandoned a plan to dump water from military helicopters in an attempt to cool the reactors. More workers are expected to return to the plant today after radiation levels forced their evacuation.

Reactor Model Faulted for Safety Concerns

Mar 16, 2011

More damaging revelations about the nuclear reactor used in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are coming to light. Components in the reactor have come under criticism since as far back the early 1970s. Developed by General Electric, the plant’s nuclear reactors use a containment vessel surrounding the reactors that are less robust than other models. The design is also used in 23 reactors at 16 American plants. Marketed as cheaper and easier to build, the Mark-I boiling water reactor drew criticism in 1972 from the Atomic Energy Commission, which said the equipment presented unacceptable safety risks and should be discontinued. In the mid-1980s, an official with the Nuclear Regulatory Committee said the Mark-I stood a 90 percent chance of bursting should the fuel rods overheat and melt in an accident.

Quake, Tsunami Toll Tops 11,000

Mar 16, 2011

As Japan attempts to prevent nuclear catastrophe, the recovery effort from the earthquake and tsunami continues. The official toll of the dead and missing has now passed 11,000.

Bahraini Forces Attack Protesters in Manama

Mar 16, 2011

In Bahrain, state forces have launched what appears to be a vicious assault on protesters in the capital, Manama. Earlier today, troops backed by tanks and helicopters stormed the Pearl Roundabout, the epicenter of protests over the last month. At least two protesters were reportedly killed and hundreds wounded after Bahraini forces attacked them from all sides and fired tear gas into the crowds. Some witnesses reported firing from U.S.-supplied Apache helicopters. The attack comes one day after the Bahraini government declared a state of emergency. Well over a thousand Saudi and United Arab Emirate troops have entered Bahrain to support the ruling monarchy. It is unclear if any foreign soldiers were involved in today’s violence. Bahrain is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. On a visit to Egypt just hours before the attack, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for restraint “on all sides.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We call for common restraint on all sides in Bahrain. We’re particularly concerned about increasing reports of provocative acts and sectarian violence by all groups. The use of force and violence from any source will only worsen the situation and create a much more difficult environment in which to arrive at a political solution.”

Egyptian Youth Groups Refuse to Meet Clinton over Mubarak Support

Mar 16, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke during her first visit to Egypt since the popular uprising that overthrew the U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak. On Tuesday, Clinton was snubbed by the main coalition of Egyptian youth groups that spearheaded the anti-Mubarak protests. In a statement, the January 25 Revolution Youth Coalition said it had turned down an invitation to meet Clinton, saying: “Based on [Clinton’s] negative position from the beginning of the revolution and the position of the U.S. administration in the Middle East, we reject this invitation.” When the uprising began, Clinton staunchly defended Mubarak, saying, “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” Clinton used similar language on Tuesday after meeting with officials from Egypt’s transitional government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I am particularly pleased that the minister and I discussed in great detail, with others who were there, the economic needs, the need to rebuild a police force that will have the trust of the people. And I applaud the announcement today of the dismantling of the existing state security apparatus and the rebuilding of one that will be responsive to the needs of Egyptians.”

U.S. Air Strike Kills 2 Afghan Children; Petraeus Suggests Long-Term U.S. Military Presence

Mar 16, 2011

Two children have been killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan. The victims were watering fields in Afghanistan’s Kunar province when they came under attack. The deaths come just two weeks after nine Afghan boys were mistakenly killed by NATO gunships. Speaking in Washington, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, touted the progress of U.S. military goals in Afghanistan but called them “fragile and reversible.”

Gen. David Petraeus: “It is ISAF’s [International Security Assistance Force] assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas. However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible.”

Petraeus went on to suggest a scenario under which U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan beyond a 2014 withdrawal date through the operation of joint military bases with Afghan forces. Petraeus said, “It’s very important to stay engaged in a region in which we have such vital interests.”

Gaddafi Forces Advance on Benghazi

Mar 16, 2011

In Libya, forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi have retaken the final line of defense protecting the rebel capital of Benghazi. Hundreds of packed cars fled Ajdabiya as pro-Gaddafi forces pounded the city with tanks, heavy artillery and air strikes. The city is strategically critical, as it allows highway access that would permit Gaddafi’s troops to encircle and overrun Benghazi.

Michigan Lawmakers Approve Emergency Management Bill

Mar 16, 2011

The Michigan State Assembly has given final approval to an emergency financial management bill decried by critics as an attack on workers and basic democracy. Under the bill, emergency financial managers would be allowed to break union contracts, dismiss elected officials and even disincorporate entire municipalities. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the measure into law. Snyder is also attempting to push through a plan to tax the public and private pensions of senior citizens. Over a thousand people held a protest outside the State Capitol in Lansing Tuesday before attempting a sit-in inside. Protesters are vowing to return for another rally today.

Hundreds Protest Anti-Teacher Bill in Tennessee

Mar 16, 2011

In Tennessee, hundreds of people rallied at the Capitol in Nashville against a measure that would strip the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers. Seven people were arrested after disrupting a Senate hearing.

Uzbekistan Expels Human Rights Watch

Mar 16, 2011

Uzbekistan has expelled employees of Human Rights Watch after what the group calls years of government harassment. Human Rights Watch has recently criticized attempts by the United States and the European Union to repair relations with Uzbekistan, saying it should be held accountable for a human rights record that includes torture, the murder of unarmed civilians, and the arbitrary jailing of activists and journalists. Uzbekistan provides a key supply route for military shipments to Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Democracy Now! reached Steve Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch’s Uzbekistan Researcher.

Steve Swerdlow: “The government of Uzbekistan has expelled Human Rights Watch from the country. This is the first time that, in its 33-year history, Human Rights Watch has been forced to close any of its field offices, and this is a reflection of the increasingly dire human rights situation in Uzbekistan today. Uzbekistan has one of the worst human rights records in the world. It’s synonymous with torture in its criminal justice system. It’s known for forced child labor in the cotton sector. And it’s also known for the continued imprisonment of dozens of human rights activists, independent journalists and political figures. With our expulsion today, we’re extremely concerned about the impact our closure will have on the increasingly isolated and beleaguered civil society in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan, in the last several years, has played a much more increasingly strategic role with the United States in that it allows the U.S. to transit supplies to its troops, its NATO troops, to the south in Afghanistan. And for that reason, the United States, and also the E.U., have been turning a blind eye to a worsening human rights situation there. So, today, Human Rights Watch is calling on the United States and the European Union to publicly condemn the expulsion of Human Rights Watch and, more importantly, the crackdown on the remaining civil society activists.”

Utah Enacts Anti-Immigrant Bill

Mar 16, 2011

In Utah, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has signed into a law a new package of measures similar to last year’s anti-immigrant crackdown in Arizona. Utah’s Republican-controlled legislature approved the laws earlier this month. Immigrant rights activists are expected to challenge provisions that force law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people stopped for violations.

Report: U.S. Deploys Drones in Mexico

Mar 16, 2011

The New York Times is reporting the U.S. government has begun sending drones into Mexican territory in an effort to monitor the drug trade. The secret program began with a formal agreement between President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón last month. Administration officials say drones helped capture suspects in the recent killing of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in Mexico.

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