Fears are growing of a nuclear meltdown in Japan amidst widespread speculation that efforts to cool a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant are failing to have an impact. Japan has begun using military helicopters and water cannons to dump water on the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station to help cool the plant’s reactors and spent fuel rods. But water dropped from the helicopters has been blowing off course. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has warned that water in the spent fuel pool at one of the plant’s six nuclear reactors had boiled away entirely, leaving “extremely high” radiation levels. Japan has disputed this account. Meanwhile, the United States government has urged all Americans living within 50 miles of the plant to evacuate. So far, Japan has only issued evacuation orders for residents living within 12 miles of the plant.
The Bahraini government has arrested a number of opposition activists and political figures following a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests nationwide. On Wednesday, at least six people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded after state forces attacked demonstrators in the capital Manama. The crackdown spread throughout the country as Bahraini authorities imposed a 12-hour curfew and clamped down on travel. Witnesses reported helicopters firing on Shiite homes and doctors being attacked while treating the wounded. Government forces reportedly took over Bahrain’s largest hospital and prevented doctors from treating the wounded. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have deployed hundreds of troops into Bahrain to protect the regime, a key U.S. government ally in the Middle East. On Wednesday, President Obama urged both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to exercise “maximum restraint” but refused to condemn the assault on protesters.
Thousands of people rallied at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing Wednesday as Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of anti-worker bills into law. The measures grant appointed emergency financial managers sweeping new powers to break union contracts, dismiss elected officials, and even disincorporate entire municipalities. At least 14 people were arrested after staging a sit-in inside the Capitol. Police used pepper spray to prevent a group of protesters entering the building.
A Wisconsin prosecutor has filed a lawsuit challenging the recently approved Republican-backed law that strips the collective bargaining rights of most public sector employees. The suit from Dane County Prosecutor Ismael Ozanne accuses Republicans of violating the state’s open meeting laws in pushing the bill through the state legislature. Ozanne is the second Wisconsin public official to file a legal challenge over the anti-union legislation.
In Florida, state lawmakers have approved a measure to end teacher tenure and link salaries to the results of student testing. A similar measure proposed last year sparked massive demonstrations and a veto from then-Gov. Charlie Crist. The new Florida governor, Rick Scott, is expected to sign the bill into law.
In Pakistan, a CIA contractor and former Blackwater operative accused of fatally shooting two men has been freed from prison and flown out of the country. Raymond Davis was released after the victims’ family members accepted a “blood money” settlement of a reported $2.3 million. The Pakistani government proposed the deal after the United States insisted Davis is a diplomat entitled to diplomatic immunity. There are reports the victims’ relatives were put under intense pressure to accept the settlement. In Washington, U.S. Department of State spokesman Mark Toner denied rumors the U.S. government footed the bill.
Mark Toner: “I have said all I’m going to say, which is that the U.S. did not pay compensation to the victims’ families. We respect Pakistan for resolving the case within its own legal system. As I’ve stated, we strongly made the case throughout this process that Mr. Davis was a diplomat and, as such, should be subject to diplomatic immunity. But the case was resolved within their own legal system. We respect that.”
Davis’s case has sparked outrage in Pakistan. On Wednesday, police used tear gas to disperse some 200 protesters who gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Lahore. More protests are expected today. In other news from Pakistan, at least 35 people have been killed in a suspected U.S. drone attack in North Waziristan province. Pakistani intelligence officials say the victims were Taliban fighters.
In Tunisia, hundreds of people gathered in the capital city of Tunis today to protest the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her trip to Tunisia is the first by a high-level Obama administration official since the popular uprising that overthrew U.S.-backed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali earlier this year.
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton arrived in Tunisia after a visit to Egypt, which is holding a national referendum on constitutional changes later this week. On Wednesday, Clinton toured Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focal point of the uprising against U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak. Just hours before, a major youth coalition declined to meet with Clinton in protest of longstanding U.S. support for Mubarak right until the last days of his regime. Clinton, meanwhile, has announced she will not stay on in President Obama’s cabinet in any position if Obama is re-elected next year.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has offered to visit the Gaza Strip for unity talks with rival Palestinian faction, Hamas. The trip would mark Abbas’s first visit to Gaza since his forces were expelled in a five-day civil war there in 2007.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “To form a government of independent national figures and to agree to prepare immediately, I am not going to have a dialogue. I am going to agree to form a government and to agree on holding parliamentary, presidential and national council (PLO) elections, within six months or as soon as possible.”
Hamas has agreed to meet with Abbas. The talks were announced after Palestinians held parallel national unity rallies in the West Bank and Gaza earlier this week.
A new study is warning up to 800,000 people will contract cholera in Haiti this year. According to the medical journal The Lancet, the figure is double the predictions of United Nations agencies on the ground.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has introduced the first-ever national standard for emissions of mercury and other pollutants from coal-burning power plants. The EPA says the new standards could help prevent thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of cases of disease each year. Utilities, business groups and Congressional Republicans have slammed the new rules, saying they represent a war on American industry. The regulations come as Republicans continue to advance a measure that would prevent the EPA from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases. The bill cleared the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, and Republicans say they expect to bring it before the full House within the next month.
Former Chicago police commander Jon Burge has reported to a North Carolina prison to begin serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence for obstruction of justice and lying about torturing prisoners into making confessions. Burge was convicted in June following longtime accusations of overseeing the systematic torture of more than a hundred African American men. His trial was criticized as being too lenient by focusing not on the torture itself, but for lying about it. As Burge’s sentence begins, one of those prisoners allegedly tortured under his watch is being released after 25 years behind bars. The prisoner, Eric Caine, confessed to a murder after what he calls torture by Burge’s officers.