Japanese authorities are now reporting the death toll from the March 11th earthquake and tsunami is likely to exceed 18,000. This comes as concern is growing that radiation released from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station has contaminated part of Japan’s food and water supplies. Contaminated milk and spinach have already been found. Japan’s health ministry has urged some residents near the plant to stop drinking tap water after high levels of radioactive iodine were detected. Japanese authorities are still working to prevent a full meltdown at the Fukushima plant. Engineers have restored electricity to three reactors at the crippled plant and hope to test water pumps at the quake-damaged facility soon. But early this morning, smoke was seen spewing from two reactors at the plant.
Graham Andrew of the International Atomic Energy Agency: “Efforts to restore electrical power on the site continue. Off-site electrical power is being connected to the local substation for Unit Two today. Work is continuing under difficult conditions to connect power from the substation to the reactor building. Sea water is still being injected into the reactor pressure vessels of Units One, Two and Three. Water injection is not needed for Unit Four, as the reactor is in outage.”
U.S. and allied forces have launched a second wave of air strikes on Libya to enforce a no-fly zone. Targets have included Libya’s air defenses, forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi, and Gaddafi’s fortified compound. The attacks on Libya began on Saturday, the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. President Obama addressed the nation soon after the attack began.
President Obama: “I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on them. I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice, and it’s not a choice that I make lightly. But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government. So we must be clear: actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced. That is the cause of this coalition.”
The Arab League had supported the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, but Arab League chief Amr Moussa criticized the U.S.-led air strikes.
Amr Moussa: “Sovereignty is not invading or occupying a country or affecting its sovereignty, but working on protecting its civilians. Protecting civilians does not need military operations. Protecting civilians needs suitable action such as a no-fly zone. This is what we asked for from the very beginning to avoid any additional developments.”
There have been a number of major developments in Yemen as protests continue against the country’s longtime President Ali Abudullah Saleh, a close ally of the United States. Earlier today, three top Yemeni army generals defected and declared their support for the protest movement. The dissident generals have now deployed army units to protect the protesters. The announcement came days after Yemeni forces killed 45 protesters and wounded 350 others. Meanwhile, the mayor of the Yemeni city of Aden and Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations have also resigned to protest the killings. Human Rights Watch has called on the Obama administration to immediately suspend military aid to Yemen. Over the past five years, the United States has provided more than $300 million in military and security aid to Yemen.
In Syria, thousands of protesters are marching in the southern city of Daraa today following the deaths of at least five protesters since Friday. Syrian police have been accused of firing live ammunition and tear gas to disrupt anti-government protests.
In Egypt, voters have approved a referendum on constitutional changes in a move that paves the way for Egypt’s first election since the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak. One of the amendments bars any future president from serving more than two four-year terms.
The U.S. Army has issued an apology after the German news magazine Der Spiegel published a series of photographs that appear to show U.S. soldiers posing with the corpse of a civilian in Afghanistan. The photos are graphic and have been compared to the pictures that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In one photograph, a U.S. soldier is seen smiling as he posed with the bloodied and partially naked corpse. Another photo shows a solider holding the head of the Afghan man. The soldiers in the photographs are on trial for forming a secret “kill team” in Afghanistan that murdered unarmed Afghan civilians at random and collected body parts. The photographs were entered as evidence into the trial but were not meant to be seen by the public.
In Washington, D.C., more than 100 antiwar activists were arrested outside the White House on Saturday during a protest to mark the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Meanwhile, on Sunday, 31 protesters were arrested outside the gates of the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia, where they were protesting the military’s treatment of accused Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning. Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was arrested at both protests.
A Wisconsin state judge has issued a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting bill. Judge Maryann Sumi ruled that Republican lawmakers were likely in violation of the state open meeting laws when it pushed through the legislation two weeks ago.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is reporting Israeli military intelligence has begun collecting information about left-wing organizations abroad that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The military intelligence unit is also said to be collecting information about groups that attempt to bring war crime or other charges against high-ranking Israeli officials. One military intelligence official told the paper, “The enemy changes, as does the nature of the struggle, and we have to boost activity in this sphere.”
Voters in Haiti went to the polls Sunday for the presidential runoff election. Preliminary election results are expected March 31, with full results due April 16. Two days before the election, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to the country after living in exile for seven years following the 2004 U.S.-backed coup.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former president of Haiti: “In 1804, the Haitian revolution marked the end of slavery. Today, may the Haitian people mark the end of exile and coup d’état, while peacefully we must move from social exclusion to social inclusion.”
In news from Ivory Coast, the United Nations is warning that forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo may have committed crimes against humanity last week when they shelled a market in Abidjan killing at least 25 people. United Nations officials say more than 435 people have been killed since last year’s disputed presidential election. This is Rupert Colville of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Rupert Colville: “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is an international crime, quite possibly a crime against humanity. And we are very concerned about the situation, in general, in Côte d’Ivoire, which seems to be deteriorating yet further.”
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Dakar, Senegal, on Saturday to oppose corruption and the rule of President Abdoulaye Wade.
President Obama is in Brazil to kick off a three-nation tour of Latin America that will also include stops in Chile and El Salvador. In Chile, protesters gathered on Sunday calling on United States to apologize for its support of the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Meanwhile, in El Salvador, Obama is expected to visit the grave of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980.
AT&T has announced plans to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion, which would create the nation’s largest cell phone operator. If approved by regulators, the deal would leave the United States with just three main wireless carriers.
The Newspaper Guild is urging its 26,000 members to stop providing free content to the Huffington Post website. The Guild said, “Working for free does not benefit workers and undermines quality journalism.” The Huffington Post relies on a mix of paid professional journalists and unpaid bloggers. The site’s labor practices have come under increasing scrutiny since its $315 million merger with AOL.