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Japan has raised the severity rating of its nuclear crisis to the highest level, matching the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The level 7 rating signifies a major nuclear accident. At a news conference today, an official from the Tokyo Electric Power Company said, “The radiation leak has not stopped completely, and our concern is that it could eventually exceed Chernobyl.” So far, Japanese officials estimate the radioactive emissions are about 10 percent of what occurred at Chernobyl, but radiation continues to leak from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Hidehiko Nishiyama is Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency deputy director general.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency deputy director general: “Based on data we’ve collected since March 18, we’ve given this a preliminary rating of 7. However, the emission of radioactive substances is about 10 percent the amount of Chernobyl, which is rated at a similar level.”
Earlier this morning, a fire broke out at reactor No. 4 at the Fukushima facility. The fire was reported soon after a strong aftershock hit the region.
There have been major political developments in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to step down after 10 years in power, was arrested Monday after French forces moved in on the bunker where he had been holed up for the past week. Gbagbo, his wife and his aides are now being held by forces allied to Ivory Coast’s internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara. On Monday, Ouattara addressed the nation.
Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara: “Like all Ivorians, we would have liked that the transfer of power after the scrutiny of November 21st, 2010, had happened in a different way. However, we want to reassure Ivorians and the international community that all measures have been taken to reassure the physical integrity of Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and all those who have been arrested.”
Hundreds have died in fighting in Ivory Coast after last year’s disputed election. Many analysts say the fighting could continue despite Gbagbo’s capture.
Rebel groups in Libya have rejected an African proposal to end the fighting unless leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi agreed to leave office immediately. Ali Suleiman Aujali is the former Libyan ambassador to the United States.
Ali Suleiman Aujali, former Libyan ambassador: “There is no way the Libyans can accept Gaddafi’s families, or part of his family, part of the Libyan future. There is no way. He is a dangerous man. He will never — he will never let Libyans enjoy anything, anything, as far as he is around, as far as he can act. Then there is no way for him to stay.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe is calling on NATO forces to intensify its air strikes in Libya. Earlier today, he said NATO was not doing enough to protect civilians in Libya and should target Gaddafi’s heavy weapons in the besieged city of Misurata. Meanwhile, Amnesty International says it has documented cases of captured Libyan rebels being shot in the head with their hands tied behind their backs.
An Egyptian military court has sentenced a 25-year-old blogger and conscientious objector named Maikel Nabil to three years in prison. Nabil was arrested on March 28 for insulting the military establishment and for allegedly spreading false information. Nabil is the founder of the “No to Compulsory Military Service Movement.” His sentence has been condemned by many human rights groups.
Syrian human rights groups say at least 117 activists, intellectuals and anti-government supporters were arrested Monday as part of a growing crackdown on protesters. Over the past month, at least 200 people have been killed in Syria since anti-government protests began. Human Rights Watch is reporting Syrian security forces in at least two towns prevented medical personnel and others from reaching wounded protesters last week.
NBC News is reporting a U.S. Marine reservist and a U.S. Navy medic were killed in Afghanistan last week when they were hit by a Hellfire missile fired from a U.S. Air Force Predator drone. It is believed that this is the first time that U.S. servicemembers have been killed by a Predator in a friendly fire incident.
Pakistani officials have privately demanded the CIA suspend drone strikes in its territory and reduce the the number of CIA operatives and Special Operations forces working inside the country. Tension between Pakistan and the United States soured in January when a CIA officer killed two Pakistani men. On Monday, the head of Pakistan’s chief spy agency, the ISI, traveled to Washington for meetings with CIA Director Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Washington Post reports more than half of the $38 billion in spending cuts that President Obama and lawmakers agreed to last week would hit education, labor and health programs. Funding for federal Pell grants, job training and a children’s healthcare initiative would face cuts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will see a $1.6 billion cut, representing a 16 percent decrease from 2010 levels. The budget plan still needs to be voted on by the House and the Senate. On Monday, Democratic Rep. George Miller of California said he had concerns over the budget deal. Miller said, “Poor and middle-class families have already received more than their fair share of pain in this economy while the wealthy and special interests have paid no price.”
Politicians in the District of Columbia are infuriated over several provisions of the budget bill, including one that would ban federal and local funding for abortion. On Monday, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and members of the D.C. Council were arrested at a protest rally on Capitol Hill.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray: “I’m like Fannie Lou Hamer at this stage: I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. And I hope you are sick and tired. Are you sick and tired? I am tired of being a pawn in a political game. You know, last time I looked, we pay our taxes just like anybody else does, $3.6 billion in federal taxes.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney traveled to New Hampshire Monday to announce he is forming a presidential exploratory committee. The first Republican debate is set for May 5 in South Carolina. Five candidates have been confirmed so far: Newt Gingrich, Buddy Roemer, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum.
Immigrant rights advocates won a victory in court Monday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a judge’s ban on the most controversial parts of Arizona’s new immigration law. The law would require police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant.
A new study on the environmental impact on natural gas drilling in shale has found that the process known as “hydraulic fracturing” may contribute to global warming as much as coal, or even more, because large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, are escaping into the atmosphere during the process. For years, advocates of “fracking” have promoted natural gas as a clean alternative to coal. In the new study, Cornell Professor Robert Howarth writes, “Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon, and is comparable when compared over 100 years.”
U.S. military officials have blocked a top U.N. official from privately seeing accused whistleblower, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who has been held in solitary confinement at a military prison since July. Juan Méndez, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said he was “deeply disappointed and frustrated” that he was not allowed to have an unmonitored visit with Manning. Méndez has been seeking to determine whether Manning’s confinement at a military brig amounts to torture. Manning is accused of leaking thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. On Sunday, the New York Review of Books published a letter signed by more than 250 lawyers, professors and authors that called the conditions of Manning’s confinement “illegal and immoral.” The list of signatories includes Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who taught constitutional law to Barack Obama. Tribe was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign.
Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu is considering a withdrawal of the Israeli military from the West Bank. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports the military pullout and other measures are being considered in an effort to stave off potential diplomatic backlash following the possible recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations General Assembly in September. Netanyahu is said to believe there is little chance for further negotiations with Palestine and is seeking ways to rally the United States, the European Union and other Western nations against a unilateral move in the United Nations by Palestine and other countries.
The Associated Press is planning to hold nationwide rallies today at roughly three dozen U.S. news bureaus. Employees of the world’s largest news agency will protest a proposed 50 percent cut in retirement benefits and a below-inflation wage offer. Reporters and photographers with the AP will not use their personal cars or cell phones for covering assignments, nor will they tweet about their stories. While 1,250 of the agency’s workers have been negotiating a new contract since October and have made a number of concessions, the AP has remained insistent on making deep cuts. AP workers have not received a wage increase in two years, and roughly 10 percent of the agency’s employees were laid off in 2009.