The Japanese government is working to ease fears with the upgrade of a nuclear severity level to 7, on par with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In a public address, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is decreasing. The International Atomic Energy Agency, meanwhile, says the latest food sample data indicates contamination is below dangerous levels. IAEA spokesperson Denis Flory also said Japan’s nuclear crisis is not comparable to Chernobyl.
Denis Flory: “The mechanics of the accidents are totally different. One happened when a reactor was at power, and the reactor containment exploded. In Fukushima, the reactor was stopped, and the containment, even if it may be somehow leaking today — and we do not know — the containment is here. So, this is a totally different accident.”
Residents living near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility gathered in protest at its operator Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Tokyo headquarters earlier today. The rally was organized by a group representing the tens of thousands forced to evacuate their homes. At a news conference, TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu said the company would begin efforts to compensate those affected by the crisis.
TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu: “I would like to offer my heartfelt apologies to all for having so widely troubled people. I would like to deal honestly, in consultations with the government and according to the Atomic Energy Damage Compensation Law, with the various nuclear radiation damage caused by the recent disaster.”
Egyptian prosecutors have ordered the detention of former President Hosni Mubarak for 15 days. Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, have also been detained as part of a probe into allegations of corruption and abuse of power under their regime. Alaa and Gamal Mubarak have been taken to a prison in Cairo while the elder Mubarak remains in a hospital near his villa in Sharm el-Sheikh. Mubarak was hospitalized there on Tuesday, just as he underwent questioning. Critics have accused him of faking illness to evade the investigation. The news comes just days after Egyptian forces attacked a crowd of thousands in Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanding Mubarak’s prosecution. It was the largest demonstration in Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster two months ago.
Libyan rebels are attending an international conference in Qatar in their bid for greater assistance to oust Col. Muammar Gaddafi. It is the first high-profile meeting between the rebels and the international “contact group” on Libya since the uprising began. The rebels have rejected an African Union mediation proposal because it did not call for Gaddafi’s immediate removal. Heavy clashes continue in the fight for control of the Libyan city of Misurata. NATO General Mark van Uhm said international air strikes are helping the rebels but that the violence will continue.
Gen. Mark van Uhm: “We know we are having an effect. Pro-Gaddafi forces cannot fight where they want, they cannot fight how they want, and they cannot use the weapons they want. Nothing indicates, however, that Gaddafi has any intention of disengaging from operations.”
President Obama is scheduled to deliver a key speech today on his proposal for reducing the nation’s deficit. The White House has not released details, but officials say the plan will borrow heavily from Obama’s bipartisan deficit panel, which has called for a $4 trillion deficit reduction over 10 years. The proposal will reportedly include cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, a tax increase for wealthy Americans, and a modest reduction to the military budget.
Violence and massive protest continue in Yemen around the effort to remove longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On Tuesday, tens of thousands gathered in the streets to protest a Gulf Cooperation Council mediation proposal in which Saleh would transfer authority to his deputy. Opposition leaders have criticized the plan because it lacks a timetable for Saleh’s departure and protects him from prosecution. The protests included a women’s march in the southern city of Taiz that drew thousands of people. At least five people were killed Tuesday when Saleh’s forces clashed with anti-government fighters in the capital city of Sana’a. And at least two people were killed today in a confrontation between Saleh’s forces and protesters in the city of Aden.
The White House has announced President Obama will deliver a major speech responding to the recent popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in the coming weeks. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the uprisings in a speech before a gathering of Arab and U.S. policymakers in Washington.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Today the long Arab winter has begun to thaw. For the first time in decades, there is a real opportunity for lasting change, a real opportunity for people to have their voices heard and their priorities addressed. Now this raises significant questions for us all.”
A key Bahraini opposition figure has died while in custody of the U.S.-backed regime in Bahrain. Blogger Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri died under mysterious circumstances on Saturday while in detention. Al-Ashiri was reportedly charged with reporting false news and disseminating hatred via his website. Bahraini authorities, meanwhile, have announced charges will be filed against three senior editors of the nation’s leading independent daily.
In Syria, government forces have reportedly detained some 200 people in a coastal village as part of the ongoing crackdown on protests to President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian forces reportedly surrounded the village of Bayda before raiding homes and arresting men up to 60 years old. The village was reportedly targeted because residents took part in a massive protest last week.
Five Ivory Coast generals formerly aligned with deposed president Laurent Gbagbo have pledged their loyalty to the country’s new leader, Alassane Ouattara. The generals fought for Gbagbo up until the final moments of his capture by French and Ivorian forces on Monday. Ouattara has called for an Ivorian investigation into Gbagbo and those closest to him and urged his supporters to refrain from retaliatory violence. Ouattara has also announced his intent to set up a truth and reconciliation commission. At the United Nations, Ravina Shamdasani of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said hundreds had been killed in recent fighting.
Ravina Shamdasani: “Our team has so far established that 536 people were killed in the west of the country — in Duekoue, Guiglo, Blolequin and Bangolo — in the past few weeks, but the number could very well be much higher than that.”
The toll of murder victims buried in a number of mass graves in northern Mexico has risen, with fears of many more dead. Mexican authorities say the Zeta cartel murdered and buried 116 people in a northeastern state roughly 100 miles south of the Texas border. Mexican media reports 128 bodies have been found, and local residents say the real death toll is much higher.
In Chile, the family of former Chilean President Salvador Allende has asked for his body to be exhumed to help determine the cause of his 1973 death. Allende was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup. His official cause of death was listed as suicide, but it has long been speculated he was assassinated by the forces of General Augusto Pinochet. Allende’s daughter, Isabel Allende, spoke to the media.
Isabel Allende: “We requested the exhumation and autopsy. I think it’s the most rigorous and definitive proof to clear up the causes of his death, and we think this is going to be tremendously important.”
Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has signed into law two measures restricting abortion rights. The first bars abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy, unless the mother’s life is in danger. The so-called “fetal pain bill” is based on the argument that a fetus feels pain after 21 weeks. The second measure requires minors to attain permission from both parents before receiving an abortion and requires doctors to provide state officials with more detailed records concerning abortions.