Libyan rebels are accusing the NATO coalition of mistakenly killing their fighters in a pair of air strikes. The rebels say at least four people were killed when NATO warplanes attacked an area near the town of Brega. Another six people are missing and feared dead. Fourteen others were wounded in the attack. NATO has refused to apologize for the strikes. The incident comes just days after rebel leaders sharply criticized NATO for what they said was a failure to stop the advance of forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
Four journalists, including two U.S. citizens, have been captured by Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. The four were seized from a car as they traveled near Brega.
Japan has been hit with its strongest aftershock since the devastating earthquake and tsunami nearly one month ago. The aftershock knocked out power across Japan’s northeast and forced what is being described as a small leak of radioactive water at the Onagawa nuclear power facility.
The death toll from clashes in the Ivory Coast is mounting as forces loyal to internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara surround the compound of embattled leader Laurent Gbagbo. Ouattara has ordered his soldiers to cordon off the residence to prevent Gbagbo’s departure. At the United Nations, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said she had seen hundreds of dead bodies in a recent trip to the Ivory Coast.
Valerie Amos: “People are immensely traumatized. They have witnessed terrible violence, and many have been directly targeted. Women told me stories of witnessing their husbands being executed. Hundreds of children have been separated from their parents, and women and girls have allegedly been kidnapped. Two hundred bodies in one site. Other sites where there are clearly bodies, but we don’t know how many.”
Democrat and Republican leaders continue to hold talks on breaking a U.S. budget deadlock and avoiding a government shutdown. Without an agreement on spending for the next six months, money to operate the government runs out at midnight tonight. The two sides are reportedly just $5 billion apart, but still remain without a deal. Jeff Zients of the White House Office of Management and Budget said a federal shutdown would impact a range of government services.
Jeff Zients: “If there is a shutdown, it would have very real effects on the services that American people rely on… National parks, national forests and the Smithsonian Institution would all be closed. The NIH clinical center will not take new patients, and no new clinical trials will start. Those filing paper tax returns would not receive tax refunds from the IRS.”
At the White House, President Obama said the talks have made progress, but gaps remain.
President Obama: “We made some additional progress this evening. I think the staffs of both the House and the Senate, as well as the White House staff, have been working very hard to try to narrow the differences. We made some progress today. Those differences have been narrowed. And so, once again, the staff is going to be working tonight, around the clock, in order to see if we can finally close a deal. But there are still a few issues that are outstanding. They’re difficult issues. They’re important to both sides. And so, I’m not yet prepared to express wild optimism. But I think we are further along today than we were yesterday.”
Around 50 activists have camped out inside the Washington State Capitol in Olympia to protest a proposed round of state budget cuts. The budget would cut social spending while providing billions in tax exemptions to corporations. Meanwhile, in Florida, several hundred people rallied on Thursday against Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to cut programs for the mentally disabled. Scott wants to reduce funding for the programs by 15 percent.
Wisconsin’s closely watched election for a seat on the state Supreme Court has been upended after a clerk in a Republican-leaning county said she had failed to report some 14,000 votes. With the new votes included, Republican-linked incumbent Justice David Prosser now holds a 7,000-vote lead over union-backed opponent JoAnne Kloppenburg. The news came just one day after Kloppenburg declared victory in the race after initial returns showed she had won by 204 votes. Many have seen the race as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union agenda. The election clerk, Kathy Nickolaus of Waukesha County, says she had failed to save votes from the town of Brookfield on her computer. According to the Associated Press, Nickolaus received immunity in a 2002 criminal probe into illegal acts by Republican lawmakers in the State Assembly. At the time, Nickolaus worked as a data analyst and computer specialist. Justice Prosser served as a Republican member of the Assembly until his judicial appointment in 1998.
Thousands of people rallied on Capitol Hill Thursday to protest the Republican-led effort against women’s reproductive health programs. Since taking control of the House in January, Republican lawmakers have proposed measures that would cut off public funds for abortions, bar federal funds from covering any abortion-related health plan costs, and deny federal family planning grants to any organizations that perform abortions, regardless of whether or not the organization uses that federal money for abortions.
The Obama administration continues to float the prospect of an extended U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Ahead of meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the United States would consider keeping troops in Iraq beyond a deadline for a complete withdrawal by the end of the year.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “So, if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning and our ability to figure out where we get the forces and what kind of forces we need here and what specifically the mission they want us to do is. I think there is interest in having a continuing presence, but the politics are such we’ll just have to wait and see, because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the U.S.-backed Israeli military is continuing military operations in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On Thursday, Israeli soldiers stormed the West Bank village of Awarta and arrested more than 100 women. Israel says it was pursuing suspects in the recent killings of Israeli settlers. The Israeli military also bulldozed homes in the village of Tubas. Meanwhile, at least four Palestinians, including two civilians, were killed today in Israeli air strikes on Gaza. The bombing came after a Palestinian rocket struck an Israeli school bus, injuring two.
Palestinians held memorials Thursday for a Arab-Israeli actor and activist who ran a theater company for children until his murder earlier this week. Juliano Mer-Khamis was seen as leader in the Palestinian creative nonviolent resistance movement. He was shot to death on Monday just outside the Jenin Freedom Theatre, which he founded to help Palestinian children express themselves through the arts. Freedom Theatre director Nabeel Raee spoke at a service in Jenin.
Nabeel Raee: “We lost everything. We lost logic, understanding, freedom. If we are not free amongst ourselves, how can we free ourselves from the occupation that we are fighting against?”
Thousands of people have gathered in Egypt’s Tahrir Square today to call for the arrest and trial of former President Hosni Mubarak. Organizers have called the protest the “Day of Trial and Cleansing” to call for Mubarak and his top officials to be brought to justice.
The United States and Colombia have come to terms on a labor rights agreement that would clear the way for a long-delayed trade deal. President Obama announced the pact Thursday with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
President Obama: “So, today, I am very pleased to announce that we have developed an action plan for labor rights in Colombia consistent with our values and interests, but more importantly, consistent with President Santos’s vision of a just and equitable society inside of Colombia, and we believe that this serves as a basis for us moving forward on a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.”
The Colombia pact has been held up amidst concerns over human rights violations, including the killings of union leaders. President Obama voiced opposition to the deal during his run for office but has since reversed his stance.
The embattled head of New York City’s school system has resigned just three months into her tenure. Cathleen Black stepped down Thursday following a request by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Black’s appointment had come under widespread criticism because she came to the job as a wealthy media executive with no background in education.