Yemen appears to be on the verge of civil war as government war planes have reportedly bombed fighters linked to a prominent Yemeni tribal leader outside the capital of Sana’a. The air strikes mark a further escalation in recent fighting that has left at least 109 people dead over the past week. An alliance of tribal leaders have warned embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to either step down or face civil war. Tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar said there is no longer a chance for mediation with Saleh.
Sadiq al-Ahmar: “The people are on our side, and Allah is with us and before the people. They are with us because Ali Abdullah Saleh has been unjust for the last 30 years, and he is considered to the biggest liar of all liars in the world.”
In Egypt, thousands of pro-democracy protesters are gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today for what has been dubbed the second Friday of rage to protest against the ruling military council. Activists are calling for an end to military trials, the lifting of the three-decade-old emergency law, the formation of a civilian government, and the acceleration of trials of former figures from the Mubarak regime.
President Obama has signed a law renewing three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act shortly following the House’s passage of the measure in a 250-to-153 vote. The provisions empower law enforcement officials to obtain “roving wiretaps” on suspected foreign agents, track non-citizen “lone wolves” suspected of terrorism, and obtain certain business and even library records. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized lawmakers for passing the provisions without adding the proper privacy safeguards. The provisions were extended despite a warning from two Democratic senators that the U.S. Department of Justice has been secretly interpreting the PATRIOT Act in a way to enable domestic surveillance activities that many members of Congress do not even understand. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Intelligence Committee, accused the Obama administration of relying on a secret law to expand domestic surveillance.
Sen. Ron Wyden: “Americans know that their government will sometimes conduct secret operations, but they don’t believe the government ought to be writing secret law. And the reason why we have felt so strongly about this issue of secret law is that it violates the trust that Americans place in their government, and it undermines public confidence in government institutions and agencies, making it harder for them to operate effectively.”
In Afghanistan, eight U.S. troops died Thursday when they were hit by two different explosions while on foot patrol in Kandahar province. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives came close Thursday to passing a measure to speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The vote was 215 to 204, with 178 Democrats and 26 Republicans supporting the measure.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Pakistan in an effort to mend relations following the secret U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Clinton said Pakistan must take “decisive steps” in the days ahead to fight terrorism. Meanwhile, Pakistan has agreed to allow the CIA to send a forensics team to examine the compound where bin Laden was killed.
Subsidiaries of Bank of America and Morgan Stanley have agreed to settle federal lawsuits for wrongfully foreclosing on the homes of at least 178 active-duty military service members. The banks have agreed to pay out at least $22 million to compensate the victims.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a healthcare reform bill Thursday that will make Vermont the first state in the nation to offer single-payer healthcare. The Vermont Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aims to stem the rising cost of healthcare and provide universal coverage. Gov. Shumlin held a signing ceremony in Montpelier.
Gov. Shumlin: “We gather here today to launch the first single-payer healthcare system in America, to do in Vermont what has taken too long: have a healthcare system, the best in the world, that treats healthcare as a right and not a privilege. Most importantly, a healthcare system that is sustainable, that spends our healthcare dollars making Vermonters healthy, not on insurance company profits, and not on waste and inefficiency. We will get this done in Vermont.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld an Arizona law that allows the state to shut down businesses that hire undocumented immigrants. The law has been opposed by both business and immigrant rights organizations. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer expressed concern that employers in Arizona may now err on the side of not hiring anyone who even looks like he or she could be an undocumented immigrant. The ruling is separate from another controversial Arizona immigration law now making its way through the court system. That law, S.B. 1070, empowers state and local law enforcement to stop, question and arrest whoever they suspect may be an undocumented immigrant.
Serbian officials have announced plans to extradite former military general, Ratko Mladic, to The Hague to face trial on genocide charges following his arrest Thursday after 15 years on the run. Mladic will be tried for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and the siege of Sarajevo. Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor at the U.N. war crimes tribunal, described the arrest of Mladic as extremely important.
Serge Brammertz: “I also think it’s a very strong signal, in general, in relation to supporting international justice, because it means that, sooner or later, those allegedly responsible for the worst crimes will be one day arrested. So I think it’s very important. Now it’s up to Serbia to go through their proceedings. We will see what will happen in this regard in the coming days. And of course we hope very much that he will arrive as soon as possible in The Hague to make sure that his trial can start as soon as possible.”
The Wall Street Journal is reporting Saudi Arabia is rallying Muslim nations across the Middle East and Asia to join an informal Sunni alliance against Iran and Shiite protesters in Bahrain. Critics warn the Saudi effort could further destabilize the region and spark sectarian violence. Saudi officials have approached Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Central Asian states to lend diplomatic support—and potentially military assistance—to help stifle a majority Shiite revolt in Sunni-led Bahrain. A Pakistani battalion has been in Bahrain since before the unrest began to help train Bahraini forces, but reportedly has not taken part in the crackdown.
French police detained some 100 people protesting against the Group of Eight summit Thursday as protests sprung up across the country to mark the two-day summit. In the city of Le Havre, demonstrators occupied a branch of the BNP bank that they said helped finance the nuclear industry.
Protester: “We are here to condemn two things. Nuclear power, because BNP is the bank that invests the most in nuclear power in the world, at a global level. This is also the bank that does the most tax evasion in France: 1.9 billion euros of tax evasion in 2010. It’s a record. Sixty-nine branches in the tax havens.”
In Paris, Doctors Without Borders hung a giant banner advocating free medical care outside the Paris stock exchange building. Another group of activists managed to get inside the Paris offices of credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s. Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo harshly criticized the G8 summit.
Kumi Naidoo: “The G8 is basically a cartel, a self-appointed cartel of eight dominant nations, which carry actually the biggest responsibility collectively for climate change and a whole range of other issues. What we are concerned about the G8 is — and if you have a look at the draft communiqués that have been leaked now — is it’s a regurgitation every year of the same commitments, repackaged and restated. This is not leadership. This is fraudulence, and it needs to be addressed.”