Thousands of Greek demonstrators have begun gathering in front of the parliament in Athens at the start of a 48-hour general strike. Union leaders called for the strike to protest against deep budget cuts demanded by international lenders as the price for more financial aid. The Greek parliament is due to vote this week on a package of spending cuts, tax increases and privatizations agreed as part of a massive bailout aimed at averting the eurozone’s first default. Greek protesters have condemned the government’s plans.
Nektarios Amartzis, singer: “These measures are destroying the Greek people. Unfortunately, the measures will be passed through parliament. The people on the outside must not accept them. Whatever they vote inside, we must not accept it in any form, because the people are suffering, and our children will suffer.”
The Wall Street Journal reports Greece is considering privatizing much of the country including the state lottery, a state horse-racing concession, several ports, a national post office, two water companies, a munitions maker, electricity and gas monopolies, a telecommunications operator, hundreds of miles of roads and thousands of acres of land, including magnificent stretches of Greece’s famed coast.
Japanese authorities revealed today that 15 tons of radioactive water was discovered to have leaked into the ground from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility. Meanwhile, Japanese researchers have released the results of radiation tests conducted on 15 people who lived in towns about 25 miles from the plant. Radioactive cesium was found in all 15 people. Radioactive iodine was found in six of them. In related news, Japanese officials say radiation meters will be distributed in the coming months to about 34,000 children living in the largest city near the nuclear plant to monitor their exposure levels. The dosimeters will be given to children between the ages of four and 15 living in Fukushima City, about 45 miles from the nuclear facility.
In New Mexico, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the main nuclear weapons lab in the United States, has been shut down for a second day as a massive wildfire approaches the facility. The anti-nuclear watchdog group, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, says the fire now appears to be about 3.5 miles from a dump site at the lab where as many as 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste are stored in fabric tents above ground.
Israel is continuing to threaten a group of international activists who are planning to sail to Gaza this week with humanitarian aid. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said participants in the 10-boat flotilla were seeking “confrontation and blood.” Last year, Israeli forces killed nine activists aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara. Ehud Barak is Israel’s Defense Minister.
Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister: “The instruction that I gave to the Israeli Defense Forces, backed by the cabinet, is to stop the maritime vessels in case they try to reach (Gaza). We will warn them, explain and try to avoid confrontation. But at the end of the day the flotilla cannot get to Gaza, and therefore we call upon all involved to cancel it and determine that in such a case of any kind of confrontation or damage, the responsibility lies with the participants and organizers of the flotilla.”
Meanwhile, activists say one of the 10 boats scheduled to sail to Gaza has been sabotaged in a Greek port. Saboteurs reportedly cut off the propeller shaft of a ship shared by Swedish, Norwegian and Greek activists. Organizers say the boat will be repaired in time to sail to Gaza.
The Libyan government has dismissed the arrest warrants for Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi and two of his closest aides. Libya says it rejects the charges of war crimes and does not recognize the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court. But Libyans in rebel-held areas of the country celebrated news of the arrest warrants.
Huda Al-Hajj Mohammed, Misurata resident: “We’ve been waiting not from the beginning of February, not from the beginning of this revolution, [but] from 42 years ago. And I hope justice will prevail and everyone will be happy.”
In Damascus, 190 members of the Syrian opposition were allowed to hold a rare public meeting Monday, the first since Syria’s anti-government uprising began. Most of the participants called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to surrender absolute power. Meanwhile, video has been posted online that reportedly shows Syrian security forces beating men in Damascus with batons and stuffing them into the trunk of a car.
In Afghanistan, more than 250,000 Afghans have fled their villages during the past two years of fighting. This according to a new report from Refugees International. The group’s report criticized U.S. military efforts, saying, “The increasing use of air strikes by the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan national security forces as well as night raids by U.S. Special Forces is destroying homes, crops and basic infrastructure, traumatizing civilians and displacing tens of thousands of people.” Refugees International says the number of people fleeing their homes in Afghanistan has more than doubled over the past year.
In Pakistan, two U.S. drones have killed at least 21 people in South Waziristan on Monday.
In one of its final decisions of the term, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of Arizona’s public-financing law on Monday. In a 5-to-4 decision, the justices invalidated a key part of the law that provides additional public money to political candidates for state office who face big-spending opponents. The Supreme Court also struck down on First Amendment grounds a California law that barred the sale of violent video games to youth. Meanwhile, the high court rejected an appeal from former prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq who wanted to sue the military contractors CACI International and Titan Corp over claims of abuse and torture.
A federal judge has blocked key parts of a Georgia law modeled on last year’s anti-immigrant measure in Arizona. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash of Atlanta struck down provisions that would have criminalized those who help undocumented immigrants and require police to verify the legal status of anyone not carrying identification. Judge Thrash ruled the Georgia measures violate federal jurisdiction over immigration enforcement. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley is preparing to sign a similar measure into law, following its approval in the state legislature last week.
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved a U.S.-drafted resolution authorizing the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops to Sudan’s disputed Abyei region for a six-month period. The vote comes a week after North and South Sudan signed a deal in Addis Ababa to demilitarize Abyei and let Ethiopian troops monitor the peace. South Sudan is due to secede from the north to form a new nation on July 9. But the north and south have yet to agree on who will control Abyei. Meanwhile, aid workers have reported continued bombing in South Kordofan, which borders both Abyei and South Sudan. Philip Parham is the head of the British mission to the United Nations.
Philip Parham, Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.K. mission to the United Nations Security Council: “We remain deeply concerned about the situation in South Kordofan, both the humanitarian situation and the security situation, including the aerial bombardment in that area by Sudanese armed forces. It’s crucial that the parties end hostilities as soon as possible and reach a peaceful conclusion to the situation there under the auspices of the AU (African Union) high-level implementation panel in Addis Ababa.”
A trial is underway in Cambodia for the four most senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge. The former officials face charges that include crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture. The Khmer Rouge is believed to have killed at least 1.7 million Cambodians during the late 1970s. All four of the accused have plead “not guilty” to the charges against them. Stephen Rapp is the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues.
Stephen Rapp, U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues: “This is such a traumatic event in the history of this country that touched on every single person here, a quarter of the population murdered, a country turned back to the year zero. And an understanding of why it happened and how it happened, I think, is really critical to going forward, and that’s, I think, why there’s such an outpouring of interest here and why it’s so important that the international community support this trial to the end.”
A trial has begun for five New Orleans police officers accused of shooting and killing unarmed citizens, then covering up their crimes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Federal prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein accused the officers of adopting a policy of “shoot first, ask questions later.” In the days that followed the 2005 hurricane, at least six people were killed following run-ins with the New Orleans Police Department, nearly all of them African Americans, including the infamous Danziger Bridge incident, during which officers shot six citizens, killing two.
There have been a series of developments in the struggle over reproductive rights in the United States. On Sunday, Wisconsin became the latest state to ban funding for the group Planned Parenthood and its nine clinics statewide. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker approved the cuts as part of a $66 billion budget bill slashing public spending. The move against Planned Parenthood follows earlier measures in Kansas and North Carolina. But in a blow to the defunding effort, a federal judge in Indiana has issued an injunction against a state law blocking Planned Parenthood from taking part in Medicaid. The Indiana ruling marked Planned Parenthood’s first ruling against the wave of defunding laws. Alabama, meanwhile, has recently become the sixth state to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, following Nebraska, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma. Reproductive rights groups have yet to file a lawsuit but say challenges are forthcoming.
Former Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich has been convicted on 17 different charges, including trying to sell or trade President Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat and attempting to shake down executives for campaign cash. Together, the charges would bear a maximum sentence of 300 years, but Blagojevich is likely to spend roughly a decade behind bars.
A 20-year-old Muslim woman from California has sued the clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch, claiming that the retailer fired her when she refused to remove her headscarf, known as a hijab, while working. Two other former Muslim employees of Abercrombie & Fitch filed similar lawsuits against the store.
Flood waters are beginning to slowly recede near the North Dakota town of Minot after record-breaking water levels displaced some 12,000 residents there and destroyed more than 4,000 homes. According to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesperson, just 375 of the 4,000 ruined homes were protected by flood insurance. Residents say they were led to believe the coverage was unnecessary because levees were constructed and the Souris River channel was straightened following a major flood in 1969. Residents are not expected to return to their homes for at least 10 days.