Greek protesters have attempted to block the way into parliament in Athens just before lawmakers were scheduled to vote on a sweeping austerity plan demanded by international creditors. The austerity plan calls for spending cuts, tax increases and privatizations to be implemented as conditions for a massive bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Much of Athens has been shut down as workers stage day two of a 48-hour general strike.
In Afghanistan, at least 10 civilians and police officers died on Tuesday when eight Taliban suicide bombers launched an overnight assault on the Intercontinental Hotel, one of the landmark hotels in Kabul. The attack lasted five hours and did not end until NATO helicopters killed the remaining militants in a rooftop battle. Some of the guests at the hotel were in Kabul to attend a conference due to begin today over the transition of civil and military responsibility from foreign forces to Afghans.
On Tuesday, officials from the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan met to discuss security in the region. Salman Bashir is Pakistan’s foreign secretary.
Salman Bashir, Pakistan Foreign Secretary: “We need to end this blame game. We need to take ownership for our affairs. And we need to let those of our friends who want to help us help us along the way.”
Saboteurs in Greece have reportedly damaged a second ship that was set to sail from Greece to Gaza as part of a humanitarian flotilla. Organizers of the flotilla said propellers on both ships were damaged. In addition, pipes leading to the engines were damaged to the extent that an explosion might have occurred once the ships set sail, had it gone unnoticed. The U.S.-flagged ship in the flotilla, The Audacity of Hope, is still awaiting permission from Greek authorities to leave port after complaints from an Israeli group prompted its inspection earlier this week. On Thursday, U.S. delegate members will be publicly unveiling the ship to the media.
A dispute has arisen in Israel over the Israeli government’s attempt to discredit the organizers of the flotilla. On Monday, Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibowitz publicly claimed there were “radical elements” among the activists participating in the sea convoy.
Israeli military spokeswoman, Avital Leibowitz: “It has come to our attention recently that the organizers of the flotilla are more violent than it first was perceived. We know for a fact today that the organizers of the flotilla are planning to use sulfuric acids against IDF soldiers.”
Earlier today, several Israeli ministers accused the army of pushing disinformation. The Israeli newspaper, Maariv, quoted several unnamed members of Israel’s security cabinet as saying that the army’s claims were “media spin” and “public relations hysteria.” Security cabinet ministers told the paper they were given no such information when they were briefed on the flotilla this week.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun monitoring the air in New Mexico for radiation as a massive wildfire approaches Los Alamos, the nation’s premier nuclear-weapons laboratory. The fire has forced the lab to be closed since Monday. Concern is growing that the fire could reach a section of the lab where as many as 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste are stored in fabric tents above ground. Mai Ting, a nearby resident, said, “If it gets to this contamination, it’s over — not just for Los Alamos, but for Santa Fe and all of us in between.”
The United Nations is warning that the Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in 60 years. The drought has affected more than 10 million in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. U.N. officials said in some areas the situation is close to that of famine. Malnutrition rates are quickly rising as food prices soar.
This comes as the chair of a top U.N. climate panel has announced plans to release a new report in November examining the link between climate change and extreme events like floods and drought that are taking place around the world.
Greenpeace has revealed that one of the world’s most prominent scientific figures to be skeptical about climate change has admitted to being paid more than $1 million in the past decade by major U.S. oil and coal companies. The climate skeptic, Willie Soon, works as an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Since 2001, he has received money from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and Koch Industries, along with Southern, one of the world’s largest coal-burning utility companies.
In Egypt, nearly 600 people have been reported injured in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after security forces attacked a large group of protesters overnight. Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports from Cairo.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous: “The clashes last night between thousands of protesters and government security forces marked some of the fiercest street battles in Egypt since the fall of [President] Hosni Mubarak. Central security forces lobbed numerous tear gas canisters at thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square. Rubber bullets were fired as well. Hundreds of people have been injured. These clashes are still ongoing right now, as I speak. People rushed to Tahrir in solidarity. This all began when police reportedly attacked, beat up and arrested family members of those killed in the revolution who have been protesting what they see as any lack of justice or accountability for the nearly 1,000 people killed in the revolution.”
In Saudi Arabia, five women have reportedly been taken into custody accused of driving in defiance of the nation’s ban on female drivers. Over the past several weeks, dozens of women have openly defied the ban and posted video online of themselves driving.
In business news, Bank of America has reportedly agreed to pay $8.5 billion to settle claims by investors that purchased mortgage securities that soured when the housing bubble burst. The $8.5 billion settlement is the single biggest settlement tied to the subprime mortgage boom and the subsequent financial crisis of 2008.
French Foreign Minister Christine Lagarde has become the first woman chosen to lead the International Monetary Fund. She will replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last month after his arrest in New York for sexually assaulting a hotel maid. Lagarde’s victory was sealed when U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said the United States would endorse her over the Mexican central bank governor Agustín Carstens. Carstens had sought to become the first non-European to head the Washington-based IMF.
In U.S. campaign news, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty accused President Barack Obama on Tuesday of a timid and incoherent response to the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East. Pawlenty also criticized Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Tim Pawlenty, Republican presidential candidate: “Nowhere has President Obama’s lack of judgment been more stunning than in his dealings with Israel. It breaks my heart that the president of this country treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem rather than as an ally. The President seems to genuinely believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the heart of every problem in the Middle East.”
After weeks of absence from the press, photos and videos have surfaced of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez recuperating in the company of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana. Chávez disappeared from public view on June 10, fueling widespread speculation about his health. Chávez reportedly traveled to Cuba to have an abscess removed. The most recent images of the Venezuelan president show him chatting with Castro and reading a Cuban paper.
Seven gay and lesbian couples are suing the state of New Jersey, arguing the state’s civil union law has failed to live up to its promise of providing them the same legal protections afforded to married couples. As a result, the group is calling on New Jersey to recognize same-sex marriage. Out the seven families behind the lawsuit, one man says he was denied the ability to make urgent medical decisions for his partner, while another saw the health insurance of his partner and children canceled by an auditor.
In Georgia, six young undocumented immigrants risked deportation on Tuesday by staging a protest in the state capitol. The demonstrators, mostly high-school-aged, were arrested after they sat and blocked traffic, declaring their status and denouncing anti-immigrant state policies. The young people were specifically directing their protest at a policy that bars Georgia’s most competitive universities from accepting undocumented immigrants. The protest is the latest in a string of so-called “coming out” demonstrations throughout the country, intended to pressure lawmakers into adopting policies that would favor young undocumented immigrants seeking higher education and other rights. Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the Senate held its first-ever hearing Tuesday on the DREAM Act, legislation that would provided young undocumented immigrants a legal pathway to citizenship through attending a university or serving in the military.
In Arkansas, 173 workers at a Tyson Food chicken processing plant required hospitalization after being exposed to chlorine gas on Monday. Five workers remain in intensive care. Another 50 remain hospitalized.
In New York City, 13 members of the group, New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, were arrested Tuesday for barricading themselves in the lobby of the City Council to prevent a vote on a compromise budget deal. The activists have slept outside of City Hall for two weeks at a camp they called “Bloombergville,” in protest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget proposal, which would have cut 6,100 teachers and made deep cuts to education spending and other social services. Late Friday, a budget deal was reached, sparing the majority of teacher jobs and spending cuts. But critics maintain all austerity measures can be averted by increasing taxes on the wealthy. Activists at Bloombergville continue to protest the 2,600 teachers lost to attrition, a $178 million cut to education spending, and the layoffs of 1,000 public sector employees. Ileia Burgos is an activist with New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts.
Ileia Burgos, New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts: “This proposal is still going to affect people who are the poorest in New York City. That’s going to be poor, elderly folk. That’s going to be mothers and children who are in need of these services that only the city can provide for free. It’s still going to affect mostly poor people of color. And like me, I’m amongst the working class, and I’m amongst the working poor in different sections. I have three jobs. I’m going to be one of those people who also needs medical coverage from the city. And this is who it’s going to affect, me and my family, people who are going to need it the most and can’t get it any other way, even though we work.”