Syrian activists say the death toll from a government attack on the restive city of Hama reached 45 on Wednesday amidst intensified operations from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to crush a pro-democracy uprising. According to witnesses, the victims were killed after coming under heavy gunfire and tank shelling from Syrian forces. If confirmed, the latest deaths would push the toll over the past week to around 200.
As the violence escalates in Syria, U.N. Security Council members condemned the regime of President Bashar al-Assad after three days of debate. The current Security Council president, Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, read out the U.N. statement.
Hardeep Singh Puri: “The Security Council condemns the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities. The Security Council calls for an immediate end to all violence and urges all sides to act with utmost restraint and to refrain from reprisals, including attacks against state institutions. The Security Council calls on the Syrian authorities to fully respect human rights and to comply with their obligations under applicable international law.”
After the vote, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria to grant passage to international aid workers and a fact-finding U.N. delegation.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “I further urge them to comply with the Security Council’s demand to allow independent and unimpeded access to international humanitarian agencies and to cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. All killings should be investigated fully, independently and transparently.”
In Washington, the Obama administration increased its denunciation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying it is time for him to step down. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Assad can go because the United States does not view him as “indispensable.”
Jay Carney: “Once again, President Assad has shown that he is completely incapable and unwilling to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people. His use of torture, corruption and terror puts him on the wrong side of history and his people. As we have stated, President Assad is not indispensable, and the U.S. has nothing invested in Assad remaining in power. We do not want to see him remain in Syria for stability’s sake, and rather, we view him as the cause of instability in Syria.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s comments on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s utility to U.S. government interests coincided with the Egypt court appearance of longtime U.S. ally, Hosni Mubarak, whom the Obama administration supported until he was finally forced out of office in February. In his first public showing since his resignation, Mubarak was wheeled into the court on a stretcher to face trial for corruption and the killing of protesters. Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa, as well as six former officers, were also arraigned. The case was adjourned until later this month. Thousands of Egyptians gathered in public spaces to watch the proceedings.
Cairo resident: “In the past 30 years, today is the first day of a lawful state, with laws that are implemented on everyone. And today, for the ousted President Mubarak and his sons to be in the dock, this is a message for whoever will come after him and whoever will do wrong. From now on, they’ll know that they belong in prison.”
The United Nations says the devastating famine in southern Somalia has spread to three more areas. Two districts of the Middle Shabelle region as well as refugee camps in two other zones have surpassed the threshold for famine. The United Nations says all of southern Somalia is likely to be declared in a state of famine within six weeks. In a statement, the United Nations called the response so far “inadequate,” citing the restrictions on delivering aid imposed by the militant group al-Shabab as well as “funding gaps” from international donors. At a refugee camp in Ethiopia, U.N. aid official Joe Hegenauer said the toll on children has been devastating.
Joe Hegenauer: “It’s very alarming. These small children that you see in these MSF feeding centers are just really malnourished, and this population is very hungry and very tired, and they need water and help. And I think they’ll get it in the next few days, but it’s a crowd that really needs help.”
Judith Muller, World Food Programme: “For the newly arrived children under five, the malnutrition rate is up to 50 percent. This is extreme, more than three times the emergency level.”
President Obama marked his 50th birthday on Wednesday with a fundraiser in his hometown of Chicago. In a speech to supporters, Obama reflected on his campaign catchwords of “change” and “hope” in the aftermath of the deficit showdown with Republicans.
President Obama: “Precisely because the challenges were so daunting, precisely because we were inheriting so many challenges, that we’re not even halfway there yet. When I said change we can believe in, I didn’t say change we can believe in tomorrow, not change we can believe in next week. We knew this was going to take time, because we’ve got this big, messy, tough democracy.”
Earlier in the day, President Obama called on Congress to resolve a budget impasse that threatens to leave 74,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees out of work through Labor Day.
President Obama: “This is a lose-lose-lose situation that can be easily solved if Congress gets back into town and does its job. And they don’t even have to come back into town. The House and the Senate could, through a procedural agreement, basically do this through unanimous consent. And they can have the fights that they want to have when they get back. Don’t put the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk. Don’t put projects at risk. And don’t let a billion dollars, at a time when we’re scrambling for every dollar we can, get left on the table because Congress did not act.”
The Gaddafi regime is claiming it has forged an alliance with Islamist rebels to remove the secular Libyan opposition leading the five-month-old uprising. Speaking to the New York Times, Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, said Islamist rebels have agreed to work with the regime to drive out the liberal heads of Libya’s Transitional National Council. Gaddafi’s comments come as a regime spokesperson said rebels had been defeated in the town of Zlitan.
Moussa Ibrahim: “Of course, as usual, they made the same pathetic NATO-covered advance towards Zlitan, not into Zlitan, towards Zlitan. But they were hit back by our armed forces and by the Zlitan volunteers. Maybe you have heard about their losses. They lost many, many of their fighters. We indeed acquired many of their vehicles, many of their French and Qatari weapons, cars, rifles, and we captured many of them. So they failed miserably. Zlitan is a free city under our full control.”
Haiti is bracing for torrential rain with the arrival of Tropical Storm Emily. Weather experts have warned the storm could trigger dangerous floods and mudslides, threatening more displacement on top of the 600,000 earthquake survivors already living in makeshift camps. A foreign aid worker said relief efforts are in place nationwide.
Worker: “We’ve prepared. We’ve pre-positioned food in 35 areas all across Haiti. We’ve put food in place. We have trucks also that are in place. We have put food supplies there that are sufficient to provide food assistance to people, to Haitians, after a storm, for 517,000 Haitians, and we’re going to be able to help them for a total of 26 days.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing the first-ever set of national standards to limit the harmful effects of the controversial gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The agency has been barred from regulating fracking since 2005, leaving oversight to state governments. Under the new proposal, the EPA would be able to limit emissions released during several stages of natural gas production and development. The EPA would also seek to reduce emissions of toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene. A deadline to finalize the rules has been set for February 2012, but the country’s main oil and gas lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, is pushing for a six-month delay.
The food product giant Cargill has ordered the recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey following at least one death from Salmonella. Cargill says it is pulling all turkey products originating at its processing plant in Springdale, Arkansas.
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