The U.S. Department of State has released figures estimating that more than 29,000 children have died from famine in Somalia in the last 90 days. The toll marks the first time a casualty figure has been released since the crisis exploded last month. This week the United Nations warned the famine has spread to three new areas to cover five regions of southern Somalia. There are widespread fears all of southern Somalia could be declared in a state of famine by the middle of next month. In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the militant group al-Shabab for blocking relief efforts in regions under its control.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It is particularly tragic that during the holy month of Ramadan, al-Shabab are preventing assistance to the most vulnerable populations in Somalia, namely children, including infants and girls, and women who are attempting to bring themselves and those children to safety and to the potential of being fed before more deaths occur. I call on al-Shabab to allow assistance to be delivered in an absolutely unfettered way throughout the area that they currently control, so that as many lives as possible can be saved.”
Syrian forces continue to shoot civilian protesters in the city of Hama as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad tries to seize control of an opposition stronghold. At least 100 people have reportedly been killed in the last 24 hours, pushing the weekly toll to more than 250. At her news conference in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Assad regime has killed more than 2,000 people during the five-month popular uprising.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We’ve seen the Assad regime continue and intensify its violent assault against its own people this week. Sometimes you lose sight of the incredible tragedy unfolding on the streets by just looking at the numbers, which are so numbing, but the shooting death of a one-year-old recently by the Syrian regime’s tanks and troops is a very stark example of what is going on. We think, to date, the government is responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 people of all ages. And the United States has worked very hard to corral and focus international opinion to take steps toward a unified response to the atrocities that are occurring.”
Libyan rebels are claiming a son of Col. Muammar Gaddafi was among 32 people killed in a new NATO air strike on the western city of Zlitan. The rebels say Khamis Gaddafi died when a Gaddafi regime site was bombed overnight.
The Gaddafi regime is accusing NATO of killing three civilians in Zlitan: a mother and her two young sons. Journalists were shown the victims’ bodies on Thursday. Libyan government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim condemned the alleged attack.
Moussa Ibrahim: “In the city of Zlitan, you saw with your own eyes the dead bodies of small children and their mother. There are many other examples around the country. Unfortunately, we are only able to take you to some scenes of these crimes. These take place every day. Sometimes whole families are killed.”
The Obama administration has granted permission for the oil giant Shell to begin drilling exploratory wells in the Arctic Ocean next year. New permits had been frozen following the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico more than a year ago. But on Thursday, the White House continued with a resumption of new leases by allowing Shell to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. Alaskan Native and environmental groups are vowing legal challenges, saying the drilling could chase away sea life and contaminate the ocean. In a statement, the Center for Biological Diversity said, “From the perspective of ocean drilling and climate, it’s hard to see a difference between this administration and the last one.” The group Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, or REDOIL, said, “Our ecosystem and culture should not be put in jeopardy for the profit of a foreign oil giant.”
The Obama administration’s backing of Shell’s drilling in the Arctic Ocean comes just as the United Nations has issued a report on the extent of the environmental damage caused by Shell in Nigeria for more than 50 years. United Nations Environment Programme spokesperson Nick Nuttall said damage to Ogoniland in the Niger Delta is more extensive than previously thought.
Nick Nuttall: “The oil pollution has gone further and farther than perhaps many people previously supposed, so in terms of exposure to the people of Ogoniland, it’s probably true to say that, with this scientific evidence, there are probably more people at risk than had been supposed before this report came out. And certainly, one of the findings is that there are probably tens of thousands of wells in Ogoniland which could potentially be contaminated.”
The United Nations estimates it could take 30 years for the region to recover from widespread pollution and ecological damage. U.N. official Ibrahim Thiaw says around $1 billion will be needed to begin what would be the world’s largest oil clean-up effort.
Ibrahim Thiaw: “We feel that an initial investment of $1 billion will be necessary to actually do the initial clean-up of the topsoil over the next five years and to also cover some of the costs that are associated with that activity, including the capacity building activities, and the center for excellence that was proposed needs to be also supported.”
The new U.N. report on the extent of longstanding massive oil pollution in the Niger Delta comes just as Shell has accepted responsibility for two devastating oil spills in the Ogoniland region and agreed to settle claims. According to The Guardian of London, Shell faces a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars for its role in an oil spill that could match the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. Shell had previously maintained just 40,000 gallons of oil had leaked into Nigerian waters. But the spill could be as large as 10 million gallons.
The Pentagon is intensifying a public campaign to avoid new cuts to its massive budget under the plan to reduce the federal deficit. In his first news conference as Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta said additional cuts to the Pentagon would damage national security.
Leon Panetta: “All I know is that from the review we’ve been doing, for what we have to deal with in these numbers, that anything that doubles that would be disastrous to the defense budget. We’re already taking our share of the discretionary cuts as part of this debt ceiling agreement. And those are going to be tough enough. But I think anything beyond that would damage our national defense.”
Instead of targeting the military, Panetta says Congress should turn to tax hikes and major cuts to programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
A U.S. Army veteran has won court approval to sue former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for alleged unjust imprisonment and torture in Iraq. In court filings, the unidentified former soldier alleges he was jailed for nine months at Camp Cropper, a U.S. military prison in Baghdad for “high-value” detainees, while working as a translator for a Marine contractor in Anbar province. He had been preparing to come home when the U.S. military abducted him out of the blue and held him without charge. The veteran says he was repeatedly abused before ultimately being released in August 2006. The government claims he was suspected of aiding anti-U.S. fighters in Iraq, but he was never charged with a crime. In okaying the suit, the district judge in the case rejected the Obama administration’s argument that Rumsfeld cannot be sued personally for official conduct and that congressionally mandated presidential and congressional decisions cannot be reviewed by the courts.
President Obama has reached a temporary deal with congressional leaders to end an impasse that left thousands of Federal Aviation Administration employees out of work for nearly two weeks. Over 4,000 agency employees were kept off the job and tens of thousands of construction workers were idled in a dispute over funding for rural airports. The agreement allows for the workers to return to their jobs while differences between the two sides are worked out.
The Japanese government has fired three top officials responsible for nuclear power safety and oversight in the ongoing fallout over the crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The dismissed officials include the head of Japan’s nuclear safety agency. Record-high levels of radiation were discovered at the plant this week, five months after it began leaking in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is vowing to reach a sweeping agreement with workers and businesses by next month amidst concerns over a mounting debt crisis. Italian lawmakers approved a $67 billion austerity package last month following prodding by the International Monetary Fund. On Thursday, Italian activist Gaetano Ferrieri marked the two-month anniversary of a hunger strike he has launched outside the Italian parliament to protest the austerity measures. Ferrieri is surviving on vitamin supplements.
Gaetano Ferrieri: “The idea is to manage and bring the people to preside over Parliament, to completely eliminate this political class, the Mafia, the Freemasons, the caste that has ruined this society, making the weakest pay—therefore, to get the bankers arrested, to get the corrupt politicians arrested, and to put together a new set of reforms for Italy.”