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Greek police have detained at least 130 people after a night of unrest following Greek lawmakers’ passage of a controversial package of austerity measures in exchange for a European Union-International Monetary Fund bailout. Greek lawmakers agreed to fire 15,000 public employees, cut the minimum wage by 22 percent, and cut pension plans. The vote took place as 100,000 people protested outside the Parliament building. Greece’s coalition government expelled 43 deputies for voting against the deal. Police said 150 shops were looted in the capital and 48 buildings were set ablaze after the vote.
Major protests were held in other parts of Europe. In Portugal, as many as 300,0000 packed Lisbon’s Palace Square in the largest rally against austerity and economic hardships since the country resorted to a European Union-International Montetary Fund bailout last May.
In Belgium, several hundred firefighters sprayed police officers with freezing-cold water during anti-austerity protests. The firefighters also hosed down the prime minister’s office in protest to the government’s plans to raise the retirement age.
The New York Times is reporting the nation’s top Special Operations officer is seeking the authority to deploy special forces anywhere in the world without normal Pentagon oversight. As part of the plan, Admiral William McRaven wants Special Operations forces to expand their presence in Asia, Africa and Latin America. McRaven also wants the authority to quickly move his units to potential hot spots without going through the standard Pentagon process governing overseas deployments.
The Arab League has called for the United Nations Security Council to send peacekeepers to Syria. In addition, the Arab League passed a resolution to provide all forms of political and material support to the Syrian opposition. This comes after another violent weekend in Syria. The Syrian military is reportedly continuing to shell the city of Homs. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has blamed the opposition for the deadly bombing in the city of Aleppo Friday that killed 28 people just outside a Syrian security compound. On Saturday, a top Syrian general was assassinated in a residential neighborhood of Damascus. The New York Times reports arms are pouring into Syria from Iraq and other Middle East nations as the fighting in Syria escalates into a regional conflict. Over the weekend, Ayman al-Zawahiri called on Muslims to support Syrian rebels. In addition, Amnesty International organized a global day of action in solidarity with the protesters in Syria and across the Middle East.
Salil Shetty: “The message to them is that you are not alone. So this is happening across the world, 16 cities, not just in Europe and North America, but in Asia, Africa, Latin America, telling the people of Syria that we know you are going through a very difficult time, your rights are being violated, we are with you.”
In campaign news, the Maine Republican Party has declared Mitt Romney to be the winner of the state’s caucus after he beat Ron Paul by just 194 votes. Paul’s team is claiming it could still win the caucus because one county postponed its caucus due to a snowstorm. Meanwhile, Romney beat Rick Santorum in a straw poll of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Santorum accused Romney of rigging the vote. Numerous reports have emerged indicating Romney bused college students to the conference and paid the registration fees for supporters. On Friday, Romney addressed CPAC attendees.
Mitt Romney: “I spent 25 years balancing budgets, eliminating waste, and, by the way, keeping as far away from government as humanly possible. I did—I did some of the very things conservatism is designed for. I started new businesses and turned around broken ones. And I’m not ashamed to say that I was successful in doing it.”
President Obama will release an election-year budget today that raises taxes on millionaires, seeks billions of dollars for job-creating infrastructure projects, and commits to $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. Obama’s budget will also repeat a call for $360 billion in reductions to Medicare and Medicaid.
Catholic Church leaders are vowing to fight President Obama’s controversial birth-control insurance coverage policy despite his compromise that religious employers would not have to offer free contraceptives for workers. Under a compromise announced on Friday, Obama said religious employers could opt out of providing coverage, but their workers could then ask their insurance company for that benefit, and the company would be required to provide it free of charge.
President Barack Obama: “The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly. Let me repeat: these employers will not have to pay for or provide contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women.”
New government figures have revealed more civilian contractors working for U.S. companies died in Afghanistan than U.S. soldiers last year. At least 430 employees of American contractors were reported killed in 2010, but analysts say the true number of contractor deaths may be much higher. In comparison, 418 U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan last year. According to the Pentagon, there are now 113,000 defense contractors in Afghanistan and 90,000 U.S. soldiers.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has been indicted on contempt charges after the Pakistani Supreme Court accused him of repeatedly ignoring the high court’s orders to revive longstanding corruption proceedings against President Asif Ali Zardari. If convicted, Gilani would be barred from holding office for five years and could serve up to six months in prison.
Hundreds of Pakistanis held a protest Sunday against U.S. drone strikes. Protesters burned an effigy of President Obama. In related news, Pakistan’s foreign minister has publicly warned U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan are counterproductive and leading to the radicalization of many Pakistanis. Hina Rabbani Khar made the comment in an interview on the TV channel Russia Today.
Hina Rabbani Khar: “In our view, drones are not only completely illegal and unlawful and have no authorization to be used within the domains of international law, but even more importantly, they are counterproductive to your objective of getting this region rid of militancy and terrorism and extremism, because if one strike leads to getting you target number one or target number three today, you are creating five more targets or 10 more targets, in the militancy that it breeds, in the fodder that it gives to the militants to attract more people to join their ranks.”
In business news, the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is growing. On Saturday, British authorities arrested eight people, including five employees of Murdoch’s newspaper, The Sun. The arrests came as part of an investigation into bribery of public officials by journalists. Murdoch could face legal problems here in the United States for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which criminalizes the payment of bribes to public officials by American companies overseas.
Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama is facing a congressional ethics probe to determine if he violated insider-trading laws. Bachus is chair of the House Financial Services Committee. The Washington Post is reporting Bachus made numerous trades in recent years, some of them coinciding with major policy announcements by the federal government and industries under his congressional oversight.
The newly installed president of the Maldives is rejecting calls for a new election following last week’s coup. Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik replaced Mohamed Nasheed last week after what Nasheed described as an armed coup. Nasheed was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives. On Sunday, Waheed said now was not the time for a new election.
Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik: “I don’t agree that there is a need to go for a snap election at the moment, and we are not ready for it. The country is deeply divided. And we have—the political landscape has many potholes and deep rifts, and so these things have to be healed before we can actually have a meaningful free and fair election.”
Mohamed Nasheed has vowed to keep pushing for democracy in the Maldives.
Mohamed Nasheed: “I’m always worried about being arrested and beaten up and tortured. But we have to do what we have to do. I think the amount of the people that are always around us and the support that we are getting is creating a situation where it is very difficult for the police to drag me out.”
Peru has announced Comrade Artemio, the leader of the Shining Path, has been captured alive. The rebel leader was reportedly found badly wounded after a clash with troops in a remote jungle region.