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The U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan has apologized for an air strike last week that killed eight young Afghan children. Local residents blamed NATO at the time, but it took several days for NATO to admit fault. Earlier today, NATO’s communications director, General Lewis Boone, confirmed the bombing and expressed regret.
Gen. Lewis Boone: “I would like to first express our most sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the eight victims of this small community, in which eight young Afghans lost their lives as a result of an air strike by coalition forces. Despite all tactical directives being followed precisely, we know now the unfortunate results of this engagement.”
According to the United Nations, civilian casualties in Afghanistan increased for a fifth straight year in 2011 from nearly 2,800 to more than 3,000.
European finance ministers have canceled a key meeting on Greece’s financial crisis, saying Greek officials have failed to meet all the required conditions for a massive bailout. Greek lawmakers approved a second austerity measure on Sunday that would lead to massive public sector layoffs and benefit cuts. But eurozone finance ministers say Greek leaders have failed to offer assurances the austerity measures will be implemented following massive protests in the capital, Athens.
Syrian forces have launched new operations targeting opposition activists as the bombardment of the city of Homs continues for a 12th day. Syrian tanks have reportedly shelled areas of Hama, Syria’s fourth largest city. Raids against opposition activists have also been conducted in the capital Damascus. In Homs, an oil pipeline was attacked earlier today, setting off a major blaze. The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, has announced it will hold a referendum on a new draft constitution later this month, followed by parliamentary elections within 90 days. Opposition activists are already vowing to boycott the votes, calling them a front to maintain Assad’s grip on power.
The U.S.-backed monarchy in Bahrain imposed a heavy security presence in the capital city of Manama to deter protesters marking the first anniversary of the start of pro-democracy protests. Armored vehicles patrolled Manama as state forces fired tear gas at a group of activists gathered at the Pearl Roundabout, the focal point of opposition demonstrations. A number of people were arrested, including six U.S. citizens with the group Witness Bahrain who have come to monitor the crackdown. All six will be deported. Their expulsions follow the deportations of another two U.S. activists from Bahrain earlier this week.
President Obama hosted Chinese Vice President, and presumptive leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping at the White House on Tuesday as part of a key U.S. visit. Xi is in line to assume the Chinese presidency in March 2013. As the two sat in the Oval Office, Obama said he would press China on its human rights policies and on currency manipulation.
President Obama: “We want to work with China to make sure that everybody is working by the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system, and that includes ensuring that there is a balanced trade flow between not only the United States and China, but around the world. It also means that on critical issues like human rights, we will continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of recognizing the aspirations and rights of all people.”
Outside the White House, hundreds of people rallied to protest China’s treatment of Tibet, ethnic Uyghurs and members of the Falun Gong. Alim Seytoff of the Uyghur American Association urged President Obama to pressure Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on alleged human rights abuses.
Alim Seytoff: “Our hope is that when President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, would raise—in addition to other security and trade issues, would raise human rights issues, specifically in the case of Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, and in addition to the Chinese dissidents and lawyers who have been locked up and disappeared.”
A prison fire in Honduras has killed at least 272 inmates, many of whom burned to death in their cells. The deaths were blamed on the absence of a guard who had the cell keys. The fire erupted Tuesday night at a prison about 90 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appeared before lawmakers on Tuesday to defend President Obama’s plans to increase the military budget by lower levels than in previous years. Panetta insisted the United States will spare no resources in military operations in Asia.
Leon Panetta: “There is nothing like a carrier to be able to allow for quick deployment in that area, and that will give us a great capacity to be able to show our force structure in the Pacific. In addition to that, we’re going to maintain, obviously, a military presence. We already have one in Korea, but we’re going to maintain an additional rotational presence with our marines throughout that area. We’ve just developed an agreement with Australia to do a rotational presence there. We’re working with the Philippines on hopefully a similar arrangement there, as well.”
Congressional leaders have reached a tentative compromise to extend the payroll tax cut through the end of 2012, saving families who make $50,000 a year an estimated $1,000 annually. The plan would also stop benefits for the long-term unemployed from expiring next month, as well as blocking a cut in reimbursements to doctors who accept Medicare. Republicans dropped several controversial provisions, including one that required jobless people to pursue high school equivalency degrees in order to receive aid.
Hundreds of people rallied at the Alabama State House in Montgomery on Tuesday in protest of the state’s controversial anti-immigrant law. The measure has already forced thousands of undocumented immigrants, primarily Latino, to flee the state. The law’s provisions include requirements for the checking of immigration status during traffic stops by police or for state workers processing license requests, public school enrollment and driver’s permits. Activists came to the State House from across Alabama and say they plan to remain for several days. Alabama lawmakers have promised to modify the law, but opponents are calling for its full repeal.
A group of dog lovers rallied outside the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday in protest of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Animal rights group have criticized Romney for transporting his dog in a kennel tied to the roof of his car during a family vacation in the 1980s. The protesters demonstrated against Romney with their pets in tow.
Alan Charney: “The main purpose of this was really to use the dog show as a backdrop to get the information out to the general public about Mitt Romney and the mistreatment of the dog many years ago and what that says about his character and what that says about his fitness to be president of the United States. Someone who can mistreat his dog the way Mitt Romney did is probably not the kind of person that we want as president of the United States.”
A new report has found deep flaws in the U.S. voter registration system, including the presence of more than 1.8 million dead people still listed as active voters. Researchers with the Pew Center on the States also found that 24 million active voter registrations — that’s one in every eight — are either invalid or inaccurate. Meanwhile, an estimated one-fourth of U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote are not registered.
The Florida State Senate has defeated a measure that would have privatized at least 27 prisons, creating the largest corporate-run prison system in the country. Supporters of the Florida plan had touted it as a cost-saving measure, while critics said it would harm state workers and lead to a profit-driven system. Despite the vote, Republican Gov. Rick Scott could still privatize the prisons through executive authority. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of prisoners being added to privately run jails is outpacing the overall prison population by 17 percent compared to 4 percent.