A suicide car bomber has killed at least nine people in an attack on a military airport in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was “revenge” for the recent Koran burning at a NATO base. Violent protests have shaken Afghanistan for the past week over the Koran burning and have complicated U.S. plans to draw down troops. Thousands of Afghans have taken to the streets, and at least 30 people have been killed in the protests in recent days. On Sunday, six U.S. forces were injured in northern Afghanistan when a demonstrator threw a grenade at a U.S. base. Meanwhile, the United States, Britain, Germany and France pulled out their advisers helping the Afghan government on Sunday, one day after two senior U.S. Army officers were shot dead inside a high-security command center at the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul.
In campaign news, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum criticized President Obama on Sunday for apologizing to the Afghan people for the Koran burning incident.
Rick Santorum: “There was no act that needed an apology. It was an inadvertent act, and it should have been left at that. And I think the response needs to be apologized for by Karzai and the Afghan people of attacking and killing our men and women in uniform and overreacting to this inadvertent mistake. That is—that is the real crime here, not what our soldiers did.”
The Associated Press has revealed millions of dollars in White House money has helped pay for New York City Police Department programs that have put entire Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance across the Northeast. The money is part of a little-known grant intended to help law enforcement fight drug crimes. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. Some of that money has paid for the cars that plainclothes NYPD officers used to conduct surveillance on Muslim neighborhoods. It also paid for computers that store information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events. The White House has refused to say if it endorses the New York City police spy campaign.
At least 59 civilians and soldiers were reportedly killed on Sunday in Syria while voters went to the polls to approve a new constitution proposed by President Bashar al-Assad that could keep him in power until 2028. Syrian artillery are continuing to pummel rebel-held areas of Homs. The International Committee of the Red Cross is attempting to secure a pause in the fighting to allow the wounded to be evacuated and desperately needed aid to be delivered. International leaders remain divided over how to deal with the Syrian crisis. On Friday, Saudi Arabia backed the idea of arming the anti-Assad rebels, a proposal strongly opposed by Russia. President Obama talked about Syria on Friday.
President Obama: “And we are going to continue to keep the pressure up and look for every tool available to prevent the slaughter of innocents in Syria. And this is an area where I think the Prime Minister and I have deeply agreed it’s important that we not be bystanders during these extraordinary events.”
The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has begun publishing what it says are 5.5 million emails obtained from the servers of Stratfor, a private U.S.-based intelligence gathering firm with about 300,000 subscribers. The emails were reportedly obtained by the hackers cooperate, Anonymous. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports some of the leaked emails suggest Israel may have sent commandos into Iran, perhaps with the assistance of Kurdish fighters or Iranian Jews, to carry out operations to destroy Iranian nuclear installations.
In a front-page article published on Saturday, the New York Times reports U.S. intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb. According to the article, recent assessments by U.S. spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier.
Israel has signed a $1.6 billion arms deal with Azerbaijan. The deal includes the sale of drones, as well as anti-aircraft and missile defense systems, for the former Soviet state, which borders Iran.
Yemen’s new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has been sworn into office, taking power from Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years. Hadi, who was Saleh’s vice president, took office after elections last week in which he was the sole candidate. Saleh returned to Yemen for the handover ceremony. Hadi is expected to be a close ally to the United States. On Saturday, he vowed to continue battling al-Qaeda.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi: “Continuing the fighting against al-Qaeda, as it is a national and religious duty, which will make the displaced people of Abyan return to their homes.”
In news from Africa, the United States has carried out another deadly drone strike inside Somalia. U.S. officials said four fighters with al-Shabab died in the attack.
An Egyptian court on Sunday adjourned the trial of pro-democracy activists accused of illegally receiving funds from abroad. Sixteen U.S. citizens are among 43 defendants targeted in a judicial probe of illegal funding of civil society groups that has strained ties between Egypt and Washington. Many of the Americans work for three groups that receive government funding: the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House. Egypt’s IRI office is headed by Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The IRI and NDI have long been accused of meddling in foreign affairs.
A prominent Palestinian youth activist named Fadi Quran was arrested and detained by Israeli authorities Friday while demonstrating in Hebron, West Bank. Video posted online shows Israeli soldiers violently grabbing Quran and then smashing his head into the bumper of a van. Quran is a U.S. citizen who graduated from Stanford University. Time Magazine recently profiled Quran, describing him as a key leader of a new nonviolent youth movement in the Occupied Territories.
The Wall Street Journal reports the National Security Agency is seeking the power to monitor computer networks domestically in order to block or preempt cyber-attacks. Under the proposal, the NSA would be able to scan for cyberthreats but not monitor the content of communications. The proposal has touched off a debate in the Obama administration due to concerns about privacy and civil liberties. Under the law, the NSA cannot intercept domestic communications without a warrant.
In campaign news, the Republican candidates have entered their last full day of campaigning before Tuesday’s primaries in Michigan and Arizona. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney picked up the endorsement of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer over the weekend, but he has been repeatedly forced to defend his massive wealth. He has been widely criticized for a comment he made in Detroit Friday about his fleet of cars, including his wife’s Cadillacs.
Mitt Romney: “I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has urged a federal court to block a South Carolina voter ID law from taking effect. The ACLU said the law would have a disproportionate effect on minority voters.
A judge in Louisiana has delayed the start of the BP oil spill trial to give lawyers more time to reach a settlement. Bloomberg is reporting BP is close to agreeing to a $14 billion settlement with plaintiffs who sued over the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Actions are planned across the country today for a day of protest dubbed Occupy Our Food Supply. Organizers are seeking to “end corporate exploitation of our food systems, create local, just, fair food solutions, and resist corporate control of our food supply.”
Eighteen students at the University of Virginia have entered their ninth day on a hunger strike calling for a living wage for the university’s lowest-paid workers. The protest received a boost last week when University of Virginia football player Joseph Williams joined the strike.
In labor news, the owner of a factory in Chicago has agreed to keep the plant open for 90 more days after workers locked themselves inside on Thursday. About 65 workers at the Goose Island plant occupied the plant after the firm, Serious Energy, announced plans to close the plant and consolidate its operations. In 2008, some of the same workers were involved in a famous six-day sit-in after Republic Windows and Doors gave workers just three days’ notice before closing the factory.
Spain’s Supreme Court has cleared the prominent judge Baltasar Garzón of violating a 1977 amnesty law with his investigation of Franco-era crimes. Two right-wing groups had accused Garzón of overstepping his powers by trying to prosecute crimes committed between 1936 and 1975. Garzón had said crimes against humanity should not be subject to an amnesty. Earlier this month, Garzón was suspended from the bench for 11 years after being found guilty of illegal phone-tapping.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela was hospitalized briefly this weekend due to what was described as “long-standing abdominal pain.” He was held for one night and released on Sunday.
The 2012 Academy Awards were announced on Sunday. “The Artist” won best picture. There a number of notable winners. Eighty-two-year-old Christopher Plummer became the oldest Oscar winner ever for his supporting role in “Beginners.” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy became the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Oscar for her documentary, “Saving Face,” about acid attack victims. And “A Separation” became the first Iranian film to win best foreign film. Asghar Farhadi wrote and directed the film.
Asghar Farhadi: “At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us, and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or a filmmaker, but because, at the time, when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment. Thank you so much.”
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