At least one person has been killed in Pakistan as protesters fill the streets across several cities in what is expected to be a massive day of action against the U.S.-made film, “Innocence of Muslims.” The Pakistani government declared Friday a public holiday to allow people to demonstrate against the film, which mocks the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan shut down cellphone service in major cities as officials moved to block roads to U.S. diplomatic missions. In the Pakistani city of Peshawar, a driver named Muhammad Amir was shot dead by police as he drove through an area where protesters were torching a movie theater. Dozens of deaths, including that of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have already been linked to protests and violence that swept through Muslim countries around the world as a result of the film. A French cartoon depicting Muhammad in pornographic poses has only added new fodder to the global outcry. On Thursday, thousands of Pakistanis demonstrated in the capital of Islamabad as police and security forces attempted to block access to the U.S. embassy. At least 50 people were reportedly injured as police fired live rounds and tear gas. Protests were reported in multiple other countries Thursday, including Indonesia, Iran and Afghanistan, where hundreds of people held a peaceful march in Kabul and chanted anti-American slogans.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns held talks in Libya Thursday with the country’s new prime minister and head of the national congress following last week’s attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three of his staff. Burns attended a ceremony to honor Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
William Burns: “This is a hard moment for all of us. It is a moment of shared loss, and it is a moment of shared hope and shared responsibility. We have lost four wonderful colleagues. We have lost a brilliant ambassador, full of courage and skill and passionate determination to help Libyans, to help all of you to realize the promise of your revolution, to make a reality of a free Libya, of 'Libya al Hurra.'”
At least 15 people were killed and 20 wounded in Somalia after a pair of suicide bombers struck a cafe in Mogadishu. The spot was frequented by reporters, and three journalists, including the news director for Somali National Television, were among the dead.
In Syria, at least 54 people were reportedly killed and dozens more wounded when government air strikes triggered an explosion at a gas station in the northern part of the country. By some counts, nearly 200 people were killed across Syria Thursday amidst an escalating crisis between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels opposed to his regime. Meanwhile, at the U.N. Security Council, the United States and other Western countries condemned Iran for supplying weapons to the Syrian government. This is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
Susan Rice: “Iran’s arms exports to the murderous Assad regime in Syria are of particular concern. As a panel of experts has concluded, Syria is now the, quote, 'central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers,' end-quote. States in the region must therefore work together and redouble their efforts to deny, inspect and seize illicit Iranian shipments, including transfers via air corridors, in line with the cargo inspection provisions of Security Council Resolution 1929.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced the last of the more than 30,000 troops that entered Afghanistan following President Obama’s orders for a surge in 2009 have now left the country. Panetta claimed the surge had accomplished its mission of curbing the Taliban’s momentum and bolstering Afghan security forces. Nearly 70,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan amidst ongoing violence there, including an uptick in so-called green-on-blue attacks by Afghan forces against foreign troops.
The Pentagon has selected a former top Army commander who served in Afghanistan to oversee military operations in Africa. General David Rodriguez helped orchestrate the 2009 surge of troops in Afghanistan and also served two tours of duty in Iraq. Rodriguez still needs formal approval from the White House and confirmation from the Senate before replacing General Carter Ham as head of Africa Command. The Obama administration has taken a number of steps to expand the U.S. military presence in Africa and ramped up the use of covert operations by the military and intelligence agencies.
A Palestinian activist has agreed to end his hunger strike amidst signs of progress in the global campaign for his release. Zakaria Zubeidi, a former militant turned activist and director of Jenin’s Freedom Theatre, has been imprisoned by the Palestinian Authority since May. He has been on hunger strike since September 9. There were reports he could be released as early as Sunday.
Republican Senator Scott Brown faced Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in the first debate of their closely watched Massachusetts Senate race Thursday. Brown began by attacking Elizabeth Warren for claiming on past documents that she was Native American. Warren defended herself, saying she had been told growing up in Oklahoma that her mother was part Delaware and part Cherokee. The candidates sparred over a number of issues during the hour-long debate, including Iran, women’s rights and economic policy.
Sen. Scott Brown: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Professor Warren’s tax policies and her approach to them are the greatest threat to free enterprise. The NFIB said her tax policies would cut 700,000 jobs, 17,000 in Massachusetts. These are independent groups who have analyzed and pointed this out. I’m going to protect the hard-working men and women, the job creators, the people who are getting up in the middle of the night and creating jobs and protecting those interests.”
Jon Keller: “That was about 15 seconds. You take the same, and then we’re moving on.”
Elizabeth Warren: “Alright. So I think the point here is the Chamber of Commerce hasn’t talked about my particular proposals. What I’m talking about here is how Scott Brown has already voted, and also talking about what he said in his own voice last week he wanted to make crystal clear, and that is, he would let taxes go up for 98 percent of families in order to protect tax breaks for the top 2 percent. I wouldn’t do that.”
In an appearance on the Spanish-language network Univision on Thursday, President Obama faced tough questions over his immigration policies, including his failure to fulfill a campaign promise to enact comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office. Obama called the lack of immigration reform the “biggest failure” of his presidency but attempted to shift blame for the failure to Republicans.
President Obama: “When we talked about immigration reform in the first year, that’s before the economy was on the verge of collapse. Lehman Brothers had collapsed. The stock market was collapsing. And so, my first priority was making sure that we prevented us from going into a great depression. And I think everybody here remembers where we were four years ago. What I confess I did not expect, and so I’m happy to take responsibility for being naïve here, is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform — my opponent in 2008 who had been a champion of it and who attended these meetings — suddenly would walk away.”
Obama’s comments come as his administration faces scrutiny for deporting and detaining a record number of undocumented people. Nearly 400,000 immigrants were deported during the last fiscal year.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney also fielded questions about immigration during a Wednesday appearance on Univision. Romney attacked Obama’s deferred action policy that allows some undocumented young people to remain in the country temporarily, saying a more permanent solution was needed. Romney was accused during the appearance of avoiding specific details about a possible permanent solution and asked to respond with a yes or no on whether he would deport undocumented youth.
Mitt Romney: “We’re not going to —- we’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them. That’s not —— I said during my primary campaign, time and again, we’re not going to round up 12 million people, that includes the kids and the parents, and have everyone deported. Our system isn’t to deport people. We need to provide a long-term solution, and I’ve described the fact that I would be in support of a program that said that people who served in our military could be permanent residents of the United States. Unlike the president, when I’m president, I will actually do what I promised. I will put in place an immigration reform plan that solves this issue.”
Romney’s national campaign co-chair Tim Pawlenty is resigning from the campaign to lobby for Wall Street. The former Minnesota governor will head the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and other financial firms. Before working for Romney’s campaign, Pawlenty was considered a potential candidate for president and later as a possible vice-presidential pick.
An Australian public official has issued an unusually frank condemnation of U.S. Republicans. In a conference speech in Sydney on Friday, Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan cited certain segments of the Republican Party as a leading threat to the world’s economy and rebuked them in stark terms.
Wayne Swan: “Let’s be blunt and acknowledge the biggest threat to the world’s biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over a part of the Republican Party. Despite President Obama’s goodwill and strong efforts, the national interest there was held hostage by the rise of the extreme tea party wing of the Republican Party. And there can be few things more alarming in public policy than a political movement which was genuinely prepared to see the government of the United States default on its obligations in order to score a political point.”
In the Canadian province of Quebec, the new government has canceled a tuition hike that sparked mass protests earlier this year. New Quebec Premier Pauline Marois fulfilled a campaign promise less than 24 hours after the new government came to power by repealing the planned fee hike. Students had launched a massive strike over the increase with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets wearing red squares. Quebec’s tuition will now return to just more than $2,000.
The Russian punk group Pussy Riot will be awarded the LennonOno Peace Award by the artist and activist Yoko Ono today in New York City. Three members of Pussy Riot were sentenced last month to two years in prison for staging a protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin inside an Orthodox cathedral. The husband of jailed member Nadia Tolokonnikova will accept the award today. Pyotr Verzilov is in the United States along with Pussy Riot’s legal team in a bid to gather U.S. support for the group members’ release. On Thursday, Pussy Riot received a boost from Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently on her first visit to the United States in more than three decades.
Aung San Suu Kyi: “I don’t see why people shouldn’t sing whatever it is that they want to sing, and there’s nothing wrong with singing. I think the only reason why people should not sing is if what they are saying is deliberately insulting or if they sing terribly. I think that would be the best reason for not singing at all. So I would like the whole group to be released as soon as possible.”