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April 26, 2009

Officials confirm 20 cases of swine flu in U.S.

Health officials in announced Sunday that they have confirmed 20 cases of swine flu across the U.S. and are expecting more cases to be confirmed as they investigate the path of the outbreak.

According to the New York Times, officials have confirmed eight cases in New York, seven in California, two in Kansas, two in Texas, and one in Ohio.

It is believed that this is the same flu that killed 80 people and infected about 1,300 people in Mexico.

Although no cases in the U.S. have resulted in death, one hospitalization was reported, and the government has declared a public health emergency over the swine flu.

"The declaration came as countries around the world raced to contain the outbreak of swine flu amid reports of potential new cases from New Zealand to Hong Kong to Spain, raising concerns about the potential for a global pandemic," the New York Times reported.

April 20, 2009

ETA leader captured in France

French police arrested the leader of the Basque separatist group ETA over the weekend, which Spanish officials said is a huge blow to the organization.

The New York Times reports Jurdan Martitegi Lizaso was arrested in southern French city of Perpignan on Saturday as part of a joint operation with Spanish officials.

Authorities say Martitegi is the fourth ETA leader to be arrested in the last 11 months. Commentators say this is a sign that authorities have deeply infiltrated ETA.

During the raid police also confiscated guns, bomb-making materials, and cars with fake license plates.

April 12, 2009

Negotiation break down in pirate hostage situation

Negotiation broke down Saturday, according to Somali officials, over the American ship captain taken hostage taken by Somali pirates.

According to the New York Times, American officials demanded that the pirates be arrested, but representatives of the pirates refused.

Richard Phillips and four armed pirates remain in a covered lifeboat floating in the Indian Ocean 30 miles from Gara'ad, a know pirate den.

Pirates in the lifeboat fired on an approaching United States Navy vessel on Saturday morning, resulting in the breakdown of negotiations.

The captain was taken hostage after pirates boarded his cargo vessel, and gave himself up to save his crew.

“He saved our lives!” said Second Mate Ken Quinn, of Bradenton, Fla., as the ship was docking, according to The Associated Press. “He’s a hero.” (NYT)

April 5, 2009

Obama to Loosen Restrictions on Cuba

President Obama is expected to loosed restrictions on family travel between Cuba and the United States, according to an administration official who asked to remain anonymous because the policy has not yet been officially announced.

The New York Times reported Saturday that the White House is expected to announce the policy change before Obama's trip to Trinidad and Tobago on April 17 for a meeting with Latin American and Caribbean leaders.

It is not expected that Obama will call to lift the embargo on Cuba, as that would require an act by Congress. An act, however, has been discussed in the House and Senate.

Currently Cuban-Americans are permitted go to Cuba once a year to visit family, a policy Obama plans to change.

March 29, 2009

President Obama to face defiance on first trip overseas

President Obama is expected to face opposition on his first trip abroad since taking office, this week.

According to an article in The New York Times, the president is unlikely to convince any foreign countries to change their economic policies, nor is he likely to make any progress on the Iranian nuclear threat.

Obama will be pressed to convince the international community that his economic stimulus plan will work, and that the United States is committed to working with other countries to strengthen the global economy.

American officials have traveled the world in the past to lecture other countries on the need for deregulated open markets, but these ideas are being blamed throughout the world for the recent market collapse. This will make it even more difficult for Obama to sell his plan.

Obama will also meet in Prague to discuss the missile defense shield and the uneasiness it has caused in the region due to Russian objections to the system, and the desire for Poland to have closer relations with the United States.

March 9, 2009

Pakistan regains control of a remote area

The Pakistani government is claiming victory over the Taliban in Bajaur a northern tribal region of Pakistan.

Many of the Pakistanis in the region are dissatisfied with the way the government has handled the situation, seemingly leaving residents and shop owners with nothing after the battles in the area destroyed much infrastructure.

“We want compensation for the structures that have been demolished,” said Idrees Khan, a tribal leader from Inayat Kalay, “and we want accountability from the government and the Taliban.”

The day before a reporters' visit to see the progress in the region, thre Frontier Corps members were killed in Mohmand, and three government security men were killed by a land mine.

Many in the intelligence community believe it is only a matter of time before the Taliban return.

“If the government doesn’t build and attract tribesmen back quickly, and do things to put money in their pockets, there is every likelihood of a reversion to the militants,” said former chief secretary of the North-West Frontier Province Khalid Aziz.

February 28, 2009

Obama sets a date for most troops to pullout of Iraq

While standing in front of Marines in North Carolina President Obama announced on Friday that the United States will pull all combat troops out of Iraq by August 2010 and all remaining troops by December 2011.

According to an article published in the New York Times on Friday, there was some uneasiness on both side of the political isle, but over all the plan was supported across party lines.

The plan will bring most troops home by the end of summer of next year, bringing troop levels from 142,000 down to 35,000 to 50,000. The troops remaining in Iraq after next summer will be used mainly as support and training for Iraqi troops.

Many of the Republicans who support Obama's plan credit the surge of troop levels in the summer of 2007 for the ability to start the withdrawal.

According to the New York Times, the president said in an interview with PBS that political reconciliation is still needed in the country, and little progress has been made in the political arena despite the surge.

The number of residual troops that will remain in Iraq for support was criticized by both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Both said that only a minimum number of troops should be left.

February 22, 2009

Abu Ghraib prison reopens in Iraq with a new look

The new Abu Ghraib reopened Saturday with a fresh coat of paint, plastic flowers and a barber shop.

With the Iraqis in control, the prison is trying to gain back respectable justice. "The first step was to change the name," said Mohammed al-Zeidi, the assistant director of the Iraqi Rehabilitation Department.

The AP reported that the renovations cost around $1 million and will be completed by the end of the year.

The prison is currently holding about 400 inmates with crimes ranging from theft to murder, but the expected eventual capacity will be around 12,000 to 15,000 inmates.

The prison was closed in 2006 after it was handed over to the Iraqis because of photos released of U.S. Soldiers sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners.

February 15, 2009

Venezuelan Leader Reaches out to Obama

The New York Times reported Saturday that President Hugo Chávez said that he would be willing to engage in direct talks with President Obama to repair the relationship between the United States and Venezuela.

Chávez had at first been a critic of the Obama Administration after President Obama questioned Venezuela's about funding a Colombian guerrilla group. Last month Chávez said that President Obama's administration had the "same stench" as the last one.

Now Chávez is welcoming discussions with the United States on how to improve the relationship between the two countries which started to tarnish two years ago.

This comes a day before the Venezuelan people vote in a referendum to allow Chávez to stay in power past 2013.

A Spanish member of the EU Parliament, an referendum observer, was expelled from the country Saturday after calling Chávez a dictator.

February 8, 2009

U.S. open to missile deal with Russia

Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday that the United States will go forward with a missile defense system in eastern Europe that Russia has opposed, but left the option for compromise open.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Biden made the statement at an international security conference attended by world leaders in Munich.

He signaled that the United States would be changing some of the plan from that of the Bush administration.

Leaders attending the conference felt Biden's remarks were positive and this was a new direction for United States foreign policy.

The United States had planned to put missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic to protect against the growing Iranian nuclear program, but it is unclear if the sites will still go forward in the same countries. Biden left open the possibility for putting the missiles different countries.

In the past few years Russia has tried to strengthen its global prominence, which has caused the deterioration of its relations with the United States.

The Obama administration made clear that it wants to strengthen the relationship between the two countries, in order to collaborate on key international issues.

February 1, 2009

Election Success in Iraq: an almost violence free day

The people of Iraq voted Saturday for local representatives, on what is being called almost a violence-free day.

According to the New York Times cars were banned throughout most of the country, which reduced the possibility for car bombs. More than 6,000 polling places were protected as voters went to the polls.

By nighttime there were no reported deaths caused by violence. However, leading up to the election, there were multiple people killed while campaigning.

The Washington Post reports that the results of this election may change the balance of power between ethnic groups and sects.

The seemingly violence-free day underlines the security gains made in Iraq during the last year.

Voter turnout was relatively good for regional elections, where the percentage of voters is normally lower.