December 2, 2007

Venezuela votes on Chavez's proposals for more power

Venezuelan voters cast their ballots Sunday on a referendum over constitutional changes that woud significantly enhance the power of President Hugo Chávez.
Meanwhile, tension has heightened between Chávez’s supporters and antigovernment groups.
The constitutional changes would end presidential term limits, lengthen Chávez’s term to seven years from six and raise the threshold for recalling him.
Such changes would speed the president’s efforts to formally establish a socialist state in Venezuela, coming after moves by Chavez this year to nationalize large companies and create a single Socialist party for his followers.
Among the other proposals: giving control over the central bank to the president, the creation of new provinces governed by centrally-appointed officials, a change in the voting age from 18 to 16, as well proposals that would expand presidential powers during natural disasters or political “emergencies.?
Chávez called the proposed changes a move to return power to the people, but opponents accuse him of a “power grab,? said the BBC.
While the opposition in typically split among several small political parties, they jointly called for members to vote against the amendments. An “increasingly defiant? student movement also protested in Caracas and other large interior cities against the proposed changes, according to The New York Times.
Voter turnout was reported to be high in the capital, Caracas, a BBC correspondent there reported, while The New York Times added that turnout in some areas was “unexpectedly low,? especially in poor districts that are typically loyal to Chávez.
The BBC’s Americas editor, Emilio San Pedro, said these elections are believed to be as fair and free as every other election that has taken place since Chávez came to power in 1998.
According to The New York Times: “In recent days, Mr. Chávez has lashed out at his critics here and abroad, describing them as ‘little Yankees.’ He ordered troops to occupy oil installations over the weekend, threatening to cut off oil exports to the United States in the event of American interference in the referendum.?

The New York Times:


November 16, 2007

Bangladesh cyclone reportedly kills 1,100

A ferocious cyclone ripped across the low-laying water’s edge of southern Bangladesh late Thursday, leaving at least hundreds dead, downed trees, ruined cellphone towers and swept away mud and thatch homes.
The New York Times had reports on the “deadliest such storm in more than a decade? from New Delhi and Dhaka, Bangladesh on their Web site, while The Associated Press reported from the capital, Dhaka, as well.
As of late Thursday, the death toll of Cyclone Sidr, which blasted Bangladesh with 150 mph winds, stood at 667, according to the control room of the Disaster Management Ministry. This toll is expected to rise, with The Associated Press estimating from compiled reports from its correspondents a toll of 1,100, along with some 650,000 people fleeing their homes. Government officials have little up-to-date information, but Dalil Uddin of the Ministry of Disaster Management said the official toll would go “much higher.?
The impact in Bangladesh so far “seemed likely to be relatively low,? according to the New York Times, compared with past tropical storms like the one in 1991 that claimed about 140,000 lives. The event spurred Bangladeshi relief agencies to develop early warning systems and storm shelters to prevent disasters, and the BBC said casualties from cyclones “have been significantly reduced as a result,? according to officials.
Preliminary reports from the delta regions of the Bay of Bengal suggest that high-rising rivers washed away paddy fields and vegetable fields, wrecking the year’s earnings for the peasants who live off those lands.
Even Dhaka, the crowded capital of the “poor, desperately crowded nation of 150 million people,? though about 150 miles from the Bay of Bengal and not directly in the path of the storm, was affected. The entire country was darkened for several hours overnight after electricity towers were downed, and much of Dhaka remained without power for most of the day Friday, which also restricted the water supply.
The New York Times: “Relief and rehabilitation efforts stand to be a crucial test for the army-backed caretaker government currently in charge of Bangladesh.?
The New York Times said that the United Nations Development Program wants world leaders to address human-induced climate change. Thursday’s cyclone was just the latest case in their argue of an increased frequency of droughts, floods and storms that hit the world’s poorest the hardest in places like Bangladesh.
The BBC also has a link on this article’s page to an interesting video showing efforts to distribute food aid amid the destruction of the cyclone.
The New York Times:
The Associated Press:

November 11, 2007

Riot in Italy after soccer fan killed

Hundreds of soccer fans rioted in Rome after a police officer there accidentally shot and killed a fan Sunday while trying to stop a fight between supporters of rival teams, authorities said.
The enraged fans attacked a police station near the Rome’s Olympic Stadium, threw stones at passing police cars, and smashed windows at the nearby Italian Olympic Committee Headquarters. The BBC said security guards in the Olympic headquarters had to barricade themselves in as protection from the rioting.
Mobs also set a bus on fire and several people, including police, were injured. In central Milan, fans hurled rocks at a police and beat up two journalists, according to the BBC.
Rome’s police headquarters said the barracks was under attack but did not give further information. It said some arrests were made but declined to give a number.
Gabriele Sandri, a 26-year-old DJ from Rome and a fan of the city’s Lazio soccer team, was on his way to the northern city of Milan for Lazio’s game against rival Inter Milan. A bullet hit him in the neck while in a car at a rest area along the A1 Autostrada highway near the town of Arezzo, about 125 miles north of Rome.
In the Tuscan town of Arezzo, police chief Vincenzo Giacobbe called the fatal shooting of the fan “a tragic error? that occurred when a police officer intervened in a scuffle between two groups of people.
According to a statement read by Arezzo police, officers in two patrol cars who were stopped on the opposite side of the highway turned on their sirens after they heard screaming and yelling and realized the occupants of three cars in the rest area were fighting.
When the arguing continued, the police fired warning shots into the air. The three cars returned to the highway, police said, and they saw that one of the occupants of the vehicles “took a shot.?
BBC said that police suggest he may have been killed by one of their warning shots, but the Associated Press didn’t make note of that comment.
The car in which Sandri was an occupant drove a few miles to the next exit to seek medical help. An ambulance crew was unable to revive him, according to police.
Hundreds of youths smashed a window in the police station, set a police vehicle on fire inside the gate, and dragged metal barricades and trash bins to block off part of the bridge spanning the Tiber near the station.

The Italian soccer federation postponed the Inter-Lazio game, while security officials in Rome canceled a Sunday match between Roma and Cagliari. Other games on Sunday started 10 minutes late, and players and referees wore black armbands.
According to the BBC, police chiefs, politicians and soccer administrators in Italy will meet on Monday to “seek to limit the damage from the weekend’s incidents.?
Clashes between rival soccer fans at rest stops are common in Italy. After learning of Sunday’s incident, Premier Romano Prodi called fan violence “very worrisome.?
Last season, a policeman was killed during riots following a game between Palermo and Catania in Sicily. Some fans have been barred from traveling to games under anti-violence measures new enacted this season.

Washington Post:


November 1, 2007

Thousands fleeing Somalia capital

Almost 90,000 people have fled Somalia’s capital in recent days after the onset of the heaviest fighting to hit the war-torn city in months, the U.N. said Thursday.
The organization said in a statement that the clashes are the worst between Islamic insurgents and Somali and allied Ethiopian troops since April, causing 88,000 people to flee Mogadishu over a three-day period starting Oct. 27.
That number contrasts with a previous rate of 20,000 to 25,000 people leaving each month, it said.
Nairobi-based World Vision Somalia’s operation director Graham Davison told the BBC that the situation in Mogadishu “has intensified? and has “increased to a height that we haven’t seen in previous occasions.?
While more than 3,400 civilians have been wounded since January, more than 100 people injured in the fighting have been admitted to hospitals in just two days, according to Christian Balslev-Olesen, a top humanitarian coordinator for Somalia said in a statement.
The United Nations said about 1.5 million Somalis are in need of food aid and protection because of inadequate rains, continuing internal displacement and a potential cholera epidemic.
BBC News said that even more violence may result after Somalia’s prime minister, Ali Mohammed Ghedi, resigned on Monday
The total number of displaced Somalis is at 800,000, the U.N. said Thursday.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991.


Washington Post:

October 28, 2007

President's wife wins Argentina presidential election

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the wife of Argentina’s president, Nestor Kirchner, claimed victory late Sunday, becoming the first woman to be elected president of the country.
Kirchner, 54, the center-left Peronist party candidate and a senator, made the claim after early official results, based on 15% of ballots being counted, gave her 42% of the vote, with her nearest rivals ex-Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna with 21% and former beauty queen Elisa Carrio with 18%.
The New York Times said that Kirchner is the second woman to be elected leader of a South American nation in two years, after Michelle Bachelet, who became Chile’s president in 2006.
In her victory speech Sunday, Kirchner said she felt a responsibility to lead her country and also to her gender. The BBC quotes her as saying, “We have repositioned the country, fought poverty and unemployment, all these tragedies that have hit Argentines,? referencing the country’s recovery from their economic crash in 2001.
According to The New York Times, voters appeared to favor a continuation of Kirchner’s husband’s policies, but the next president has the challenge of taming inflation and a looming energy crisis.
Kirchner was nicknamed “Queen Cristina? by other politicians early in her career, according the Times. She did only light campaigning for this election, which had a fractured opposition, spending a large part of the past two months traveling in Europe and the United States trying to win over foreign investors.

The New York Times:

BBC News:

October 20, 2007

Two marines to face Haditha trial

Two U.S. marines will face court martial in connection with the killing of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha two years ago, the military said Friday.
The US Marine Corps said in a statement that Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani would stand trial for failing to properly investigate the deaths while Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum faced trial on manslaughter charges.
The two soldiers will be the first to be sent for court martial in connection with the case, the most serious allegations of war crimes made against U.S. troops Iraq in the four-year conflict.
No date for the courts martial has been set.
Prosecutors allege that the marines shot unarmed civilians in retaliation for a roadside bomb attack that killed one of their comrades.
Twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including three women, seven children and several elderly men, died at Haditha, west of Baghdad in Anbar province, on November 19, 2005.
According to Agence France-Presse, a lack of forensic evidence and witness statements made several months after the events in question have created enormous difficulty for military prosecutors in making the charges against the soldiers stick.
Two of the marines facing murder charges had the allegations dropped earlier this year, while two officers accused of failing to conduct an inquiry into the deaths were also cleared.
The U.S. military initially reported that the Iraqis had been killed by the improvised explosive device (IED) or in a subsequent gunfight with insurgents, reports the BBC.
But according to Iraqi witnesses, the U.S. troops shot dead five unarmed men in a car when they approached the scene of the bombing in a taxi.
They were then accused of killing 19 other civilians in three houses nearby over the next few hours.
Despite the accusations, it took until January 2006 for a full U.S. investigation, when video footage emerged of the aftermath taken by a local human rights activist.
A preliminary investigation was begun after an investigative report in Time magazine showed flaws in the initial marine investigation. The inquiry confirmed civilians had been shot in their homes but called the deaths “collateral damage.?

Agence France-Presse:


October 12, 2007

Police kick out street vendors in Mexico City

More than 1,000 police officers in riot gear blocked street vendors in Mexico City from setting up stands Friday, clearing the city’s clogged historic center for the first time in more than a decade.
The removal of vendors selling knockoff purses and pirated DVDs from 87 downtown streets was peaceful.
Leftist Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has promised to take back public spaces and improve the quality of life in the city of 8.5 million, like many mayors before him.
According to the BBC, the vendors have been involved in a long-standing dispute with successive local administrations about the right to trade in the city.
Vendors warn they will be back when the holiday shopping season begins in November.
While the city will grant vendors a brief break at Christmas, allowing them to return to sell to holiday shoppers, they will be asked to leave after the New Year and relocate to government-subsidized properties nearby.
Many vendors, represented by large and sometimes violent unions, say they won’t go. They claim the designated properties offered by the city will fail to attract customers.
The Mexico City Chamber of Commerce estimates there are 35,000 vendors in the downtown area alone.
Jose Angel Avila, Mexico City’s government secretary, said about 15,000 street vendors were removed from the heart of downtown Friday. It was unsure if the city would clear out street markets in the poor neighborhoods surrounding downtown.
Many vendors chose to set up their stalls on streets on the edge of the no-vendor zone, which was briefly cleared of markets stalls once before in the 1990s, reports Reuters.
Street vending is a tradition dating back to pre-Hispanic times in Mexico.
According to Reuters: “Millions of Mexicans are forced to sell cheap goods or food on the streets partly because there are not enough traditional office or factory jobs. And many salesmen prefer the tax-free profits they earn in their stalls.?
The New York Times spoke with Elena Ramirez, 79, who was selling sweet bread for 25 cents a piece and said she didn’t plan to stop selling her merchandise outside the metro exit.
“The politicians have their salaries, but if I don’t sell, I don’t eat,? Ramirez said.

The Associated Press:



October 3, 2007

North Korea will disable nuclear complex

North Korea agreed to disable all of its nuclear facilities by the end of the year, according to a joint six-nation statement released by China in Beijing today, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.
The agreement sets a timetable for North Korea to disclose all its nuclear programs and disable all facilities in exchange for 950,000 metric tons of fuel oil or its equivalent in economic aid.
Negotiators reached agreement on a draft plan in Beijing on Sunday after four days of six-nation talks.
The announcement in China today by Wu Dawei, head of the Chinese delegation to the talks, gave final approval by the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia
North Korea will complete the disabling of its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon as part of the agreement.
The Yongbyon complex has been in the middle of North Korea’s weapons programs for decades. It’s believed to have produced a nuclear device detonated a year ago by Pyongyang to prove its nuclear capability.
North Korea has also been asking for an agreement that would include a written reference to being removed from a United States list of countries that sponsor terrorism. According to the New York Times, the senior administration official said on Tuesday that “we’ve agreed on a way forward on that,? while declining to elaborate further.
The American official asked to remain unnamed because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. The New York Times also reports that a second senior administration official said the United States has told North Korea that it must disclose the details of whatever nuclear material it has been supplying to Syria. American and Israeli officials have indicated that a recent Israeli airstrike in Syria was directed at nuclear material supplied by North Korea.
According to CNN, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Wednesday that the goal in the next phase is complete dismantlement, but that could take as long as five years

The New York Times:


September 29, 2007

Maldives bomb wounds 12 tourists

A homemade bomb exploded Saturday outside a bustling city park in the Maldives, wounding at least 12 people, a government official said.
Officials said they did not know who was behind the attack that hit the crowded park in the capital, Male, in the Indian Ocean archipelago. United Press International said the blast occurred outside the main mosque in this “popular and peaceful tourist destination.?
Reports The Associated Press: ‘“The Maldives has never had something like this before. We are taking this very seriously because tourism is our life blood,? government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said.?
The injured included eight Chinese, two Britons and two Japanese, all with burns, said Shareef.
He said it was still not known whether the bomb targeted the tourism industry or whether an Islamic Jihadist organization was involved.
According to The Associated Press, Western diplomats have voiced concern about the potential for violence in this Sunni Muslim country, where half the population is under 18 and with few job prospects. Some have embraced a conservative strain of Islam that had been almost unheard of on the islands just a few years ago.
The wealthiest and most orderly country in south Asia, the Maldives has a population of about 350,000 and attracts about 600,000 tourists each year, with tourism accounting for one-third of its economy, said The Associated Press.

The Associated Press:

United Press International:

September 21, 2007

Aid agencies appealing for flood help in Africa

United Nation agencies are seeking millions of dollars for the more than 1 million Africans affected by deadly floods across the continent.
According to the Associated Press, the United States announcing $100,000 for Uganda, one of the hardest hit countries, with the European Commision and the Netherlands each planning to send more than $15 million in aid.
The International Red Cross has rushed relief workers to Ghana, Togo and Uganda to raise money and deal with the crisis.
The floods have killed at least 200 people and displaced hundreds of thousands since the summer across central and eastern Africa, affecting 17 countries.
The British Broadcasting Corp.: “The floods are said to be the worst in many countries for decades.?
According to the AP, medical officials said illnesses are spreading despite UNICEF distributing basic disease-prevention kits. A nurse at a health clinic close to a school, Florence Asega, said she sees children increasingly suffering from malaria and diarrhea.
The BBC reports that there will be a long-term need for food aid in Northern Ghana, because the annual maize crop has been destroyed just before harvesting season.



September 12, 2007

Attack on Mexican natural gas pipelines

In Mexico on Monday, six explosions blew apart natural gas pipelines, cutting off oil and gas supplies and causing the evacuation of 15,000 people from the surrounding area.
Mexico’s Pemex national oil and gas monopoly operates the pipelines. The blasts prompted Pemex to close down at least four pipelines and caused federal officials to close two major roads. No injuries were reported, according to
While the Los Angeles Times reports the attack as “an apparent case of politically motivated sabotage,? Reuters says that this comes “just weeks after leftist rebels set off a string of pipeline bombs.? In July, a leftist guerrilla group took responsibility for a string of bomb attacks on energy pipelines which cut natural gas supplies to thousands of businesses.
Reports the L.A. Times: “Although no group claimed resposibility for Monday’s attacks, political analysts here said they bore the hallmarks of the EPR or a similar group, and probably were intended as a message against President Felipe Calderon and his policies.?
Mexico is the sixth-largest oil producer in the world and a major supplier of petroleum to the U.S. According to the L.A. Times, “The outages drove the price of oil about $78 a barrel in futures trading Monday.?

Los Angeles Times:,1,1844583.story?coll=la-news-a_section&ctrack=1&cset=true

Reuters: &rpc=22&sp=true