Category Archives: Uncategorized

Today In the News…

Libya
Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi called on his supporters to march on Tripoli and “purify” the capital of rebels, who he denounced as “rats, crusaders and unbelievers” in a defiant, angry speech that betrayed no hint of despondency. Meanwhile, Libyan fighters battled diehard followers of Gaddafi across Tripoli, racing to find and finish off the fallen strongman and stifle any counter-attack by his family and other loyalists. Closer to home, a Canadian-born man, Nader Benrewin, 24, was shot by a sniper as he stormed Gaddafi’s compound. Benrewin was born in Edmonton but had family living in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Benrewin had lived and worked in Ottawa for three years before deciding to return to Libya to offer support to rebel forces.

Hurricane Irene
Four governors declared states of emergency Thursday as Hurricane Irene threatened to wreak havoc along the United States’ Eastern Seaboard. Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina all declared states of emergency, allowing states to free funds and prepare resources that may be needed. As of 2 p.m. ET, the Category 3 storm was pounding the Bahamas, with its eye over Abaco Island, the National Hurricane Center said. Maximum sustained winds were at 115 mph as the storm worked its way northwest. A mandatory evacuation order was in effect for residents and visitors in Hyde County, North Carolina, which includes Ocracoke Island, reachable only by boat or private plane, on the Outer Banks.

Israel
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that Israel’s military will continue to hit Palestinians suspected of attacking Israel, amid escalating violence in the region since a deadly terror attack on Israelis a week ago. Twenty-four Palestinians have died in air strikes in the past week, Palestinian medical and security sources say, as Israel has carried out a series of targeted attacks on the alleged leaders of terror groups. Ten have died in the past day. Meanwhile, more than 140 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israeli territory from Gaza since last Thursday, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces told CNN Thursday, eight of them in the past 24 hours.

Syria
One of the best-known cartoonists in the Arab world has been beaten up by Syrian security forces, activists say. Ali Ferzat, whose work is critical of the government, was forced from his car in Damascus and badly beaten. The attack comes after 11 civilians and eight soldiers were reportedly killed in different incidents across Syria. The UN says more than 2,200 people have been killed as security forces crack down on anti-government protests that began in mid-March. The demonstrators are demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has been in power for 40 years.

Pakistan
A bomb planted in a child’s tricycle exploded a shop in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least eight people and damaging several stores and hotels, police said. The crackdown occurred in the main bazaar in the town of Risalpur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said Mohammad Hussain, police chief for surrounding Nowshera district. Shoppers were buying goods for an upcoming Muslim holiday when the bomb went off. At least nine people were wounded, Hussain said. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Pakistani Taliban has carried out many bombings throughout the northwest.

Chile
Chile is set for the second day of a 48-hour national strike called by the main trade unions who are demanding a raft of reforms. Wednesday’s stoppage began peacefully but violent clashes erupted after some demonstrators erected burning barricades and threw stones. Officials said 348 people were arrested and dozens injured. The stoppage comes amid ongoing student protests to press for education reform.

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Mubarak Detained in Hospital Amid Probe in Egypt

Egypt’s ousted president Hosni Mubarak was put under detention in his hospital room Wednesday for investigation on accusations of corruption, abuse of power and killings of protesters in a dramatic step that brought celebrations from the movement that drove him from office.

Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were also detained for questioning and taken to Cairo’s Torah prison, where a string of former top government figures – including the former prime minister, ruling party chief and Mubarak’s chief of staff – are already languishing, facing similar corruption investigations.

The move was brought on by enormous public pressure on the ruling military, which was handed power when Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11. Tens of thousands protested in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Friday, the biggest rally in weeks, demanding Mubarak and his family be put on trial. Many in the crowd accused the military of protecting the former president.

In a brief audio message aired Sunday, Mubarak promised he and his family would account for everything they own. He said he agreed to allow the prosecutor to contact governments around the world to take “proper legal steps” to reveal whether he or his family own any property or real estate outside Egypt. (CNN)

The detention is a new landmark in the stunning fall of the 82-year-old Mubarak, who only months ago appeared unquestioned in his control of Egypt after nearly 30 years of rule. Even after his fall, he seemed untouchable, living with his family at a palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

On Tuesday night, Mubarak was taken to a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh because of heart troubles, and so that his health could be monitored as he submitted to a first round of questioning by investigators. Hours later, the public prosecutor announced early Wednesday that Mubarak was ordered put under detention for 15 days for investigation. State TV reported that Mubarak is suffering from a “nervous breakdown.” (CNN)

He was to be flown later in the day to a military hospital outside Cairo, where he would remain in detention, a security official in Sharm el-Sheikh said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. But news agencies subsequently reported that the ex-ruler’s health had deteriorated to “unstable” condition, and it was not immediately known how that would affect his transfer.

The story dominated discussion in Egypt on Wednesday. One smiling taxi driver stopped in Cairo traffic, crossed his wrists in front of himself as if he was handcuffed and yelled “Mubarak ‘cuffed!’” in Arabic to strangers. (CNN)
Mubarak critics in Cairo cheered the news as well. “On the road to protecting the revolution,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, the former statesman and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who became a critic of Mr. Mubarak and now a candidate to succeed him, in a Twitter message. “We now need to focus on achieving its goals.” (New York Times)

Abdullah El Ashaal, another presidential candidate and former foreign ministry official, argued that the military council ruling Egypt had acceded to the protesters’ demands to prosecute Mr. Mubarak in part to protect the military from public wrath. “The military wanted to put an end to all the suspicions surrounding it and to the accusation that they were with Mubarak and not with the revolution. Things had reached the point where people started to call for toppling Tantawi,” Mr. Ashaal said, referring to Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the military’s leader, who is now the de-facto head of state. “We want to see Mubarak executed,” Mr. Ashaal added. “Did Mubarak not execute the Egyptian people?” (New York Times)

Others were more cautious. “As gratifying as it is to hear that the unseated dictator has been interrogated and detained, we remain concerned about the lack of a transparent and predictable process for investigating and prosecuting past abuses, whether financial corruption or human rights violations,” Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and a leading civil rights advocate, wrote in an e-mail. “The only guarantee against politically motivated prosecutions and arbitrary trials is to establish a formal and credible process of transitional justice.” (New York Times)

The detention also marks a new chapter in Egypt’s still unsure transition to what protesters hope will be a democratic post-Mubarak future. Protesters had pushed hard for Mubarak’s prosecution, demanding what they called a clear signal that the corruption that pervaded his nearly 30-year rule would be definitively broken. Public outrage was widespread over allegations that large fortunes were skimmed off by top regime officials through shady deals over the years.

Beyond the anger has been the fear that Mubarak cronies are maneuvering to regain power as the country tries to work out democratic rule – and that the ruling military was not taking action to prevent them, or was even abetting them.

“I was so happy in the morning when I heard the news,” said Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 group, one of the movements that led the unprecedented 18-day protest movement against Mubarak. “All people are very happy because this step reassured them after a period of doubts and stagnation,” referring to doubts over the military’s intentions, he said. (CBC)

Worries over the military were intensified by a fierce pre-dawn raid on protesters in Tahrir Square on Saturday that killed at least one person.

The prosecutor’s announcement gave a momentary easing of tensions between the military and protesters. Following the prosecutor’s announcement, the coalition of youth groups that have organized the protests said it is canceling a planned new mass demonstration in Tahrir Square on Friday to demand Mubarak’s prosecution.

But the coalition underlined that there are still unfulfilled demands, including the dissolving of the former ruling party and the sacking of Mubarak-appointed governors as well as university deans and local city council, both seen as levers of his regime.

Activist Amr Bassiouny said in a Tweet that the detention was not the protesters’ primary goal but “free speech, free assembly, free press – no torture, real democracy, end of lies.” (CBC)

In its announcement, posted on the social networking site Facebook, the public prosecutor said Mubarak was under investigation into allegations of assaults, killings and injury of protesters, corruption, squandering of public funds and the abuse of authority for personal gain.

Hundreds were killed during the 18-day uprising against Mubarak, when people opened fire and cracked down on the crowds. Officials say 365 were killed, but a count by the Front to Defend Egypt Protesters, a group that provides medical and legal assistance to the demonstrators,  said 685 people died as of March 7.

Over the past decade, Gamal Mubarak had risen to the top ranks of the ruling party and was widely seen as his father’s designated succession. Anger over that prospect help galvanize Egypt’s protest movement. Gamal brought into government and the ruling party a number of top businessmen who led an economic liberalization program that brought in billions in foreign investment but also widened the gap between rich and poor. Several of those businessman-politicians now face trial or investigation for allegedly using their positions to amassing fortunes. On Wednesday, Gamal said he was in “total disbelief” over recent developments. (New York Times)

The turmoil in Egypt has also spawned scrutiny of the U.S.’s role in propping up Mubarak over the decades. Egypt has been one of the top three recipients of American aid for years, getting up to $2 billion annually in economic and military assistance, while critics say U.S. foreign policy sought to deter democracy there because of the likelihood that Islamists would win any fair elections.


NATO’s United Front over Libya Crumbles

France and Britain urged their NATO allies on Tuesday to do more to pressure Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi, with Paris chiding Germany for a lackluster effort and lamenting the limited U.S. military role. A top NATO general reported that the alliance was “doing a great job.” (CBC)

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé shredded NATO’s allied front Tuesday, saying its actions were “not enough” to ease the pressure on Libya’s rebel-held city of Misrata, which has been subject to weeks of bombardment by forces loyal to Gaddafi. (CBC) Juppé said NATO must do more to take out the heavy weaponry that Gaddafi’s forces are using to target civilians. “NATO must play its role fully,” Mr. Juppé said. “It wanted to take the lead on operations.” (BBC)

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague agreed that allies must “intensify” their efforts, but in a more diplomatic tone. “The U.K. has in the last week supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets threatening the civilian population of Libya,” said Hague. “Of course, it will be welcome if other countries also do the same. There is always more to do.” (CBC)

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet deplored that France and Britain carried “the brunt of the burden.” He complained that the reduced U.S. role – American forces are now in support, not combat roles in the airstrike campaign – have made it impossible “to loosen the noose around Misrata,” which has become a symbol of resistance against Gaddafi. Longuet also criticized Germany, which is not taking part in the military operation, and said Berlin’s commitment to back the humanitarian effort for Libyans was “a second chance” at best. (CBC) “Today we have no support in the ground attack role, without which there’s no chance of breaking the siege in towns like Misrata or Zenten,” he said. (BBC)

Germany does not take part in NATO’s military airstrikes in Libya because it sees the operation as too risky. Italy has also been reluctant to get involved in the airstrikes because, as Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has noted, it was the North African nation’s colonial ruler.

And the reduced U.S. role since NATO took over command on March 31 has also affected the operation. “Let’s be realistic. The fact that the U.S. has left the sort of the kinetic part of the air operation has had a sizable impact,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bidt. (CBC)

NATO Brig.-Gen. Mark Van Uhm sharply rejected French criticism of the operation in Libya, saying the North Atlantic military alliance is performing well and protecting civilians effectively. He said the alliance was successfully enforcing an arms embargo against Libya, patrolling a no-fly zone and protecting civilians there. “With the assets we have, we’re doing a great job,” Van Uhm told reporters. (CBC) However, he repeatedly declined to comment on reports that some alliance members were limiting their planes to patrolling the no-fly zone and prohibiting them from dropping bombs, saying that was a matter for governments to comment on.

NATO rejected the French and British criticism. “NATO is conducting its military operations in Libya with vigor within the current mandate. The pac of the operations is determined by the need to protect the population,” it said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

NATO also said Tuesday that it destroyed or disabled four tanks near Zintan in western Libya and destroyed an ammunition storage site southwest of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown. “We’re keeping pressure on to stop the violence,” Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard said in a statement. “This supports the aim of reducing the regime’s ability to harm their own people.” (CBC)

Gaddafi’s forces have retained their ability to attack the rebels throughout the conflict. On Tuesday, several rockets struck Ajdabiya, the main point leading into the rebel-held east, and witnesses also reported shelling in Misrata. Weeks of fierce government bombardment of Misrata have terrorized the city’s residents, killing dozens of people and leaving food and medical supplies scarce, according to residents, doctors and rights groups. International groups are warning of a dire humanitarian crisis in Libya’s third-largest city.

“Unfortunately, with the long-range war machines of Gaddafi’s forces, no place is safe in Misrata,” a medical official in Misrata told the Associated Press, asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisals. Six people were killed Monday and another corpse was brought in Tuesday, he said. (CBC)

When it came to providing humanitarian aid to Misrata, Britain, France and Italy all said some aid was getting through without special military protection.

“Humanitarian assistance is getting through to Libya, including to Misrata. That, so far, has not needed military assistance to deliver it,” Hague said. He said the task was huge. “Events in the Middle East are the most important events so far in the 21st century in the world, and the responsibility of the European Union is commensurate with the historic nature of those events,” Hague said. (CBC)

The 27-nation European Union said over the weekend it was ready to launch a humanitarian mission in Misrata soon, with possible military support, if it received a request from the UN.

IHH, an Islamic aid group in Turkey, said it would send an aid ship to Misrata on Wednesday carrying food, powdered milk, infant formula, medicines and a mobile health clinic. Separately, Van Uhm said two aid ships had already visited the city and another would arrive Tuesday. The IHH has a mission to assist Muslims in the Middle East region. It deployed dozens of activists, including doctors, two days after the Libyan uprising began in February and established a tent city and a soup kitchen at a Libyan border crossing with Tunisia.

NATO also denied a report made by Libyan state television that a strike by international forces killed civilians in the town of Kikia, south-west of Tripoli, on Monday. “We can confirm there was an air strike in that region. However, it was 21 km (13 miles) southwest of the town that was mentioned on Libyan TV, Kikia. And the target was two tanks,” Gen. Van Uhm said. (BBC)

On Monday, the rebels rejected a ceasefire proposal by the African Union (AU) which the organization said had been accepted by Col. Gaddafi. The rebel’s Transitional National Council (TNC) said it was unfeasible as it did not include a provision for the Libyan leader to step down, but the AU have urged them to reconsider. The plan included a call for immediate end to hostilities, unhindered humanitarian aid, protection of foreign nations, dialogue between opposing sides and an end to NATO air strikes.

A stalemate between government and rebel forces is emerging and could last for some time, according to a senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest military assessments. The official agreed to speak Monday only on background because of the sensitive nature of the information. The official said the latest U.S. and NATO view is that both sides essentially remain in their fixed positions – the rebels near Ajdabiya and the pro-government forces near al-Brega. “Neither side has the wherewithal to move,” the official said. (CNN)

On the other side, another senior U.S. official who is familiar with administration contacts with the opposition said the opposition’s leadership seems to be sincere and earnest about its aim of toppling Gaddafi, but the leaders are not as organized as they need to be. They lack a detailed plan. The rebel forces and their abilities are “still a bit of a mystery,” the official said. “… Their resources are limited and their strategies and tactics are hard to fathom.” (CNN) While they are holding on to Ajdabiya for the moment, the senior official said it is hard to imagine them making any further gains toward Tripoli.

A spokesman for Libyan rebels rejected any suggestion of talks with Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief who defected to Britain but left there on Tuesday for Qatar. Qatar is hosting a meeting of countries that have expressed support for the Libyan rebels, and British officials announced Tuesday that Mr. Koussa was headed there, presumably to take a role in trying to mediate between the rebels and the Gaddafi government.
“We are sending a delegation to Doha solely to meet with the contact group, but it’s not part of the agenda to meet with Mr. Koussa,” said Abdul Hafeed Ghoga, the spokesman for the National Transitional Council, at a news conference there. “It’s not something rejected or accepted.” The council is the rebel’s representative body. (New York Times) Mr. Ghoga, noting the rebels rejection of the AU delegation’s request to negotiate a cease-fire during a visit to Benghazi on Monday, said that the Gaddafi loyalists have shelled Misrata throughout delegation’s visit, proving their lack of good faith. The rebels have maintained steadfastly that they will not enter negotiations until Colonel Gaddafi and his sons relinquish power.

Mustafa Ghereini, another spokesman for the transitional council, declined to say whether the Libyan rebels had received any offers of military assistance from Western countries. Asked if he was encouraged by their response to such requests, he said, “That’s a national security matter. But the fact that Gaddafi has not been able to take Misrata with all his might is encouraging to us.” (New York Times)

“The Libyan government’s near siege of Misrata has not prevented reports of serious abuses getting out,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We’ve heard disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging.” (New York Times) Human Rights Watch quoted a doctor at a Misrata Polyclinic Muhammed el-Fortia, as saying that loyalist forces had fired mortar rounds and sniper shots at the hospital, forcing its evacuation.


Japan Rattled by Aftershocks Month After Tsunami

With the ringing of bells and bowing of heads Monday afternoon, Japan marked the passage of a month since the deadliest earthquake and tsunami in its modern history. Buddhist monks at the Tsukiji Hongwanji temple in Tokyo struck their bells at 2:46 p.m., the time the March 11 earthquake struck off Japan’s northern coast.

The magnitude-9 quake sent walls of water slamming into the country’s Pacific shores, sweeping away whole villages and leaving more than 27,000 dead or missing.

In Youriso, a fishing village north of the quakes epicenter, Japanese troops stopped their ongoing search for bodies, took off their hats and safety helmets and bowed their heads to observe a nationwide minute of silence. Of the town’s population of 400, 12 died in the tsunami and 150 remain in shelters. “I recalled the relatives I lost in the tsunami,” one woman, Fusako Endo, told CNN. “I had all those people washed away in my mind when we all stopped.”

As of Monday afternoon, the death toll from the disaster stood at 13,127, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. Another 14,348 remained missing, and 4,793 were injured.

“Even after a month, I still cry when I watch the news,” said Marina Seito, 19, a student at a junior college who recalled being in a basement restaurant in Sendai when the original 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit on March 11. Plates fell and parts of the ceiling crashed down around her. (CBC)

“My chest has been ripped open by the suffering and pain that this disaster has caused the people of our prefecture,” said Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima, which saw its coastal areas devastated by the tsunami and is home to the damaged plant at the centre of the nuclear crisis. “I have no words to express my sorrow.” (CBC)

In the industrial town of Kamaishi, Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso led a moment of commemoration as a loud siren rang through a high school gymnasium being used as a shelter. He bowed while people who have lived their since the tsunami kneeled on makeshift futons, bowed their heads and clasped their hands. The school’s students will return to classes Tuesday, even though 129 people are living in their gym. Some, like 16-year-old Keisuke Shirato, wore their baseball uniforms for Monday’s ceremony. Shirato’s family was not affected by the tsunami, but half of his teammates lost their homes. “A new school year starts tomorrow,” Shirato said. “Hopefully that will help give people hope and allow them to look toward a new start.” (CBC)

In addition, at least two deaths and 283 injuries have been blamed on an aftershock, a magnitude-7.1 tremor that rattled the islands Thursday night. Japanese troops launched an extensive search for more victims in the coastal prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima over the weekend.

On Monday, another powerful earthquake – followed by a series of smaller quakes – rocked northeastern Japan.

A 16-year-old girl has been killed. Authorities say the latest earthquake collapsed the girl’s house in Iwaki. Three houses collapsed and up to seven people were believed trapped inside. Police said a girl was found dead inside, and three other people were rescued. Their condition, and the fat of the others, was not immediately known.

The jolt from the magnitude-6.6 quake was felt in Tokyo, about 164 kilometers (101 miles) away, or about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

In addition to the devastation that the March 11 disaster unleashed, it also knocked out power to the crippled plant – triggering a crisis that Japanese authorities have yet to resolve. Two explosions, a fire and the continuous pumping of water into the reactors have spread radioactive particles over a wide area of the land and sea surrounding the plant. Everyone within a 20-kilometer (12.5-mile) radius of the plant was ordered to evacuate, and those living between 20 and 30 kilometers were told to stay indoors.

Both the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the plant’s owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, have faced increasing questions over their handling of the disaster but can’t say at this point when they expect to bring it to an end.

Japan’s government marked the one-month period by putting an ad in newspapers in China, South Korea, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States – a letter from Prime Minister Naoto Kan thanking people for the outpouring of support that followed the tsunami. The Red Cross alone said it has collected $102 million Cdn from overseas. “Through our own efforts and with the help of the global community, Japan will recover and come back even stronger,” he said “We will then repay you for your generous aid… With this in our hearts, we now stand together dedicated to rebuilding the nation.” (BBC)

Kan described the outpouring as “kizuna,” the bond of friendship. “We deeply appreciate the kizuna our friends from around the world have shown and I want to thank every nation, entity, and you personally, from the bottom of my heart.” (CBC)

Video taken by a pair of freelance journalists in the town of Futaba, about 3 kilometers away, showed stray dogs wandering the streets – and one, horrifyingly, still chained. The photographers, Shuji Ogawa and Naomi Toyoda, gave some of their food to the animal before leaving.

Some of the dozens of Futaba residents now living in a shelter in Kozo, north of Tokyo, watched the video and came away convinced they would never return to their hometown again. Nobuyuki Araki was roused to anger when he saw a Tokyo Electric sign touting the “bright future” of nuclear power. “That sign was a lie,” Araki said. “For the last 40 years, TEPCO has only been saying nuclear power is safe, that there’s no chance of a meltdown. We – the people of Futaba – feel we’ve all been betrayed.” (CNN)

But at a news conference Monday, Yukio Edano, Kan’s chief Cabinet secretary and the government’s point man on the crisis, defended authorities’ performance over the past month. “I believe we have done our utmost under the current system in supporting the victims of the earthquake, as well as handling the nuclear power plant situation,” Edano said. “However, we must not forget people are still suffering, and we must realize what they are going through.” (CNN)

Edano said the new evacuations would take place over the coming month, from areas including Iitate village, which lies 40 km from the power station, and part of the city of Kawamata. “This is not an emergency measure that people have to evacuate immediately,” he told a news conference, but added that there were concerns about long-term health risks. (BBC)

During a visit to Fukushima on Monday, TEPCO chief Masataka Shimizu apologized for the nuclear accident. The people who live near the plant are “suffering physically and mentally due to the nuclear radiation leak accident,” he said. “We sincerely apologize for this,” he said. (BBC)

“I would like to deeply apologize again for causing physical and psychological hardships to people of Fukushima prefecture and near the nuclear plant,” said the grim-faced Shimizu. (Reuters)

A nuclear safety official said repeated strong aftershocks were slowing work at the plant, and said that if one of them were to spawn a tsunami, the complex would be just as vulnerable as on March 11. “At the moment, no tsunami resistance has been added to the plant. At the moment, there is nothing we can do about it,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. (CBC)

Using emergency pumps to cool the nuclear fuel rods within the reactors and in spent-fuel pools above the reactors has been a top priority for TEPCO since March 11, since that tsunami damaged the reactors’ usual circulation systems. But Monday’s aftershock appeared to have exposed a big vulnerability in that approach.
The backup power and pumping systems that have been brought to the plant since March 11, including emergency diesel generators, fire trucks on standby and other generator trucks – all require workers to operate them manually, according to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. That makes them useless when workers must evacuate away from the reactors.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Saftey Agency, Japan’s nuclear watchdog, acknowledged the lack of an automatic backup power supply, but did not offer any solutions.

Meanwhile, pumping hundreds of tons of water a day into the reactors has produced harmful runoff of highly contaminated water, some of which leaked into the Pacific Ocean earlier this month. Plant workers have now plugged that leak and are capturing the runoff in various storage tanks at the plant. However, as the tanks fill up, TEPCO has had to release lower-level radioactive water into the ocean to make room.


Fresh Quake in Japan Rouses Fear Despite No Deaths

A powerful earthquake struck Japan on Thursday, triggering a tsunami warning for one prefecture and advisories in others. The warning and advisories were lifted about 90 minutes later, the Japan Meteorological Agency said, but it left millions of Japanese rattled. The quake was closer to the Japanese coast than last month’s 9.0-magnitude quake.

There were no reports of casualties from anywhere in the earthquake zone, though 20 people were injured, the National Police Agency said. Three of the 20 were thought to have serious injuries, said police.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake was a magnitude 7.4. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was a 7.1. The USGS also said Thursday’s quake could be considered an aftershock – making it the biggest one since the March 11 quake.

Workers evacuated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following the quake, the Tokyo Electric Power Company said. The company said it has communication with the plant and the power is still on there. There was no immediate reports of damage, it said. The workers returned later and were assessing any impact, CNN’s Kyung Lah reported Friday. About four million homes remained without power.

All seven of the workers at Fukushima Daiichi were safe, a spokesman for plant operator Tepco told a news conference in Tokyo. “They have not been injured and they have all taken shelter in our seismic-resistant building. We are continuing to inject water, or we are continuing the injection operation at reactors 1, 2 and 3,” said the spokesman, whose name was not given. (BBC) The workers are trying to keep the damaged reactors cool to stop further releases of radioactive material.

Extremely radioactive material continues to ooze out of the reactor pressure vessel at No. 2, and the leak is likely to widen with time, a senior nuclear executive said. “It’s a little like pulling a thread out of your tie,” the executive said. “Any breach gets bigger.” (New York Times) Flashes of extremely intense radioactivity have become a serious problem, he said. Tokyo Electric’s difficulties in providing accurate information on radiation are not a result of software problems, as some Japanese officials have suggested, but stem from damage to measurement instruments caused by radiation because it exceeds the maximum dose that they are designed to measure, he said. “It’s killing the measuring equipment,” he said. “They’re blaming it on software – it’s their meters getting cooked.” (New York Times)

Broken pieces of fuel rods have been found outside of Reactor No. 2, and are now being covered with bulldozers, he said. The broken pieces may be from spent fuel rods in the spent-fuel pools, rather than from the reactors themselves. Hydrogen explosions have flung them out of the reactor building. “They’re running bulldozers around to bury the stuff so it doesn’t cook people going by,” he said. (New York Times)

The quake’s epicenter was off the coast of Miyagi in northeastern Japan, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The USGS said the quake was centered 41 miles (66 kilometers) from Sendai – one of the areas worst hit by last month’s 9.0-magnitude quake – and 73 miles (118 kilometers) from Fukushima.

Public broadcaster NHK reported a tsunami warning for Miyagi prefecture, saying people in that area should evacuate away from the shore to a safe place. NHK also reported tsunami advisories for the Pacific coast of Aomori Prefecture, and for the Iwate, Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said based on all available data, “a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami is not expected and there is not a tsunami threat to Hawaii.” (CNN)

The quake was centered 207 miles (333 kilometers) from Tokyo, the USGS said. It was 30.4 miles (49 kilometers) deep, the agency reported. The Japanese Meteorological Agency estimated the depth as 60 kilometers.

The earthquake took place shortly after 11:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. ET).

“The earthquake was moving in an up-and-down motion,” Miri Gono in Tokyo told the BBC by e-mail. “It started off with small shakes, then shook bigger. I was alone in my house with my brother and we were so scared… We took our bottles of water and hid under the table.” (BBC)

Toru Hania, a Reuters photographer in Oshu, Iwate prefecture, said his hotel lost power and a water pipe burst. “Everything fell. My room is a complete mess and power is widely out in this area,” he said. (Reuters)

In Tokyo, buildings also shook. “It started out as nothing much, then the building started swaying quite strongly,” a Reuters witness said.

“Due to the (March 11 quake), the risk of landslides or buildings collapsing is higher than usual and there are possibilities of further damage with aftershocks,” deputy chief cabinet secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama told reporters on Friday. (Reuters)
As engineers battle multiple crisis – some the result of efforts to try to cool reactors – officials said it could take months to bring the reactors under control and years to clear up the toxic mess left behind.

The government has already set up a 20-km (12-mile) exclusion zone around the plant, banned fishing along much of the northeast coast and set up evacuation centers for the tens of thousands forced to leave their homes following the crisis.

Trace levels of radioactive material had been detected in the air in 22 Chinese provinces but the amounts did not pose a threat to health or the environment, China’s state news agency Xinhua said.

In South Korea, some schools closed on Thursday because parents were worried rain could be toxic. The few schools that closed were expected to reopen on Friday.

India said a blanket ban on food items imported from Japan was not warranted, although authorities would monitor the situation every week, a source in the Trade Ministry said. India said on April 5 it had imposed a three-month ban on imports of food from Japan.


Seveal U.N. Officials Killed in Afghanistan after Protests over Reported Quran Burning

At least 12 people were killed Friday in an attack on a United Nations building in Afghanistan that followed a demonstration against the reported burning of a Quran in Florida last month, authorities and a U.N. source with knowledge of the events said.

Eight workers for the U.N. and four Afghans were killed, said Abdul Rauof Taj, security director of Bulkh province. At least 24 people were injured, he said. A U.N. source confirmed the dead included four Nepalese security guards. U.N. workers from Norway, Sweden and Romania were also among the dead, the source said.

The attack followed a demonstration against the reported burning of a Quran this month by Florida pastor Terry Jones, who gained international attention last year with his plans to burn a Quran, the U.N. source with knowledge of events said. Jones is the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainseville, Florida. He cancelled plans to burn a Quran last year, on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Last month, however, with far less attention than he attracted last year, Jones reportedly burned Islam’s holy book.

The church says on its website that it planned to put the Quran on trial on March 20, and, “if found guilty of causing murder, rape and terrorism, it will be executed!” Another post on the website says “the Koran was found guilty” during the mock trial and “a copy was burned inside the building.” (CNN)

Jones said the attacks show that “time has come to hold Islam accountable. We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities,” he said. (CNN)

“I’ve seen the video,” CBC’s David Common said. “They essentially put the Quran on trial, find it guilty of murder and say that there are four possible punishments. They chose to burn it and carried out that ‘punishment’ right there in their perish.” (CBC)

The attack on Friday happened at the operations center of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in Mazar-e Sharif, said Dan McNorton, a U.N. spokesman. “The situation is still confusing and we are currently working to ascertain all the facts and take care of all our staff,” he said. (CNN)

The crowd protested the burning of the Quran, some carrying signs that read “Down with America” and “Death to Obama”. (New York Times) The protest had begun peacefully when several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the U.N. office after Friday prayers to denounce the Quran’s destruction, said Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for the governor in Balkh province. It turned violent when some protesters grabbed weapons from the U.N. guards, opened fire on the police, stormed the building and set fires inside, he said. Black smoke could be seen billowing from the building.

Initial indications are that knives and small arms were used in the attack, according to a U.N. spokesman who declined to be named.

Kieran Dwyer, director of communications for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, said the U.N. workers had been trapped inside the compound and “hunted down” in what was an “overwhelming situation… These are civilian people, unarmed, here to do human rights work, to work for the peace in Afghanistan – they were not prepared for this situation,” he told the BBC. Mr. Dwyer said it was too early to tell how the attack happened or why the U.N. was targeted, but that the organization would now take extra security measures. But he added: “The U.N. is here to stay. We’re here to work with the people to help them achieve peace, and this sort of thing just highlights how important that is.” (BBC)

General Abdul Raouf Taj, the deputy police commander for Balkh Province, where Mazar is located, said, “Police tried to stop them, but protesters began stoning the building and finally the situation got out of control.” (New York Times)

The governor of Balkh Province, Atta Mohammad Noor, blamed what he said were Taliban infiltrators among the crowd who urged violence and even distributed weapons; he said 27 suspects were arrested on charges of inciting violence, some from Kandahar and other provinces where Taliban are more common. “The insurgents have taken advantage of the situation to attack the U.N. compound, said Governor Noor. (Reuters)

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai called the attacks “an act against Islam and Afghan values,” while the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said the deadly attack “was a cowardly attack that cannot be justified.” (CNN)

NATO Secretary General Andres Fogh Rasmussen said the victims were only trying to help the Afghan people. “In targeting them, the attackers have demonstrated an appalling disregard for what the U.N. and the entire international community are trying to do for the benefit of all Afghans,” he said. (CNN)

U.S. President Barack Obama also condemned the attack. “We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue,” he said. (CNN) President Obama also said that the work of the U.N. “is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan.” (BBC)

The United Nations’ special representative to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, was on his way to Mazar-e Sharif to assess the situation, McNorton said.

If the death toll is correct, it would make it the deadliest attack on the United Nations in Afghanistan, and one of the worst on the organization for years. The worst previous attack was an insurgent assault on a guesthouse where U.N. staff were staying in October 2009. Five employees were killed and nine others wounded. The two largest attacks on U.N. compounds in other countries are a 2007 bomb in Algiers that killed 17 U.N. staff, and a 2003 attack on the Baghdad hotel that was the U.N. headquarters there, which killed at least 22 people.

The violence came on a particularly sad day for the United Nations. A Swedish official, Zahra Abidi, serving in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, was killed Thursday by a stray bullet during a shoot out in the commercial capital of Abijdan, the U.N. announced. Another U.N. official in Haiti also died of a heart attack.

In other Afghan developments, six American soldiers have been killed in a single operation in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday and Thursday, a spokesman for the international coalition said Friday. “I can confirm that six coalition soldiers have been identified as U.S. soldiers, and were all killed as part of the same operation, but in three separate incidents,” said Maj. Tim James. (New York Times) The operation, a helicopter borne assault into a remote part of Kunar Province close to the Pakistani border, was ongoing. The area is frequently used to infiltrate fighters from Pakistan. The purpose of the operation, Maj. James said, was to “disrupt insurgent operations.” (New York Times)

The governor of Kunar Province, Said Fazlullah Wahidi, said the operation began Wednesday as a joint Afghan and American air and ground operation in the districts of Sarkani and Marawara, close to the border of Pakistan. He said that 14 insurgents were killed and 10 wounded, but had no information about Afghan government casualties.


Syrian Cabinet Quits Amid Unrest

President Bashar al-Assad sought to deflect the greatest challenge to his 11-year rule by mobilizing tens of thousands of Syrians in mass rallies across the country on Tuesday in response to pro-democracy protests.

Assad also accepted the resignation of his government, ahead of a long-awaited speech in which he is expected to lift emergency law which has been in place for nearly half a century since his Baath Party took power in a coup.

Abolishing emergency rule has been a key demand of protests, which erupted nearly two weeks ago and in which more than 60 people have been killed, drawing international condemnation.

But the government-organized show of mass support suggested Assad was seeking to address his people from a position of strength, adopting a strategy to counter unrest that was once unthinkable in this most tightly controlled of Arab states.

Protesters at first had limited their demands to greater freedoms. But, increasingly incensed by a security crackdown on them, especially in the southern city of Deraa where protests first erupted, they later demanded the “downfall of the regime.” (Reuters)

The calls echo those heard during recent Arab uprisings that have toppled autocratic presidents in Tunisia and Egypt and also motivated rebels fighting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

“In a series of side meetings I also had the chance to discuss a number of issues, including Syria,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after a London meeting of international powers on Libya. “I expressed our strong condemnation of the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrators, in particular the violence and killing of civilians in the hands of security forces,” she added. (Toronto Star)

State television showed people in the Syrian capital Damascus and cities including Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Tartus waving the national flag and chanting “God, Syria, Bashar” in what were dubbed “Loyalty Marches.” (Reuters)

“Breaking News: the conspiracy has failed!” declared one banner, referring to government accusations that foreign elements and armed gangs are behind the unrest. “With our blood and our souls we protect our national unity,” another said. (Reuters)

On Monday, the armed forces in Daraa fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the pro-democracy demonstrators; it was unclear if there were any casualties.

“They were marching peacefully, asking for their rights, when the army opened fire at them,” said one witness who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. “But this is not the end.” (New York Times)

“Sectarian was never an issue before, this is a conspiracy targeting Syria,” said Jinane Adra, a 36-year-old Syrian who came from Saudi Arabia to express support for Assad. “The Syrian people are one, there is no place for religious divisions between us,” she said, flanked by her children, ages 3 and 5, carrying red roses and pictures of Assad. (Toronto Star)

Mohammed Ali, 40, said Assad was in touch with the Syrian people and aware of their need for reforms. “This dirty conspiracy will be short-lived, we are all behind him,” he said, cradling an Assad poster on his chest. (Toronto Star)

All gatherings and demonstrations not sponsored by the state are banned in Syria, a country of 22 million at the sensitive heart of generations of Middle East conflict.

Media organizations operate in Syria under restrictions. The government has expelled three Reuters journalists in recent days – its senior foreign correspondent in Damascus and then a two-man television crew who were detained for two days before being deported back to their home base in neighbouring Lebanon.

“President Assad accepts the government’s resignation,” the state news agency SANA said, adding that Naji al-Otari, the prime minister since 2003, would remain caretaker until a new government was formed. (Reuters) The president plans to make “a very important speech” on Wednesday, Reem Haddad, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Information Ministry said. The speech will “reassure the Syrian people,” the state-run SANA news agency has reported. (CNN)

Sacking the government is seen as a cosmetic change since it has little authority in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hands of Assad, his family and the security apparatus.

Earlier more than 200 protesters gathered in Deraa chanting, “God, Syria, and Freedom” and “O Hauran rise up in a revolt,” a reference to the plateau where Deraa is located. (Reuters)

Deraa is a center of tribes belonging to Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, many of whom resent the power and wealth amassed by the elite of the Alawite minority to which Assad belongs. Latakia, a religiously mixed port city, has also seen clashes, raising fears the unrest could take on sectarian tones.

The government has said Syria is the target of a project to sow sectarian strife. “If things go south in Syria, bloodthirsty sectarian demons risk being unleashed and the entire region could be consumed in an orgy of violence,” wrote Patrick Seale, author of a book on late  president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, on the Foreign Policy blog. (Reuters)

Bordered by Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Israel, Syria maintains a strong anti-Israel position through its alliances with Shi’ite Muslim regional heavyweight Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as well as Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas. It has also reasserted influence in smaller neighbour Lebanon.

Last week Assad made a pledge to look into ending emergency laws, consider drafting laws on greater political and media freedom, and raise living standards. However Syrian officials, civic rights activists and diplomats doubt that Assad, who contained a Kurdish uprising in the north in 2004, would completely abolish emergency laws without replacing them with similar legislation. Emergency laws have been used since 1963 to stifle political opposition, justify arbitrary arrest and give free reign to a pervasive security apparatus.

“We believe President Assad is at a crossroads. He has claimed to be a reformer for over a decade but he has made no substantive progress on political reforms and we urge him to … address the needs and the aspirations of the Syrian people,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. (Reuters)

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe urged Syria to adopt political reform, but said it was not time for sanctions or intervention by the United States.

Protesters want political prisoners freed, and to know the fate of tens of thousands who disappeared in the 1980s.

The British-educated president was welcomed as “reformer” when he replaced his father in 2000. He allowed a short-lived “Damascus Spring” in which he tolerated debates that criticized Syria’s autocratic rule, but later cracked down on critics. Assad’s crackdown on protests has drawn international condemnation, including from close ally, neighbouring Turkey. But, Syria is unlikely to face the kind of foreign military intervention seen in Libya.

By cultivating rapprochement with the West in recent years, while at the same time consolidating its ties with anti-Israel allies in Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, Syria poses a headache for the West which has few options beyond condemning the violence and making calls for political reforms.

The United States, long critical of Syria’s support for anti-Israeli militant groups and its involvement in Lebanon, restored full diplomatic relations by sending an ambassador to Damascus in January after a nearly six-year gap.

“Iran is very involved with this regime. Iran would defend it with all means possible,” said Antoine Basbous, head of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab countries. “What’s at stake if the Syria regime falls is not just a matter of Syria internally, the stakes are above all geopolitical ones on a regional scale.” (Reuters)

“There must be a very harsh debate going on” around the president, said Elizabeth Picard, a political science professor and expert on Syria who is based in France. “We’re nearing a zero-sum game. Once you let go a little, you take the risk of losing everything. Some people are going to cling to power.” (New York Times)