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Friday, August 16, 2013

Egypt’s ‘Day of Rage’

Thousands of protesters took to the streets today, heeding the Muslim Brotherhood’s call for a ‘Day of Rage’ in response to the killing of over 600 demonstrators on Wednesday, the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history.  By the end of the day, over 100 people were killed in  clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and armed vigilantes as army helicopters hovered low over Cairo’s streets firing machine guns at the demonstrators .

In a particularly dark turn, much of the violence was between civilians – uniformed police were scarce. Neighborhood vigilante groups calling themselves “popular committees” took to the streets wielding guns, rocks and bottles. They created impromptu checkpoints throughout the city, barring Muslim Brotherhood marches from entering neighborhoods and in one case, refusing entrance to ambulances and cars carrying wounded from the demonstration in Ramses Square. A video captured gunmen in civilian clothing firing automatic weapons at a crowd on the May 15 bridge in the heart of Cairo, as people jumped off the bridge to escape the shooting.

Government buildings were looted and set on fire and dozens of Christian churches and related institutions were torched. While much of the violence subsided by nightfall, it doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon. Saudi Arabia pledged billions to support the military-backed government; the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a full week of daily rallies against it.

NSA Violated Own Privacy Rules Thousands of Times in One Year

In an internal audit leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA identifies 2,776 “incidents” in which rules or court orders were violated. In incontrovertible proof that the NSA’s actions were unlawful, one of the documents is a court order that calls the “upstream” surveillance programs “deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds.”

One such “incident” led to the retention of 3,032 files that the FISA court had ordered the NSA to destroy. Agency personnel were also instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language for the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A document also shows that the NSA had decided to hide instances of accidental  interception from the public.

Meanwhile, the chief judge of the FISA court said that his court was limited in its oversight abilities and essentially had to rely on whatever the government told them. All of this obviously raises questions about a number of statements made by Obama officials about the NSA program in June.

Ecuador Approves Drilling in Amazon

Ecuador has abandoned a conservation plan that attempted to raise funds from the international community so the country would not have to drill for oil in the pristine Yasuni National Park in the Amazon rainforest.  The Yasuni National Park is one of the most biodiverse regions in the entire world.

Announcing the decision, President Rafael Correa blamed the international community for raising a tiny fraction of what had been promised, saying “the world has failed us.” He called the decision to dissolve the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and the entire conservation plan one of the most difficult decisions he had ever had to make.

While Correa said the drilling would affect less than 1% of the park, the termination of the plan has upset conservationists, who had hoped it would serve as a model other nations could use to preserve their natural parks. It is also likely to be severely unpopular among Ecuadoreans, somewhere between 78% and 90% of whom are against drilling in the region.

Polio Outbreak in Somalia

Somalia is suffering an “explosive” outbreak of polio, and now has more cases than the rest of the world combined, with 105 new cases recently reported. Polio is highly infectious and exacerbated by poor sanitation and a lack of clean water.   The disease has mostly been eliminated except in three countries where it is considered endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Only six years ago, Somalia had been declared polio-free, and around four million have been vaccinated.

During the 2011 famine, however, the al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab banned international aid agencies from the areas they controlled.  The vast majority of cases are in those areas, where 7 out of 10 children have not been fully immunized. It is a daunting task to access these regions, which are home to 600,000 children, especially as even Doctors Without Borders has had to withdraw, citing attacks against its staff.

Zimbabwe Opposition Drops Legal Challenge to Mugabe Victory

The MDC, Zimbabwe’s opposition party, has withdrawn its court challenge against President Robert Mugabe’s reelection. They maintain that the vote was fraudulent, but believe they will not get a fair hearing. The hearing on the alleged widespread vote-rigging and intimidation by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, had been planned for Saturday.

Sadly, the decision seems to have ended any hope of further action by the MDC through the courts, which are dominated by ZANU-PF along with most other state institutions. Vice President Morgan Tsvangirai has been careful not to speak about street protests, fearing a repeat of the violent crackdown his supporters suffered during the 2008 election.

Weekend Read: Bottled Light

Alfredo Moser, the bottle light inventor who has changed a million lives, is proud to be poor. Via the BBC.

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