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Tuesday
Mar222011

Yemen's President Stepping Down by Year's End?

GAMAL NOMAN/AFP/Getty Images(SANA'A, Yemen) -- Sources close to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh say the country’s leader intends to step down by the end of the year, according to published reports.

Protesters have for two months demanded that Saleh immediately step down. It’s not clear whether this move, meant to appease the opposition, will be accepted.

Violent clashes and crackdowns on demonstrators in the capital city of Sana’a prompted condemnation from President Obama, who earlier this month called on Saleh “to adhere to his public pledge to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully.”

The U.S. State Department has warned Americans not to travel to Yemen, citing a “high security threat level” in the country, “due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.” Family members of U.S. Embassy staff and non-essential personnel have been authorized to leave.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar222011

Tsunami Evacuees in Japan Struggle to Rebuild Lives From Shelters

JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images(IWATE PREFECTURE, Japan) -- Eleven days after Japan's worst earthquake and tsunami ravaged the country, the sound of cranes lifting cars and saws cutting through mounds of twisted metal and trees signal a step forward for the hard-hit northern region of the country.

Despite the progress, however, thousands remain missing, perhaps washed away forever, while their homeless loved ones try to rebuild their lives from evacuation shelters.

In the coastal town of Kamaishi, 458 of the 40,000 residents died when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck the town.  The city's main roads are back open and crews are moving in to clear the debris.

Progress on the streets means little for evacuees inside one of Kamaishi's six dozen shelters.  Toshi Sasaki, 81, was airlifted to Kamaishi city after flooded roads made it impossible for her to reach the shelter.  Her home, located on higher ground, survived the tsunami but her brother-in-law and her granddaughter's husband were washed away, leaving Sasaki's three-month-old great-granddaughter without a father.

Sasaki is among the 430,000 people displaced by the quake.  More than 9,000 people have died from the tsunami and 13,261 people are missing.  Police estimate the death toll will surpass 18,000.

In the small fishing village of Taro, 300 are confirmed dead and a 1,000 people are still missing.  The village only has a population of 3,000.

While Sasaki struggles to care for her great-granddaughter, another evacuee, Toshiko Kikuchi, remains desperate to find her husband, Takayuki.

Kikuchi's husband was the only one at home the day of the March 11 earthquake.  Kikuchi and her son, 21, have searched through every evacuee list, at individual shelters.  They have gone line by line, reading the descriptions of bodies found in the city.  The two planned to visit every hospital Tuesday in search of Takayuki.

Kamaishi officials face their own struggles: how to bury all the bodies, a number growing by the day.  Spokesman Yutaka Sasaki said that the city would have to forego standard cremation procedures in Japan, and begin burying the dead, with approval from family members.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar222011

US Air Force Warplane Crashes in Libya; Crewmen Safe After Ejecting

U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Ammons(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. Air Force warplane went down in Libya Monday night, forcing the two crewmen onboard to eject from the aircraft, according to officials.

In a statement released Tuesday, U.S. Africa Command said the F-15E Strike Eagle went down over northeast Libya around 10:30 p.m. Central European Time after the aircraft experienced equipment malfunction.  The two crew members who abandoned the plane have been rescued and are said to be safe.  Their identities are being withheld until their loved ones are notified.

The warplane flew out of Aviano Air Base in Italy in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

The cause of the incident is currently being investigated.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar222011

Libyan Ex-Diplomat: Gadhafi 'Unstable,' Possibly Hiding Underground

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Psychological analysts in the CIA spend a lot of time and effort trying to get inside the mind of someone like Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, whose well-documented quirks leave little doubt that it's a strange place.

But according to a former CIA analyst and a Libyan diplomat, suspicion over his own security and devastating allied bombing may have driven the "mad dog of the Middle East" into a new, potentially dangerous depression.

"We know he is unstable," former deputy Libyan ambassador to the United Nations Ibrahim Dabbashi told ABC News.  "I think he will kill as much as he can and he will destroy as much as he can."

Gadhafi has also become suspicious of his infamous 40-strong all-female bodyguard contingent in the last couple weeks, Libyan diplomats said, before a popular uprising threatened his 42-year reign in the North African nation.

"I believe he must feel abandoned and it is inconceivable to him, having given 42 years of his life to the leadership of Libya, that everyone does not love him," Jerrod Post, former CIA psychological profiler and professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at the Elliot School of International Affairs, told ABC News.

Potentially adding to Gadhafis' woes is an unconfirmed report from an official in the Libyan U.N. mission that one of Gadhafi's son's, Khamis Gadhafi, perished Monday.  The official told ABC News that Khamis, who according to leaked State Department documents was the head of an elite military unit charged with protecting the regime, died from severe burns after being injured in a kamikaze attack by a disaffected Libyan pilot on the central command and control headquarters of the Gadhafi family.

ABC News has not been able to independently confirm the official's claim.

But no matter how bad it gets, Post said it's unlikely Gadhafi would be the type to use suicide as a way out.

"I do not believe he would consider suicide, nor will he accept a lush exile.  He is Libya, Libya is he.  And when he says 'I built this state, and I can destroy it,' he means it," Post said.

Dabbashi said it's more likely Gadhafi would refuge in a series of deep underground tunnels throughout Tripoli where he can hide.

"Whenever he feels danger, he leaves from somewhere unknown," Dabbashi said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar222011

What Are We Doing There? U.S. Role in Libya Ops Unclear

ABC News(SANTIAGO, Chile) -- The U.S. role in Libya is growing murkier as coalition forces continue to launch fresh attacks against Moammar Gadhafi's assets, and allies such as Italy and Norway look for guidance on who is leading the strikes.

Obama administration officials have repeatedly said the military operation will be short in duration and scope, and that the United States will hand over authority to its coalition partners soon. President Obama said Monday the transition will happen in a "matter of days, not a matter of weeks."

But there is little clarity and a lot of hesitation on the part of coalition members on who will take over the reins. NATO members have been divided over the goal and mission of the U.N.-backed air strikes, with Turkey and Russia leading the criticism. And such uncertainty has already strained the coalition.

Italian Foreign Minister Frattini said Monday that Italy might "rethink the use of its bases" if the Libyan operation is not handed off to NATO. Italy has been pushing for a NATO command center for the Libyan operations since the Saturday meeting in Paris and wants it set up in the coming days, which looks increasingly unlikely to happen.

Norway is reportedly also suspending its participation in military operations in Libya until the question of who is in command is clarified.

Members of the Arab League have also expressed skepticism. There were several calls from some members of the Arab League this weekend to stop the strikes, given reports of civilian deaths being broadcast by Libyan state TV.

Obama on Monday sought to temper some of the concerns about the mission, saying the United States' advanced military capabilities and initial leadership "shapes the environment in which a no-fly zone would be effective."

There have been mixed messages from U.S. commanders on how the mission will aid opposition forces. Gen. Carter F. Ham, who is leading the U.S. effort in Libya, said that the mission is "not to support opposition forces," but later added that the coalition will not support rebels if they take offensive action against Gadhafi's regime, only if they are attacked.

The president on Monday reiterated the need for a humanitarian intervention, saying that Gadhafi's threat to raze the eastern Libyan town of Benghazi is what prompted him and coalition partners to act.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar222011

For First Time, Afghanistan Says It Can Itself Secure Parts of Country

Department of Defense/Pfc. Jorge A. Ortiz, U.S. Marine Corps/Released(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Nine and a half years after the United States overthrew the Taliban, Afghanistan's government said for the first time Tuesday that it can secure parts of the country with its own security forces.

Calling the transition "irreversible," Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced Afghan forces would take over four major cities and almost all of three provinces.

The declaration is a major milestone on the path toward withdrawing international troops and handing over security for all of Afghanistan by 2014.

But in many ways the announcement is symbolic.  The country has never been more violent, Afghan forces continue to struggle to become autonomous, and most of the areas earmarked for transition have been safe for years.

Panjshir province has long been the most peaceful part of the country and was never taken over by the Taliban when they ran the government.  In Bamiyan province, a small contingent of New Zeland troops have faced little fighting for years, and some foreigners even go skiing next to the country's only national park.  And in each of the locations announced Tuesday, Afghan forces have mostly been in charge already.  As one U.S. official put it, "this isn't a flip of the switch.  It's a process."

Perhaps the most interesting location to be transitioned is Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province -- still the most dangerous province in the country.  The city of 300,000 is a sort of island within Helmand that has been secured mostly by Afghan forces since last summer, relatively safe compared to rural areas where tens of thousands of American and British troops patrol.  And those troops remain stationed within a 30-minute helicopter flight into Lashkar Gah.

The other areas to be transitioned are Kabul province, where Afghan troops have controlled the capital city for years, although French troops will remain in charge of the least safe district; Herat city, the largest city in western Afghanistan; Mazar-i-Sharif, the largest city in northern Afghanistan; and Mehtalam, the capital of Lahgman province.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar222011

Ivory Coast Civilians: Where's Our No-Fly Zone?

SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images(ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast) -- As the world shifts its attention to Libya and Moammar Gadhafi, the situation in Ivory Coast, where at least 500 people have been killed and nearly half a million are fleeing their homes in fear, has been overshadowed.

For nearly four months, the international community, including the Obama administration, have been calling for Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to accept his loss of the presidential election and step down.  Those calls have been met with brutal violence against anyone seen as a supporter of his rival, Alessane Outtara.

There has been video of tanks firing on unarmed women protesters, pictures of some of the more than 30 people killed when Pro-Gbagbo forces shelled a crowded market, and nightly messages on state TV by Gbagbo officials encouraging the youth to arm themselves and attack "the terrorists."

Reports of mercenaries from Liberia crossing back and forth between the two countries show the deteriorating situation in Ivory Coast is threatening to destabilize the whole region, leaving many Ivorians asking: where is our no-fly zone?

The Obama administration has put out many statements condemning the violence in Ivory Coast.

On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Gbagbo’s indiscriminate violence can't be tolerated.  All individuals responsible for ordering or carrying out these heinous acts will have to answer for their actions.”

Clinton also said the administration has pledged over $12 million dollars to the World Food Program to help feed the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting.

But aside from sanctions and a temporary boycott of cocoa exported from the country, the world's largest producer of the crop, little other action has been taken by the United States and the international community.

On Friday, The New York Times published an editorial saying the world needed to do more to intervene before it's too late.  Even a seemingly non-military intervention action like the United Nation's jamming the television and radio signals to stop broadcasts inciting violence would do some good in diffusing the situation, the Times argued.  With the crisis escalating more every day, "the international community must move quickly to halt this terror," the Times declared.

For Ivorians watching the crisis unfold, next to the attention Libya is getting, there is a feeling that the Obama administration and the West is willing to stand by while the country descends into chaos and thousands are potentially killed.

Twitter messages in English and French detail what's happening in the country and cry for help.  One uses hashtags to Obama, Sarkozy, and various media outlets: "S.O.S," @boomshake1 tweets, adding, "WE NEED HELP in COTE D IVOIRE GBAGBO killed us."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar212011

Obama Making a Latin America Trade Connection

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(SANTIAGO, Chile) -- President Obama continues on his dual-path trip to Latin America -- tending to coalition military force in Libya while simultaneously selling the U.S. as an excellent trade partner in the region -- with his eyes on the prize of creating more jobs in the U.S.
 
In Chile Monday, as he did in Brazil over the weekend, Obama discussed ways to expand the economic relationship the U.S. and Chile share, beyond the current free trade agreement that has been in effect for the last seven years.
 
“Under our existing trade agreement, trade between the United States and Chile has more than doubled, creating new jobs and opportunities in both our countries,” Obama said after meeting with Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera.  “But I believe and President Pinera believes that there's always more we can do to expand our economic cooperation.”
 
Obama’s focus in Chile will be on clean energy partnerships, even as Chile has agreed not to build any nuclear power plants in the near future, and on fully implementing the free trade agreement to include protections of intellectual property, as well as eliminating 134 tariffs this year alone. 
 
But Obama was also wooing the region as a whole, by offering “open skies” agreements to reduce government interference in commercial air travel, promoting a Pacific rim partnership, and announcing an educational exchange program that seeks to send 100,000 U.S. students across Latin America to study -- and make sure an equal number come to the U.S.
 
“Today, Latin America is democratic.  Virtually all the people of Latin America have gone from living under dictatorships to living in democracies,” Obama said at an event sponsored by the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America. “We are citizens who know that ensuring that democracies deliver for our people must be the work of us all. This is our history.  This is our heritage.  We are all Americans.  Todos somos Americanos.”
 
Building a strong economic region, Obama said, is a mission that started under Kennedy as an ambitious plan to use massive amounts of U.S. government money to combat illiteracy, improve the productivity and use of land, wipe out disease and provide educational opportunities, all in an effort to bring stability and trade to the region.  While much of that mission has remained the same, the method needed now, Obama says, is growing commercial “equal” partnerships, not maintaining a “senior partner” versus “junior partner” government relationships.
 
“When Latin America is more prosperous, the United States is more prosperous,” he said.
 
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar212011

Japan Nuclear Crisis 'On Verge of Stabilizing,' US Official Says

Sankei via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- A top U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said Monday that the nuclear crisis in Japan is "on the verge of stabilizing," even as Japanese workers were forced to suspend relief efforts temporarily after gray smoke billowed from two reactors.

"The fact that offsite power is close to being available for use by plant equipment is the first optimistic sign that things could be turning around," said Bill Borchardt, executive director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Operations.

Japanese workers made significant progress over the weekend at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant connecting crippled reactor cooling systems to power lines, with the systems expected to be brought online in Units 1 and 2 Monday, and Units 3 and 4 in the next few days, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) officials said.

Units 5 and 6 have already been successfully connected to diesel generators.

Restoring power to the water pumps means workers will be able to cool the cores and prevent a meltdown.

Borchardt said that while U.S. officials believe several reactors have experienced some sort of core damage, the containment structure around the radioactive core is largely intact and water is flowing to cool the radioactive rods.

The effort, which has progressed sporadically over the past week, stalled temporarily Monday at Unit 3, which lost its roof in an explosion last week, after smoke from an unknown source began rising from it.

Meanwhile, traces of radiation from the damaged nuclear plant were still detected miles from the plant, including in some vegetables and water supplies, raising alarm by Japanese residents and spurring U.S. officials to continue urging precautionary steps.

The State Department distributed potassium iodide tables to U.S. government personnel and their families in Japan "out of an abundance of caution" but instructed them not to consume the pills yet. Potassium iodide helps the body block absorption of some radioactive materials.

The Pentagon also ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and destroyer USS Lassen to move farther out to sea off the coast of Japan out of radiation concerns.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar212011

Iraq: American Soldier Killed In IED Attack

Antenna Audio, Inc./Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- A U.S. service member has been killed in a combat-related incident in southern Iraq, the military said Monday, the first American soldier reported killed in action in Iraq since January 15.

The service member died of wounds suffered from an IED attack. The military said the soldier was conducting convoy operations at the time.

The soldier's name has not been released, pending notification of next of kin.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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