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Tuesday
Mar152011

Three-Month State of Emergency Declared In Bahrain

JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/AFP/Getty Images(MANAMA, Bahrain) -- A three-month state of emergency was declared by Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah on Tuesday, authorizing the head of the military to "to take necessary steps to restore national security." It is the latest escalation in the tense and often violent month-long standoff between Shiite Muslim protesters and the security forces of the ruling Sunni family.

The declaration of martial law comes a day after a taskforce of around 1,500 troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council arrived in Bahrain to bolster the tiny island nation's forces. Most are from Saudi Arabia, crossing the short causeway that connects the two kingdoms.

The presence of foreign troops has infuriated the demonstrators who marched Tuesday from their symbolic home base of Pearl Square towards the Saudi embassy.

There are concerns that Bahrain's unrest could develop into a proxy war between Iran and its Sunni Arab neighbors. Iran has been accused of backing the protesters but so far no evidence has been offered.

What began as protests by the Shiite minority for more rights and a constitutional monarchy has developed into calls for the monarchy to be abolished. Bahrain is a key ally for the U.S., the home of the Navy's 5th Fleet. During a recent visit, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the king to undertake real reforms, not "baby steps."

The U.S. State Department is urging Americans to avoid travel to Bahrain and suggesting those there to leave. The embassy in the capital Manama has authorized the departure of non-essential personnel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Japanese Officials Warn People to Stay Inside as Radiation Threat Grows

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The threat of radiation exposure was heightened in Japan Tuesday following an explosion and fire at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which later prompted officials to warn people in a 30-kilometer (19-mile) radius to stay indoors.

"Please do not go outside," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano through a translator. "Please stay indoors.  Please close windows and make your homes airtight.  Don't turn on ventilators.  Please hang your laundry indoors."

"These are figures that potentially affect health. There is no mistake about that," Edano added.

The explosion, which occurred at 6:10 a.m. local time Tuesday came shortly after the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were shut down.

While the previous explosions at Fukushima Daiichi reactors 1 and 3 were hydrogen blasts caused by a buildup of steam in the reactor units, the new blast at reactor No. 2 has officials very concerned.

This time, the roof did not blow off and it's now believed the trapped pressure cracked the containment vessel around the reactor's core, allowing radioactive material to seep out.

"It is likely that the level of radiation increased sharply due to a fire at Unit 4," Edano said.  "Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health.  These are readings taken near the area where we believe the releases are happening.  Far away, the levels should be lower."

Edano said that "there could be a high level of concentration among the debris from the explosion," and nearly 800 workers were told to leave the plant as a result.  For the workers who remain, Edano advised them that they "have to be very cautious when working."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Palestinians Take to Gaza, West Bank to Protest for Change

Antenna Audio, Inc./Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Inspired by the protests sweeping the Middle East, Palestinians on Tuesday are demonstrating across Gaza and the West Bank. Nearly 10,000 people have come out in Gaza; thousands more in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Organized on Facebook by activists that call themselves the "March 15 Youth Movement," protesters are demanding political change from their divided government. The people are demanding the rival Palestinian Authority and Hamas reconcile and form a unity government. They say it's the best way to confront Israel in the people’s bid for independence. They're also demanding new elections for the Palestinian National Council.

Police are staying out of the way and there have been no clashes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Japan Earthquake: Radiation Leaking After Fukushima Nuclear Plant Explodes

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Radiation has spread from damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following an explosion at one unit and a fire at another, Japanese government officials said early Tuesday.

A spokesman for the government said radiation levels at areas around the plant are high enough to pose a health risk.

The explosion at unit 2 and the fire at unit 4 of the plant, where units 1 and 3 also have exploded since the powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on Friday, have Japanese officials "freaked out," a senior U.S. official said.

"The level seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out," Prime Minsiter Naoto Kan said.

Kan said most people have left the 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the plant, and he advised people within a 30-kilometer (19-mile) radius to stay indoors to avoid possible radiation poisoning.

"Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "These are readings taken near the area where we believe the releases are happening. Far away, the levels should be lower."

While the previous explosions at Fukushima Daiichi reactors one and three were hydrogen blasts caused by a buildup of steam in the reactor units, the new blast at reactor number two has officials unsure of the cause.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

US Issues Travel Warning About Violence in Bahrain

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As the security situation in Bahrain deteriorates and the potential for violence increases with the arrival of security forces from other Gulf countries, the U.S. State Department is now urging Americans not to travel to Bahrain and suggests those already there should leave the country.

The agency also announced Monday that it has authorized the departure of family members of U.S. Embassy staff who wish to leave Bahrain.

Although the department says "there is no indication that U.S. citizens are being threatened or targeted," it urges Americans in Bahrain to stay alert and to avoid all demonstrations.  The agency says "spontaneous demonstrations and violence can be expected throughout the country."

Violence between police and protesters has escalated in Bahrain since demonstrations began last month, with clashes leaving several dead and wounded.  Protesters in the country are demanding jobs, the release of political prisoners, broad constitutional reforms and an end to the monarchy that has ruled Bahrain for 200 years.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Japan Quake Magnitude Upped to 9.0 as Officials Survey Disaster

ABC News(TOKYO) -- Japan is taking a grim accounting of the catastrophe there and the figures are daunting -- from the number of people without electricity to the number of body bags needed.

But now, there's a new figure: 9.0, the new order of magnitude of the massive earthquake, upgraded by U.S. and Japanese scientists from their earlier estimate of 8.9 magnitude.

Four days after the quake and tsunami struck, thousands of Japanese along the coast are struggling without food, water and power as the temperatures hover above freezing.

The starkest figure is the growing death toll, which has risen past 2,400.  Even so, officials fear that number only hints at the true scale of the fatalities.

Morgues are at capacity and school gyms are being used to handle the overflow, with bodies lined up bodies on the floor for people to identify.  The traditional method of cremation has overwhelmed the local facilities and the supply of body bags has been exhausted.

According to the Japanese National Police Agency, 4,993 buildings collapsed fully or partially, and 39,876 buildings are damaged, figures that, like the death toll, are likely to increase dramatically.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 100,000 troops, plus 2,500 police, 1,100 emergency service teams and more than 200 medical teams, have been deployed in recovery efforts.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

As the West Dithers over Libya, Rebels Lose Ground

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images(AJDABIYA, Libya) -- Rebels in Libya have vowed to repel fighters loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi who've made significant gains over the past week in attempts to retain full control of the country.

The latest target of pro-government forces is the city of Ajdabiya, which guards the road to Benghazi, the rebel capital where an interim government is directing opposition efforts.

If Ajdabiya falls back into Gadhafi's hands, his enemies might find it difficult to achieve their goal of overthrowing the Libyan strongman, who has the weaponry and warplanes to vanquish his foes.

While the fighting in Libya continues, the debate continues among Western allies over what to do about the situation.

Rebel leaders are pleading with the international community to launch strikes against Gadhafi's military installations but so far, there's been little interest in taking a more aggressive stance against the Libyan leader despite his savage attacks on his own people.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Paris to discuss the possibility of a no-fly zone over Libya with Washington's Group of Eight counterparts: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

The United Nations Security Council also began discussions Monday about the same matter but Russia doesn't seem to have the stomach for imposing a no-fly zone.  The U.S., Germany and Italy are also reluctant to intervene directly.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

US Names Chris Stevens Liaison to Libyan Opposition

PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(PARIS) -- The Obama administration’s new liaison with the Libyan opposition will be diplomat Chris Stevens, who had been the number-two official at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until it was suspended when fighting began last month, according to two U.S. officials.

Stevens attended Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meeting in Paris Monday night with representatives of the Libyan opposition, as did U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, who has also had contacts with the opposition.

President Obama told reporters Friday that his administration would appoint an official to maintain contact with the budding Libyan opposition, but officials had not revealed who it would be.

The United States has yet to follow France’s lead in officially recognizing the Libyan opposition.

Clinton told a Senate hearing last week that the United States was still trying to understand the makeup and intentions of the Libyan opposition based in the eastern city of Benghazi and led by the former justice minister.

“We are working to understand who is legitimate, who is not. But it is premature in our opinion to recognize one group or another,” Clinton said on March 2. “I think it’s important to recognize that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the motives, the opportunism if you will, of people who are claiming to be leaders right now,” she added.

U.S. officials traveling with Clinton say following her meeting Monday she had a better idea of the opposition.

A U.S. official, who would not speak for attribution, said Clinton discussed what the United States can do to help the opposition and that Clinton said the United States would do more than just provide humanitarian aid, but she did not get into specifics.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Obama Meets with Denmark's Prime Minister Rasmussen

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama met with Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark Monday afternoon in the Oval Office, where Mr. Obama said that Denmark is a “model” for allies in Afghanistan.

“We have discussed how 2011 is going to be a year of transition, and under Prime Minister Rasmussen’s leadership, he has been able to build a consensus within Denmark about how that transition would proceed that I think is a model for all our allies and participants in Afghanistan.”

The president said that Denmark “punches above its weight”  and thanked them for the sacrifices made by Danish troops in Afghanistan.

Rasmussen said he was pleased to inform the president about the recent decision taken in Denmark, “which proves that we are in this with a long-term perspective,” Rasmussen said. “We want the mission done.” The prime minister announced that he will increase assistance to alternative crops in Afghanistan.

The two leaders also discussed the situation in Libya during their meeting.

“We both share the view that Mr. Kadhafi has lost legitimacy and he needs to leave,” President Obama said, “and that we as an international community have to speak firmly against any violence that’s directed at civilians; that we have to make sure to provide humanitarian assistance, both inside of Libya as well as along the border regions where so many people have left; and that it’s going to be very important for us to look at a wide range of options that continue to tighten the noose around Mr. Kadhafi and apply additional pressure.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Japan Earthquake: Third Reactor at Fukushima Nuclear Plant Explodes

Comstock/Thinkstock (TOKYO) -- There was a new explosion Tuesday morning at a reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the Japanese nuclear safety agency reported.

The blast, which occurred at Unit 2, is the third at the plant since a powerful earthquake struck Japan on Friday.

The state of the plant and fears of a possible meltdown and radiation release have been growing as workers struggled to keep the reactors cool to minimize the dangers.

The explosion, which occurred at 6:10 a.m. (local time), came shortly after the International Atomic Energy Agency had announced that the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant had been shut down.

During a news conference, the agency's deputy chief Denis Flory said that information from Japan "does not show a high increase of radioactivity outside the containment, which means the containment seems to play its role -- to contain."

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