The stimulus package championed by President Obama passed through Congress yesterday to the tune of $790 billion. In this unprecedented move by the federal government to shake the economy out of its slump, the bill is focused on four categories: “tax breaks for individuals and businesses; investments in health care and alternative energy; funding for ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects; and aid to state and local governments.” And so the political back-and-forth begins on what this all means for both parties, as well as for the mythical “average American.” President Obama and House and Senate Democrats see this bill as a miraculous job creator, while Republicans see it as a partisan feel-good project that will do little to help the economy and plenty to help Democratic interest groups. As of right now, the bill plans to save or create more then three million jobs. Only time will tell.
Pakistan officials said for the first time Thursday morning that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks in November that killed 173 were from Pakistan and that the country was home to “some part of the conspiracy” in planning the raid. Six suspects have been arrested and two more are wanted, according to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who acknowledged that the attackers were from the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. Immediately following the Mumbai siege, Islamabad denied any involvement of their citizens but recanted soon after the only man arrested proved to be a Pakistani national. Investigators also found evidence linking the militants’ to connections in Barcelona and Houston.
The brazen Taliban attacks at an education ministry, a justice ministry, and a prisons department office in Kabul on Wednesday are being investigated for links back to Pakistan, Al Jazeera reports. Prompting this investigation was the manner of these attacks where carried out, which have been described as being “not the ordinary Taliban type.” As opposed to single, large detonations aimed at one target, the attacks in Kabul were coordinated and orchestrated—reminding many of the attacks in Mumbai last November. According to the Al Jazeera article, a Taliban spokesman said that the attacks where aimed to avenge the mistreatment of captured Taliban members in Afghan jails. Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is due to arrive in Kabul today, and his travel plans have reportedly not changed due to this incident.
The Dutch Parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, charged with “inciting hatred” by calling the Koran “fascist,” is being held at London’s Heathrow Airport after he tried to defy a ban on entering the United Kingdom. Wilders tried to enter the country to show his controversial film, Fitna, to the House of Lords but was denied entry by British officials. His British host, Lord Pearson, said, “this man must be allowed to say what he wants…[he is] raising one of the most important issues of our time.” The Dutch ambassador in London came to the airport to reiterate the decision to bar his entry. Wilders will be promptly flown back to Amsterdam.
The indictment of Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, might be put on pause. Bashir could be up for ten counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes arising from the conflict in Darfur, but various African and Arab governments are pressuring United Nations Security Council to defer all charges, saying that Bashir’s indictment might jeopardize the ongoing peace process. The Darfur peace talks began February 10 in Doha, and brought together representatives of the Sudanese Government and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) for the first time in two years, with a joint African Union-United Nations chief tasked with mediating the talks. The first request out of these talks was to defer all the Darfur cases at the International Criminal Court in order to help create conductive peace talks with all involved parties.
Pushing Rohingya boat refugees back out to sea happens in “some instances,” the Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in an interview with CNN. He said that figuring out which officials are behind the practice is difficult to say, but it is something his office is working on. There has been an up swelling of anger from the international community over charges that Thai soldiers have beaten refugees of the Muslim ethnic group from Myanmar and sent them back out to sea with little food and water, and after removing their outboard motors—thus to almost certain death. Vejjajiva went on to say that “there are attempts, I think, to let these people drift to other shores” because of the financial toll refugees put on the Thai economy.
Singapore is joining the multinational attempt to police the Gulf of Aden, the body of water off the coast of Somalia, from growing piracy threats. The small maritime Asian nation will station a ship and two helicopters in the area for three months because it takes “international cooperation to secure the sea lanes,” said Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean. Despite a large international presence in the area, boat hijackings are still a regular occurrence.
North Korea may face further sanctions if it undergoes any sort of missile launch test, according to South Korea. Reports are saying that the North is going ahead and prepping a launch of its Taepodong-2 missile, a projectile that “could theoretically reach Alaska.” If pursued, “it will pose a serious threat to stability in Northeast Asia as well as inter-Korean relations,” said South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan. South Korea, under the conservative government of Lee Myung-Bak, has taken a hard-line approach to the North—a departure from his more liberal predecessors. Over the course of Myung-Bak’s presidency (just over a year) relations between the two countries have floundered, with scrapped peace accords and threats of possible war. However, many see the actions of the North as a call for the international community (especially the United States) to take it seriously and to put pressure on South Korea to moderate its heavy-handed approach.