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FPF: Week Ending May 16

By Gradspot Dot Com

China earthquake: Sichuan death toll could reach 50,000, government warns (CNN)
On Monday, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake rocked southwestern China, hitting the Sichuan Province the hardest. As predicted, the death toll has risen from the original estimate of 10,000 as rescue efforts progressed throughout the week (as of today the count is 22,069), and officials now warn that it could top 50,000. There are also nearly 5 million people reported homeless. The aftermath of the disaster has exposed a number of problematic issues in China, including the structural weakness of many schools and the monumental lack of insurance. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has displayed rare transparency following the disaster—Premier Wen Jiabao immediately traveled to disaster areas to survey the scene and hand out aid, and state-run TV stations have provided 24-hour coverage of the disaster, including graphic footage of death. The earthquake ranks as China’s deadliest natural disaster in a generation.

Deal seeks to end Lebanon strife (BBC)
Just last week, the Western-supported Lebanese government headed by PM Faoud Siniora took two strong stands against Hezbollah: they banned Hezbollah’s private communications network and sacked a government minister allegedly associated with the organization. In turn, Hezbollah’s Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared these measures an act of war and sent his organization’s gunmen to start taking over sections of Lebanon. Since then, 65 people have been killed and fears of another Lebanese civil war have surfaced. Stuck in the middle is the army, who is trying to stay impartial (yes, it is acting as its own organization) but has indicated it must step in to resolve the conflict. These events are significant for two reasons. Firstly, Hezbollah has been allowed to carry arms because it is sworn to protect Lebanon from Israel and never use its arms against its fellow countrymen, yet it is breaking that agreement. Secondly, if Hezbollah were to pull off a coup, its backers, Iran and Syria, would gain a stronger foothold in the region—a situation that is clearly disconcerting for rivals Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Arab League has now stepped in and claims to have created an agreement between both parties, but only time will tell.

Myanmar cyclone death toll soars above 43,000 (AP)
On May 2nd, Cyclone Nargis ravaged regions of Burma. The current official government death toll is at 78,000 with 56,000 people missing. However, the UN estimates that over 100,000 people were killed and over 1 million are at risk from water contamination. Hampering relief efforts is the despotic military junta that leads the government, which until Monday was preventing foreign aid workers from entering the country and allegedly misappropriating aid (in one story, the government seized high-energy biscuits en route to victims and instead provided victims with low quality, locally produced biscuits). Only yesterday did the government implicitly admit corruption by warning legal action against those hoarding or illegally trading aid.

Clinton Beats Obama Handily in West Virginia (New York Times)
In Tuesday’s West Virgina primary, Clinton snagged another win from Obama in a largely predicted outcome, taking 67% of the vote to Obama’s 26%. As the race for the Democratic nominee drags on toward the convention, Clinton drew some criticism for explicitly stating her ability to connect with “white Americans” better than her opponent, and her victory speech emphasized her desire to “carry on this campaign until everyone has had their chance to make their voices heard.” Meanwhile, Obama remained largely aloof in the lead-up to the primary, choosing instead to campaign in Missouri, another key battleground state. According to exit polls, race played a significant factor in the West Virginia results—half of voters interviewed said they believe Obama shares the views of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, while over half said they would be displeased if her were the nominee in November.

California State Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban (LA Times)
Overturning two previous state laws that had limited marriages to unions between a man and a woman, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married. The 4-to-3 ruling described marriage as a “basic right” and cited as its precedent a 60-year-old decision that ended a ban on interracial marriages. When the decision comes into effect in 30 days, California will become the second state after Massachusetts to legalize gay marriage (New York, New Jersey, and Washington have recently ruled against it).Commentators predict that the ruling will once again make gay marriage a buzz issue in the presidential race.

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