Brazil Floods Death Toll Rises, Tunisian Protesters Call for President To Step Down


(In-depth coverage of the Tucson tragedy.)

Death Toll Rises to More Than 500 in Brazil After Floods, Mudslides

A man stands at his doorway observing the wreckage caused by mudslides and flooding in Teresopolis, some 100 km from downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Jan. 13, 2011. (Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

The death toll from heavy rains and mudslides in southeastern Brazil has risen to more than 500 people, and that number is expected to rise as searchers pull bodies from the rubble. The towns of Novo Friburgo, Teresopolis and Petropolis were hardest hit as homes and swaths of land were inundated by the sudden deluge, killing many as they slept. An estimated 14,000 people are now homeless in what many are calling Brazil’s most severe natural disaster.

President Dilma Rousseff, overseeing the relief effort just weeks after taking office, called the scene “very shocking” and has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars of aid from the federal government.

Demonstrators in Tunisia Call for President’s Exit

Thousands of protesters converged on downtown Tunis, the capital of the North African country of Tunisia, calling on authoritarian president President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to step down after occupying the office since 1987.

Demonstrators shouts slogans in front the Interior ministry in Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis after Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s address to the nation on Jan. 14, 2011. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday night Ben Ali delivered a speech in an attempt to quell the protests and to address the high unemployment and corruption that helped spur the riots, which have left an estimated 60 people dead in recent weeks. He said he will step down in 2014. The number of demonstrators is unprecedented during his term, which has brought accusations of human rights abuses.

The protests were sparked when an unemployed man set himself on fire after police blocked him from selling vegetables without a permit. The man later died of his injuries.

Gates Calls for Closer U.S.-Japan Ties in Face of Regional Uncertainties

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at Keio University during his trip to Japan, said the U.S.-Japan alliance must remain solid in the face of China’s growing military capacity and provocations from North Korea.

Secretary Gates’ stop in Japan is the second on his trip through Asia. Earlier, shortly before a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Chinese military tested its J-20 stealth fighter jet, a flight President Hu said he was not aware would take place.

The remarks come as Japan and the U.S. are working to reshape the long-standing security alliance, of which U.S. troops stationed in Japan are a key factor. Residents on the island of Okinawa have called for the removal of a large Marine Corps air base. Secretary Gates said he’d also like to see Japan’s own security forces take on a larger role.

President Obama to Attend Memorial Service for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke

President Obama will attend a special memorial service for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the Kennedy Center on Friday, along with a host of dignitaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani President Asif Zardari, with whom he will be meeting earlier in the day at the White House.

Ambassador Holbrooke died in December after surgery for a torn aorta. He was the administration’s key diplomat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and was the chief broker of the Dayton Accords in 1995 that ended a brutal ethnic war in the former Yugoslavia. Holbrooke began his career with the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer in Vietnam.