Massive Mudslides in Brazil Kill at Least 350, Lebanon’s Unity Government Collapses

BY Francine Uenuma  January 13, 2011 at 8:30 AM EST

(In-depth coverage of President Obama’s speech in Tucson, including video of the speech and analysis.)

Floods, Mudslides in Brazil Kill at Least 350

Heavy rain and mudslides in the mountainous towns of Nova Friburgo, Teresopolis and Petropolis in southeastern Brazil has claimed at least 350 lives, and that toll is expected to rise as an uncounted number are still missing. Parts of Teresopolis have not yet been reached by rescuers. Homes were decimated as rains submerged the area Thursday in what Teresopolis mayor Jorge Mario Sedlacek called “a huge catastrophe, a major disaster,” according to Globo television.

President Dilma Rousseff is expected to fly over the area and release some $480 million in emergency relief funds. Phone and power lines are cut off, and there is no drinking water for many stranded in the flood zone.

The area received an estimated 10 inches of rain in less than 24 hours, an amount roughly equal to a month’s rainfall, leading to massive mudslides.

Lebanon’s Unity Government Collapses

One day after Hezbollah threatened to walk out of the country’s coalition cabinet, the fragile unity government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri collapsed as he was in the U.S. for meetings with President Obama.

The source of friction was a U.N. investigation into the February 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah, a Shia political party and militant group that held roughly a third of the seats in the cabinet, has denied involvement in his killing and labeled the investigation a Western and Israeli conspiracy.

As Lebanon awaits a new governing coalition, there are fears of sectarian clashes within the country that could also destabilize the region. Lebanon is comprised of Sunni and Shia Muslims and Christians, and its government has been a fragile amalgamation of Prime Minister Hariri, a Washington ally, and Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran. Saudi Arabia and Syria were both involved in talks to try to stave off the crisis.

Vice-President Biden Visits Iraq, Emphasizes Troop Withdrawal and Ongoing Alliance

After meetings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Vice-President Joe Biden was in Iraq Thursday, where he told reporters that the U.S.’ overriding goal for Iraq was for it to be a “free, prosperous democracy in this part of the world.” Under the existing agreement, all U.S. troops are expected to be out of Iraq by the end of this year, something Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has indicated he intends to see through despite lingering security concerns. There are approximately 47,000 American troops still in Iraq.

Secretary Gates Calls on North Korea to End “Belligerent Behavior” During Tokyo Visit


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa shake hands after their joint press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo on Jan. 13, 2011. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said North Korea needs to show it is “serious” about dialogue after direct communication between North and South Korea resumed this weeks, after months of being halted amid tensions over the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong island. Secretary Gates is in Tokyo on the second stop if a visit to Asia; he previously met with Chinese officials in Beijing and urged them to pressure their ally, North Korea, over its development of nuclear weapons.

Secretary Gates and Japanese defense minister Toshimi Kitazawa also discussed plans for the existing Marine Corps air base on the island of Okinawa, which has faced opposition from local residents. The two governments reached an agreement to keep it on the island but move it farther toward the coast.

Rioting, Violence Spread in Tunisia

Political unrest in the Tunisian capital city, Tunis, has claimed at four more lives, according to local sources, but the total death toll is unclear. The government says 23 have died; opposition groups estimate the number to be twice that. Protesters have ignored a government-issued curfew after weeks of demonstrations over the country’s high unemployment rate. The instability has pitted mostly young Tunisians against the country’s authoritarian president, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has been in power since 1987.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking during a stop in Doha, said “[w]e support peaceful protest and the right of assembly.”