WASHINGTON — Battle lines over steep federal spending reductions hardened Sunday even as congressional leaders maintained that both Democrats and Republicans want to avoid a political impasse that could lead to a government shutdown in a matter of weeks.
Lawmakers fanned out to their home states after the Republican-led House approved more than $60 billion in reductions for 2011, the deepest spending cuts in generations. Virtually no domestic program would be spared.
Democrats have rejected the legislation as too severe, warning that as many as 800,000 jobs could be lost by making such reductions in the remaining seven months of the fiscal year and harm the nation’s fragile economic recovery. Instead, they propose a spending freeze, which Republicans reject..
With political leaders deadlocked, both sides are positioning the other for blame in the event the stalemate cannot be broken. After the the pre-dawn budget cut vote in the House Saturday, lawmakers left Washington for a weeklong recess, leaving only a matter of days to resolve the issue before the current funding mechanism expires March 4.
CAIRO (AP) — Iran’s first attempt in decades to send warships through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean on Europe’s — and NATO’s — southern flank could further destabilize the Middle East, a region already reeling from an unprecedented wave of anti-government rebellions.
Egypt’s new military rulers, who took power from ousted Hosni Mubarak a little more than a week ago, have granted two Iranian warships passage through the strategic waterway — something Israel has made clear it views as a provocation. Still, Egypt appeared to have no other choice because an international convention regulating shipping says the canal must be open “to every vessel of commerce or of war.”
Iranian warships have not passed through the Suez Canal since 1979.
The vessels bound for Syria are not expected to enter the canal before Tuesday or Wednesday, according to maritime sources in Egypt. On Sunday, the frigate Alvand and the supply ship Kharq were still near the southern entrance to the canal.
The canal linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean enables ships to avoid a lengthy sail around Africa. The Iranian ships are headed for a training mission in Syria, a close ally of Iran’s hardline Islamic rulers and an arch foe of Israel. In Syria, officials at the Iranian embassy said it would mark the first time in years that Iranian warships dock in a Syrian port.
Iran is suspected by the U.S. and Israel of gearing its nuclear program to develop weapons, something Tehran denies. Israel considers Iran an existential threat and is watching the warships’ movements with growing alarm. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran on Sunday of trying to exploit recent instability in Egypt and told his Cabinet he views Iran’s moves “with gravity.”
A wave of protests has been rocking states from the Gulf to North Africa. But whereas Bahrain’s royal family has backed off from violently confronting the protesters, Libya’s security forces are reported to have killed dozens of people. The BBC’s diplomatic affairs correspondent Bridget Kendall looks at the different approaches.
A few days ago it was tempting to view the ripples of unrest as part of a pattern: Inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, an unfolding of large-scale public challenges to jittery rulers who ordered troops to fire on crowds in an attempt to keep the lid on.
But now it is clear that, in Bahrain and Libya at least, the paths are dramatically diverging.
In Bahrain troops have been withdrawn, jubilant demonstrators feel empowered and a dialogue has – it seems – begun with the ruling royal family.
Probably critical here has been not just Bahrain’s image of itself as a modern, relatively liberal Middle Eastern country, but the extent of outside influence.
US President Obama and other top American officials have been on the phone to the monarchy in Bahrain, as has British Foreign Secretary William Hague, all urging a peaceful solution.
Dozens of people were killed when Libyan troops used heavy weapons during a funeral procession amid unrest in Benghazi, a doctor in the city says.
She told the BBC that at least 45 bodies and 900 wounded had been brought to just one hospital on Saturday, describing the scene as a “massacre”.
Human Rights Watch says at least 173 people have been killed in Libya since demonstrations began on Wednesday.
Benghazi has been a leading focus of protests against Col Gaddafi’s rule.
Libya is one of several countries in the region to have seen pro-democracy campaigns since the fall of long-time Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was forced from power on 11 February.
BBC Middle East correspondent Jon Leyne says the current unrest in Libya is the most serious challenge to Col Muammar Gaddafi in his four decades in power.
Reports are difficult to verify as the Libyan authorities have imposed severe media restrictions.
The Benghazi doctor told the BBC that at least 45 bodies and 900 injured people had been brought to Jala hospital – most of them with gunshot wounds.
“Ninety percent of these gunshot wounds [were] mainly in the head, the neck, the chest, mainly in the heart,” she said.
She added that she has been in contact with other Benghazi hospitals, which she says were overwhelmed by casualties and have not been able to count the dead.