December 20, 2005

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Headlines (5:27)
Transit Strike in NYC
New York City’s 33,000 transit workers went on strike this morning leaving millions of residents to rethink their daily commute. Rebecca Myles reports.

In contract negotiations that went to the wire, the executive board of the Transport Workers Union voted 28-10 early this morning to reject the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s latest contract offer and declare the city’s first transit strike in 25 years. The TWU contract expired on Friday at midnight, and a partial strike affected two private bus lines in Queens with workers walking off the job affecting 50,000 riders. Even with the MTA dropping its demand to raise the retirement age to 62 from 55, they insisted that future transit workers pay 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions. Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union said “This is a fight over whether hard work will be rewarded with a decent retirement….This is a fight over the erosion, or the eventual elimination of health-benefits coverage for working people in New York.” Commuters stayed at home, walked, traveled by ferry or biked. Those commuting by vehicle were restricted to a maximum of four per car to enter Manhattan and commercial vehicles were not allowed to enter Manhattan after 96th street at all. Wall Street investment companies chartered buses for their employees. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has estimated the strike would cost the City $400 million a day. For FSRN, I am Rebecca Myles reporting.

A pipeline explosion today has devastated A community in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. Local officials say unidentified gunmen blew up the pipeline. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

A local government official in Andoni in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region says gunmen used dynamite to blow up an oil pipeline belonging to the Anglo-Dutch company Shell Petroleum. The official says the explosion has razed the entire community at the Opobo Channel. Eight people have died while many more people are missing. Shell Petroleum says it has closed two oil wells in order to curb an oil spill that resulted from the explosion. Nigeria is the world’s sixth largest oil producer and all of Nigeria’s oil comes from the Niger Delta region. But there is tension in the area following complaints by local people that the Nigerian government and western oil companies are denying them a share of oil proceeds. Many in the region are calling for autonomy. The leader of a separatist group leading the campaigning for autonomy is currently facing trial for treason. For Free Speech Radio news, this is Sam Olukoya in Lagos.

A prison sentence was handed down today for the murder of a leading Indonesian human rights attorney. FSRN’s Meggy Margiyono sends this report from Jakarta.

A Jakarta Court today sentenced Pollycarpus Priyanto to 14 years in prison for the murder of Indonesian human rights activist, Munir Thalib. Munir Thalib died last year during a plane trip to the Netherlands after eating a meal that had been laced with arsenic. Although the person who poisoned the activist’s meal was sentenced today, many observers feel the intellectual author of the crime has escaped punishment. An independent investigation concluded that the State Intelligence Agency deputy director, Muchdi Purwopranjono, is behind the murder. Muchdi Purwopranjono is the former commander of an Indonesian Elite Squad who was brought to trial and later fired from the armed forces after being found guilty of the kidnapping and disappearance of activists in 1997. Munir Thalib led that investigation. Although the independent investigation found records of phone communications between Pollycarpus Priyanto and deputy director of State Intelligence Agency, Muchdi Purwopranjono , before the murder of the human rights activist, the former police official was not questioned during the trial.

A federal judge today ruled in favor of eleven parents in Dover, Pennsylvania who had sued the local school board over the inclusion of the intelligent design theory in the high school biology curriculum. Judge John E. Jones III ruled that the intelligent design theory is based on religion, not science and it’s inclusion in the public school curriculum violates the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state. The judge called intelligent design “creationism relabeled”. The US Supreme Court banned the teaching of creationism in public schools in 1987 as the theory was based on the Biblical account of the origin of life. Members of the Dover school board who originally mandated the inclusion of intelligent design in the high school biology curriculum were voted out in last month’s school board election.

Lawmakers Question Bush’s Authorization to Spy on US Citizens (3:58)
California Senator Barbara Boxer has asked four presidential scholars for their opinion on whether President Bush’s authorization of the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance on US citizens is an impeachable offense. This comes as the Republican Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, says he doubts the President acted within the Constitution. Mitch Jeserich has this update from Washington.

Iraqis Disagree that Situation is Improving (2:19)
Using the recent surge in Iraqis voting in the parliamentary election as proof, the Bush administration continues on the offensive, and argues that things are going well in the occupied country. But, as FSRN’s David Enders reports from Amman, Jordan, many Iraqis would disagree.

Israel’s Recent Excursion in Gaza Traumatizing Palestinians (3:33)
Israel is deploying a terrifying new tactic against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, that is causing widespread fear, traumatizing children, and possibly inducing miscarriages. Laila El-Haddad and Mohammad al-Ghalayini have more from Gaza.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Constitutional Referendum (2:58)
Vote counting is underway across the Democratic Republic of Congo in a referendum on a new constitution. UN soldiers have already intervened in fighting in the eastern town of Goma, where militias opposed to disarmament have been battling the combined force of the UN and Congolese Army. If approved, the constitution will pave the way for the country’s first democratic poll next year. And, as FSRN’s Joshua Kyalimpa reports, the new constitution would also limit the power of the president, give the country’s regions more influence and strengthen the judicial system.

A Look at Chile’s Bilateral Free Trade Agreements (4:33)
The World Trade Organization did strike a last-minute deal yesterday, which will halt farm subsidies by 2013. As economically developing nations seek to export products to the developed world, the United States and the European Union want to open developing country’s service industries to foreign investment. One country which has already signed such agreements is Chile. From Santiago, FSRN’s Jorge Garretón explains.

Kashmiris Being Denied Travel for Hajj (2:54)
Hajj, or the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, is a religious obligation for all Muslims who can afford the journey. As the time for Hajj approaches, Muslims around the globe are traveling to Saudi Arabia to make the Pilgrimage. But, as FSRN’s Shahnawaz Khan reports, in Indian administered Kashmir, some people have not been allowed to make this religious journey.

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