January 04, 2006

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Headlines (5:52)
Iraq witnessed some of the worst violence in recent weeks today. A suicide bomber killed 36 people and wounded 40 others when he detonated his explosive vest during a Shi’ite funeral in Miqdadiya. Three separate car bombings took the lives of at least 15 people, leaving some 40 others wounded. North of Baghdad, insurgents attacked a convoy of fuel tankers with rocket-propelled grenades. Reuters is reporting that 20 of the 60 fuel tankers were destroyed in the attack.

Western Europe heaved a sigh of relief today and oil prices dropped, thanks to Ukraine’s agreement to pay more for Russian natural gas. The dispute led to Russia’s Gazprom energy company cutting off Ukraine’s gas supply on Monday and an apparent reduction of the flow to other European countries. Tony Cross reports from Paris.

Under a five-year agreement, Ukraine will buy gas at 95 dollars per one-thousand cubic meters. That’s nearly double last year’s tariff of 50 dollars … but not the over 400 per-cent rise Gazprom demanded, claiming that it was the “market price” that other countries pay. A joint venture between the 2 countries’ power companies will pay the Russians 230 dollars for their gas and then lower the price by adding much cheaper gas from central Asia. Ukraine will get 47 per-cent more for the transit of Russian gas to western Europe. European Union energy officials broke off an emergency meeting to welcome the news. The EU imports 40 per-cent of its natural gas, half of that from Russia. Several countries reported a drop in pressure yesterday. Russia accused the Ukrainians of siphoning off gas, a charge which Kiev denied while threatening to do so if its supply was not restored. The Ukrainians accuse Moscow of starting the row for political reasons. Since the so-called “Orange revolution” last year, president Viktor Yushchenko’s government has moved away from Russian influence and closer to the US-dominated military alliance, NATO, and the European Union. For FSRN, I’m Tony Cross in Paris.

Bolivia’s president-elect is on a multi-country tour, visiting heads-of-state before his inauguration later this month. Greg Wilpert reports from Caracas.

Bolivia’s President-elect Evo Morales made a brief visit to Venezuela yesterday, where he received a very warm welcome from Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. As a possible sign of how closely the two countries will be collaborating, Chavez promised Morales a wide variety of programs to support the newly-elected government in Bolivia. Among them, a deal that would meet all of Bolivia’s diesel fuel needs in return for in-kind payments of Bolivian agricultural products. Chavez also offered to provide extensive advice on the implementation of a literacy campaign, land reform program, the nationalization of Bolivia’s natural gas reserves, and the convocation of a constitutional assembly, as all are programs that the Chavez government has already implemented in Venezuela. The two countries pledged to advance Latin American integration with the creation of a continent-wide oil company known as “Petroamerica”. Bolivia and Venezuela have the largest natural gas reserves in South America. Greg Wilpert reporting for Free Speech Radio News from Caracas, Venezuela.

Violent clashes erupted between immigrants and locals in a South African township this morning. Na’eem Jeenah reports.

Five people were killed and 11 injured in clashes in the informal settlement Olievenhoutsbosch outside South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, this morning. The conflict was between South African residents and foreigners; Zimbabweans and Mozambiquans. The dead and injured had been beaten with sticks, whips and homemade weapons. No one has yet been arrested but the injured are being questioned and police have increased patrols in the area. The city’s mayor also met members of the community this afternoon to defuse the conflict. Some residents said tension between South Africans and mostly illegal immigrants were sparked by the fatal stabbing of a South African youth before Christmas. Rumour had it that the man had been killed by a foreigner and calls for revenge circulated. South African gangs searched houses for foreigners but the tension died down after a meeting. With foreigners returning after the holiday, tensions flared again. Criminals jumped on the bandwagon, raiding homes and stealing valuables. South Africans have a notorious reputation for xenophobia – especially against other Africans – and this is not the first time that foreigners have been killed. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Na’eem Jeenah in Johannesburg.

The Bush administration is seeking to dismiss pending habeas corpus petitions brought by detainees held at the prison camp at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Greg Gorman reports from Washington DC.

Under a new amendment of the recently signed Defense Appropriations Act, the Justice Department is attempting to dismiss more than 180 pending cases against so-called enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay who have previously filed suit challenging their detention. The new provision severely restricts the ability of the federal courts to hear cases related to Guantanamo detainees. The amendment was approved by Congress only after assurances that pending cases would not be affected. Avi Cover, Senior Associate at Human Rights First, believes that the administration’s attempt to dismiss the Guantanamo petitions is an effort to evade the structures and laws of Congress. (CLIP) In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who are being held as suspected terrorists have the right to challenge the legality of their detention. For Free Speech Radio News in Washington, DC, I’m Gregory Gorman.

This news just in at airtime: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has suffered what hospital officials call a “major” stroke. Doctors say he is under general anesthesia and receiving breathing assistance. His powers have been transferred to vice premier Ehud Olmert. More on Israel and Palestine later in this newscast.

Abramoff Pleads Guilty—Again (3:00)
Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff entered another plea of guilty today—this time for conspiracy and wire fraud charges stemming from Abramoff’s securing a $60 million dollar loan under false pretenses. The plea comes as part of an agreement that will guarantee Abramoff serves no more than seven years in prison if he cooperates fully in a federal corruption probe that could involve as many as 20 members of congress and their aids, including former House Majority Leader Tom Delay. The probe could have a serious impact on congressional elections, as it will likely be capturing headlines well into campaign season—though observers believe the officials under investigation are principally Republican, there’s a possibility it will implicate some democrats as well. Correspondent Anastasia Gnezditskaia has reactions and analysis from the nation’s capital.

Lawlessness Consumes Gaza as Elections Advance (3:50)
Today is the second official day of campaigning for legislative elections in Palestine. But factional fighting and lawlessness are escalating in Gaza, threatening to derail the vote. Late yesterday, Palestinian intelligence officers arrested al Aqsa martyrs’ brigade militant Alaa al-Hams, who they suspect of involvement in the kidnapping of a human rights activist last week. Followers of al-hams then fired at the Palestinian security headquarters in Rafah, briefly took over four government buildings, seized the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and later drove two stolen bulldozers through a border wall near the crossing. Laila EL-Haddad reports from Gaza:

Hamas participation sparks controversy (3:08)
This will be the first parliamentary election that the militant Islamic group Hamas has chosen to participate in. In the face of heavy corruption and infighting within the dominant Fatah faction, Hamas is expected to win at least 25% of the seats. That’s raised eyebrows in Israel and Washington—Hamas has organized suicide bombings and advocates the destruction of the Israeli state. Israel has called for the organization to be disqualified, and the U-S congress has threatened to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas participates in elections. The widely held view in Palestine, however, is that such complaints are simply a pretext for achieving other aims. David Enders reports from Qalqiliya in the West Bank.

Uganda, DRC, Ready Military Offensive Against Rebels (3:02)
The governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are set to launch an offensive aimed at dislodging a rebel army from Garamba National park. The Lord’s resistance army, which is infamous for conscripting child soldiers, crossed to the park in Democratic Republic of Congo, or D.R.C., about three months ago, but there have been some concerns about whether Uganda could participate in efforts to dislodge it. Last month, the International Criminal Court ruled Uganda should pay reparations to the d-r-c for invading in the late 1990s, plundering the country’s national resources, and committing human rights abuses there. the joint military operation will require the Ugandan army—TO re-enter the Congo. Joshua Kyalimpa reports from Kampala.

Goa Evicts Sex Workers to Privatize Port (3:43)
In the former Portuguese colony of Goa, thousands have been forcibly evicted to clean up the city’s red light district and pave the way for privatization of a nearby port. Hundreds of the evicted are sex workers, mostly poor women from rural areas already living on the margins of society–and the Indian government is providing no resources to resettle or rehabilitate them. Vinod K. ‘Jose reports:

Pataki Delivers New York’s State of the State (1:54)
New York governor and likely presidential contender George Pataki issued his final state of the state address today, fresh on the heels of an announcement that the state has a surplus of $2 billion—twice what it had expected. Rebecca Myles has more from New York City.

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