January 17, 2006

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Headlines (5:04)
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against the National Security Agency, charging that the agency’s domestic spying operation violates several key tenets of American democracy. Quinn Bowman reports from Washington DC.

The ACLU today filed a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit that challenges the legality and constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program. The Bush administration says the program is limited to gathering crucial information on terror suspects who communicate with American citizens. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of itself, various non-profit groups, and several journalists and academics. It charges that the NSA program violates the 1st and 4th amendments of the Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero says the program represents an unprecedented power grab by the executive branch and predicts the lawsuit will have serious implications. [ACLU clip] “We do believe that this lawsuit goes squarely at issues related of our democracy and the rule of law. We do expect given the salience of this issue that this would be a case that would end up before the Supreme Court.” James Bamford, an expert on the NSA and client in the lawsuit, said that this covert program, which is still in operation, mines vast amounts of data from an ever-growing web of individuals, many of whom have nothing to do with terror suspects. For FSRN, I’m Quinn Bowman in Washington DC.

The targeted assassination of a Hamas leader in the West Bank today could add to the climate of tension in the run-up to the Jan 25 elections. Manar Jibrin reports from the West Bank.

Israeli soldiers today assassinated Thabit Ayada, a 24 year-old leader of the Al Qassam Brigades; the military wing of Hamas. The assassination occurred during an Israeli invasion of the West Bank city of Tulkarem. An exchange of gunfire was reported prior to Ayada’s death. A similar assassination of an Islamic Jihad leader last October in Tulkarem sparked a cycle of violence in the region that took weeks to calm. Hamas has vowed revenge for the killing of one of its leaders. The violence comes as Palestinians in the occupied territories and Jerusalem are busy with political campaigns in preparation for the January 25th legislative assembly election. Hamas is favored to win elections in a number of West Bank cities and towns.

Protests against the presence of United Nations peacekeepers erupted in Ivory Coast today. The West African nation has been divided since 2002 between rebels in the north and the government in the south. Supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo demonstrated in towns throughout the south after international mediators appointed by the UN, called on parliament to step down. The demonstrators laid siege to the UN compound in the Ivorian capital. UN troops responded using tear gas and firing warning shots. Reuters reports, in the town of Daloa, UN vehicles have been attacked and homes of UN workers have been looted. The UN peacekeeping mission is to oversee the peace process and provide stability during the elections scheduled for later this year.

A severe drought continues to bake countries in East Africa. After months of alerts, the World Food Programme now estimates 5.4 million people in the Horn of Africa are in urgent need of emergency food aid. Pastoral and agro-pastoral communities have been particularly hard-hit, as livestock numbers have dwindled for lack of water and grazing land. In drought-stricken areas of Kenya, over 30 people have reportedly died from starvation-related diseases in the past 2 months. The drought comes after two consecutive failed rainy seasons and the next rainy season is months away.

The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan met in New Delhi today to begin a fresh round of bi-lateral talks. The two countries are expected to discuss progress on the two year old peace process. Shahnawaz Khan has more.

This is the third round of talks in the so-called Composite Dialogue process between India and Pakistan since a peace process began two years ago. Analysts say this round comes at a delicate time, as the two sides accuse each other of stalling the process. India blames Pakistan for aiding terrorism in India, while Pakistan says India is not making any headway on the Kashmir issue. On the first day of talks, Indian Foreign Secretary Shayam Saran raised India ‘s concerns over terrorism while his Pakistani counterpart, Riaz Mohamad, raised the issue of India commenting on the unrest in Pakistan’s Baluchistan region. The two sides today reviewed the progress on the peace process and other confidence-building measures. After the success of trans Kashmir Bus Service, that was launched last year, the two sides have decided to launch two more bus services and rail links connecting cities in the two countries. For Free Speech radio News I’m Shahanwaz Khan.

Senate Judiciary Committee Postpones Alito Confirmation Vote (3:52)
The Senate Judiciary Committee vote scheduled for today on Judge Samuel Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has been postponed until next week. Although Democrats on the committee called for the delay, it doesn’t appear the Democratic caucus is united enough to stall the Alito nomination with a filibuster. Nevertheless, numerous advocacy and civil rights groups are calling for such a parliamentary move to stop Alito from replacing Sandra Day O’Connor on the bench. Washington Editor Mitch Jeserich spoke to some of those groups about their views on the Democrats and the confirmation process.

Clarence Ray Allen Killed by Lethal Injection (3:53)
Rallies and vigils were held across California last night, to protest the execution of death row inmate Clarence Ray Allen at San Quentin Prison. Officials at the prison said they would have revived Allen against his wishes, even if he had a heart attack a minute before the execution – because they [quote] “believe in the sanctity of human life” [unquote]. Allen was killed this morning, the day after his 76th birthday, by a double dose of potassium chloride and was pronounced dead at 12:38 AM. FSRN’s Vinny Lombardo was outside San Quentin, where over 500 death penalty opponents gathered.

Opposition Maoists in Nepal Say They will Defy Ban on Organizing (3:34)
Nepal’s opposition parties and underground Maoist front organizations say they will defy the government’s indefinite ban on political rallies and meetings, which was set into place by the country’s King Gyanendra yesterday, after fresh Maoist strikes killed more than 30 Royal Nepalese Army men just outside the capital of Kathmandu over the weekend. Nepal has endured a civil war for the last fifteen years, and Maoists control a huge area in the country’s interior, and run a parallel government in regions under their control. Fearing a complete overthrow, King Gyanedra seized the executive powers last February. FSRN’s Vinod K. Jose has more.

Diplomatic Rift between US and Australia over Pharmaceutical Benefits (4:52)
Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or PBS, was created by Constitutional Referendum, when Australians went to the polls in 1948 and voted for the plan. The PBS is subsidized by the Australian government, and pharmaceuticals listed under the scheme are made accessible and affordable for all Australians. But now, the PBS has come under attack by the United States through it’s free trade agreement with Australia, and the newly formed Medicines Working Group met in Washington last week to discuss details of the agreement, which having not been made public and are subject to much speculation. Cinnamon Nippard has more from Sydney.

Home Health Care Workers Rally in Harlem (3:09)
In commemoration of the life and struggles of slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, politicians from across New York State’s political landscape came out in solidarity with Home Health Care workers and who held a rally in Harlem to demand a living wage. From the Big Apple, Ian Forrest has the story.

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