February 15, 2006

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Headlines (5:36)
Australia’s SBS television channel today broadcast graphic and disturbing footage of apparent abuse of Iraqi detainees by US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison. The footage includes images that were reportedly viewed by US lawmakers in 2004, but prevented from public release by a court battle. The Australian broadcaster says it is confidant of the authenticity of the footage. This comes just days after the release of a video showing British soldiers beating boys thought to be civilians from southern Iraq.

In Haiti, controversy surrounding last week’s presidential election has escalated with the discovery of marked ballots in a state-run garbage dump. In the first days after the election, front-runner Rene Preval held a strong lead with at least 60% of the vote. Preval and his supporters made allegations of fraud after his lead dipped to below the 50%-plus-one margin needed to avoid a run-off. Even the contested official vote count shows the second place candidate trailing by 37 percent. The vote count has now stopped and Haiti’s interim government has promised an investigation into the fraud allegations.

French president Jacques Chirac has ordered the aircraft-carrier Clémenceau to return to France, after a long campaign to stop it being broken up in India. Ecology campaigners claim that the ship is lined with hundreds of tonnes of asbestos which would endanger the lives of shipyard workers. Tony Cross reports from Paris.

Chirac ordered the Clémenceau to return home just minutes after the country’s highest court, the Council of State, suspended the ship’s journey. It will be the end of a year and a half on the high seas, during which green campaigners have boarded the vessel and courts of law have wrangled over whether it can dock in the Indian port of Alang. Greenpeace representative, Pascal Hufting, says it’s a victory for civil society and for Indian workers. Chirac has ordered the ship to be examined to check claims that officials overstated the amount of asbestos removed before the ship left. And he’s called for Europe, which doesn’t have any yards big enough to tackle the Clémenceau, to expand its capacity for clearing toxic material. The president took personal control of the dossier yesterday, ahead of a visit to India on Sunday and Monday, during which he hopes to discuss co-operation on nuclear power and defence. Meanwhile, a Bangladeshi company today announced that it has bought the French ship, Norway, with a view to dismantling it … the Norway also contains asbestos. For FSRN, I’m Tony Cross in Paris.

In Washington, a contentious bill that would have created a 140 billion dollar trust fund for asbestos victims has failed in the Senate due to a procedural vote. Supporting Senators say the bill is far from dead and could be revisited in coming weeks. The bill will now go back to the Judiciary Committee, where it was created. No asbestos reform bill has managed to pass Congress for two decades.

New York State has filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its refusal to provide records on what ingredients of household and industrial products might contribute to air pollution. Rebecca Myles has the story.

The lawsuit filed yesterday by New York State, on behalf of the Department of Environmental Conservation, came after a two-year battle with EPA to obtain records about the chemical compounds in household products and paints. The suit claims the EPA has violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide the information to state officials who need the records to come up with a plan to comply with the Clean Air Act. According to the lawsuit, paint and household manufacturers claim information about potential pollutants are proprietary trade secrets…but records received by the State show that paint producers have paid to bypass certain federal regulations. New York’s Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer, said about the lawsuit, “the EPA has no grounds on which to deny such a request and is entitled to this critical information…to preserve public health.” The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 to protect human health and the environment. For FSRN, I am Rebecca Myles reporting from New York.

Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has invited Kashmiri Separatist leader, Yasin Malik, for talks on Feb 17. Shanawaz Khan has more.

Accepting the invite for talks, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman, Yasin Malik, today said he and JKLF General Secretary, Ghualm Rasool Eidi, will meet with Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, on Friday. Malik is the second leader outside the separatist, Hurriyat Conference alliance to be called for talks by the Indian Prime minister. Malik, however, said he was going for consultations with the Indian Prime Minister and not for a dialogue. The JKLF leader criticized past talks between various Kashmirs Separatists and New Delhi as photo ops, rather than sincere inclusion in the decision-making process.

Feingold Attempts to Block Patriot Act (3:40)
Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is blocking all progress on The Patriot Act, which is supposed to be taken up by the Senate today. Feingold is in staunch opposition to the Act, because he says it violates basic civil liberties. Leigh Ann Caldwell has more from Capitol Hill.

Rangel Re-Introduces Draft Legislation (1:42)
House Representative Charles Rangel has submitted a bill calling to re-institute the military draft. Rangel says that he is not optimistic that the bill will pass, but that he has submitted it to illustrate the sacrifice that low-in! come soldiers are making on the war’s front lines.

DHS Budget to Increase Despite Hurricane Katrina Response Failure (3:09)
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security took up its twentieth hearing today, grilling Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Despite bipartisan criticism of the response, the Department, which includes FEMA, is one of only two federal Departments receiving an increase to its budget this year. Darby Hickey has more from DC.

Undocumented Immigrants in New Orleans Build Relationships with Small Contractors (2:59)
While there is no way to determine exact numbers, both documented and undocumented Latino immigrants, are heading to New Orleans for work. Although reports have highlighted abhorrent work conditions and lack of pay, new developments indicate some improvements in both working and living conditions, largely due to a budding cooperative relationship with smaller contractors. FSRN’s Rachel Clarke has more.

São Paulo’s MSTC Garnering Public Attention to Housing Crisis (4:02)
Homeless movements in Brazil are growing, largely due to the housing crisis. Groups take over empty buildings and land, and condemn the lack of housing programs. The Downtown Homeless Movement, or MSTC, of São Paulo has organized mass demonstrations to preserve the largest high-rise building occupation in Latin America, called Prestes Maia. FSRN’s Natalia Viana has the story.

South African Shack Dwellers Protest Lack of Service Deliveries (4:31)
As South Africa gears up for next month’s municipal elect! ions, organized shack dwellers have been mobilizing to protest the lack of service deliveries in their communities. FSRN’s Na’eem Jeenah has more.

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