February 24, 2006

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Headlines (4:53)
A Nigerian court has ordered Shell Petroleum to pay 1.5 billion dollars to local communities in the Niger Delta region as compensation for years of environmental pollution. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

The court judgment is another setback for the oil giant, Shell, which early this week, shut down half of its operations in Nigeria following attacks on its facilities and the kidnapping of nine of its foreign employees. Payment of compensation for environmental damage is one of the demands of the local militants holding the oil workers. Nigeria’s National Assembly had previously passed a resolution compelling Shell to pay the 1.5 billion for ecological damage. The case went to court when Shell refused to pay. If Shell does not comply with today’s court verdict, negotiations to secure the release of the hostages could become even more difficult. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Sam Olukoya in Lagos.

In Ecuador, the government-imposed State of Emergency has been lifted in the Amazon province of Napo. This comes after troops were sent to the region to deal with protests against foreign and state-owned oil interests. Earlier in the week, protesters had occupied a pumping station that supplies the country’s most important privately-owned pipeline. They were calling for greater investment in the region. The government has now reportedly agreed to spend some $100 million on infrastructure projects and social spending programs.

Residents in Argentina’s central province of Cordoba rallied yesterday to protest a 200 percent increase in water rates. The hike was passed in December to subsidize debt from the French company that controls Cordoba’s water utilities. Marie Trigona has more from Buenos Aires.

Throughout the week, local organizations, environmentalists, and residents organized road blockades in protest of the 200 percent rate increase and privatization of water. Suez, the French group controlling Cordoba’s water utility, threatened to pull out of Argentina last year because of a government-mandated freeze on water rates. The provincial government agreed to forgive the company’s 19 million-dollar debt as an incentive for the company make long overdue investments in infrastructure. Local resident groups are pushing for the government to annul the Suez-Aguas Cordoba contract and have proposed that users and employees form a public cooperative to manage water services. Hundreds of residents participating in the march say they will boycott Suez by not paying their water bills. Suez will soon install over 15,000 water meters to control and restrict water consumption. The company has said that users who do not pay their water bill will have their service cut.

An outspoken Arizona environmental activist is in federal custody after a court hearing yesterday. Evan Davis reports from Arizona.

Environmental activist, Rod Coronodo, was arraigned yesterday in a federal court in Tucson, Arizona after federal agents arrested him on Wednesday. During yesterday’s court appearance, Coronado was charged with felony “distribution of information relating to a destructive device” for allegedly giving instructions on how to create an incendiary device during a speech he gave in San Diego in 2003. A San Diego area housing development that was under construction was destroyed by arson less than 24 hours before Coronodo’s speech there, but Coronodo is not being charged with setting the blaze, which Earth Liberation Front took credit for at the time. Coronodo is being held in detention in Tucson and is expected to be transferred on Monday to a Federal court in San Diego.

3,600 Teamsters Union members are on strike against Connecticut-based Sikorsky Aircraft, which makes helicopters for civilian and military use. The strike began Monday over the failure to agree on health care coverage. Melinda Tuhus reports from the picket line.

On a warm day for February, dozens of strikers circled the main entrance to the plant. The feeling was relaxed and horn-honking in support from passing vehicles was raucous and constant. The average employee is 48 years old with 25 years seniority, and health care is a big concern. Joe Racan, a union official and 21-year employee, explains a trade-off with other benefits the workers are willing to make. “They understand that health care is in a national crisis, and we don’t mind paying a little bit more. Just divert a little money from our raises or our signing bonus towards that to keep it status quo. We’re not asking for anything more.” The company says health care costs have risen 45 percent during the last three years. It wants to institute a 20-percent worker co-pay on health insurance, but the workers have rejected that, saying the company doesn’t need to impose those costs to stay competitive. No talks are currently scheduled. For FSRN, I’m Melinda Tuhus in Stratford, Connecticut.

Philippines on a State of Emergency feature:(1:30), reporter interview (3:11)
Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency today, amid massive anti-government demonstrations, and an alleged coup plot. FSRN’s Girlie Linao reports from Manila.

Immigration Debate Heats Up As Bush Extends the TPS Program for Central-American Immigrants (3:09)
President Bush met with Salvadoran President Elias Antonio Saca at the White House this afternoon, where the two leaders discussed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, although the main topic of discussion was immigration. President Saca is pushing for a comprehensive immigration reform program that would assign legal status to Salvadoran immigrants already in the United States. President Bush offered a bit of immigration relief by announcing that he would extend a temporary program, allowing some Salvadoran and other Central American immigrants to stay in the US with temporary status for another year. But as Washington Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, some members of Congress are vowing to defeat that extension.

Congressman Calls to Bring Troops Home (2:18)
US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has warned sectarian violence is a threat to the future of Iraq, following the bombing of the Samara shrine this week. As the country remains tense with the continued presence of US and coalition troops, a U.S. Congressman, who is previous supporter of the war and sits on the House Appropriations Committee, has called for troops to return. FSRN’s Rebecca Myles files this story.

Justice Found in Anti-Muslim Violence in India (4:29)
Human rights activists have hailed a judgment handed down today in a case related to the 2002 sectarian violence in the Western Indian state of Gujarat as a triumph of truth and justice. 9 of 21 defendants charged by a lower court under directions from India’s Supreme Court were sentenced to life in prison. The decision has stirred new optimism for the Muslims who had lost all hope in the investigations and the trials run by the Gujarat government. FSRN’s Binu Alex reports from Vadodara, India.

Groups Says EPA Ignoring Health Risks for New Orleans Residents (1:56)
A national environmental group has charged that the Environmental Protection Agency is not doing enough to warn residents returning to New Orleans of health risks. The report released yesterday by the National Resources Defense Council, is the latest in a series of charges by the NRDC and other groups that the EPA is ignoring its own guidelines in dealing with the contamination caused by post-Katrina flooding. Christian Roselund has more from the Crescent City.

African Americans Debate Black History Month (3:41)
As Black History Month comes to a close, some people take this time to reflect, remember, and rejoin the history and achievements of African Americans – even as recent comments made by actor Morgan Freeman, have stirred up debate on whether Black History Month is necessary. Selina Musuta reports on that discussion from Washington, DC – hometown of Black History Month founder, Dr. Carter G. Woodson.

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