January 02, 2007

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Headlines (5:15)
Spain’s Interior Minister today declared an end to peace talks between the Spanish government and the Basque separatist group ETA after a car bomb exploded in a parking garage at Madrid’s airport on Saturday. ETA had called for a permanent ceasefire in 2006. Spanish officials say ETA members placed three warning calls shortly before the bomb detonated. Two Ecuadorean men, who were sleeping in a car when the bomb went off, are still missing.

Indonesian officials have issued conflicting statements as to the whereabouts of a budget airliner that went missing yesterday during bad weather. Initial reports had indicated the discovery of a crash site with 90 bodies and 12 survivors…but those statements have since been retracted. Severe weather in Indonesia also caused a ferry to sink near Java over the weekend. As of today, rescue workers had found just over 200 survivors, but 400 remain missing after the ferry accident.

Construction on one of the biggest dams in the world was completed in western India this week amidst long legal battles and the displacement of thousands. Binu Alex has more.

According to official data, Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River in western India’s Gujarat province will store enough water to irrigate over half a million hectares of fields, supply drinking water to millions of people and generate 1,450 megawatts of electricity. But anti-dam activists say the number of persons displaced by the five billion dollar project have not been taken into account in the official statistics. Work on the 1,250m-long and 122m-high dam began in 1987, but slowed due to legal disputes and protests especially from Save Narmada Movement, arguably one of the largest social struggles in Indian history. After long delays, the Indian Supreme Court last year refused to stop the height of the dam from being raised, as demanded by campaigners. Though the dam’s builders promised to bring water to parched regions of Gujarat, the canal distribution system will take another five years to complete. Activists say the construction of the dam became so political that completion of the dam’s wall took precedence over the delivery of water to region’s driest areas. From Ahmedabad in India, I am Binu Alex for Free Speech Radio News.

A Southern California penitentiary in Chino remains on lockdown after a massive prison riot broke out on Saturday. The prison riot was one of the largest in the state’s history. The unrest lasted four hours and involved as many as 800 inmates. Prison officials, including back-up personnel, used tear gas and projectiles made of wood and foam to put down the uprising. Although racial tensions between Black and Latino inmates reportedly fueled the violence, the riot has underscored the severe overcrowding problem in California’s prison system. In December, a federal judge gave the state of California 6 months to remedy its prison overcrowding situation. California prisons are currently at 70 percent over capacity.

A Peruvian photo journalist working for Agence France Press has been abducted in Gaza as factional fighting continues. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.

Fatah and Hamas have reportedly exchanged hostages after infighting and mutual abduction of each other’s members ensued last night in northern Gaza. The factional fighting injured three residents, including a child. The hostage release comes after other Palestinian factions mediated between the two rival groups, in an attempt to fix a ceasefire agreement reached two weeks ago in the wake of factional shootouts and abductions in the Palestinian Territories. In other news, the Peruvian Foreign Ministry has requested the Palestinian Authority and Israel to ensure the safety of Peruvian photojournalist Jaime Razuri, who was kidnaped by four gunmen in Gaza yesterday. Witnesses told FSRN that Razuri was driving near his agency’s office in central Gaza City when four gunmen forced him out of the car and took him to an unknown destination. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction. The resumption of infighting in Gaza comes amid a deadlocked dialogue on a national unity government and after President Mahmoud Abbas called last month for early presidential and legislative elections, a call that Hamas rejects. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Rami Almeghari, reporting from Gaza.

And finally, some 13,000 Goodyear employees are back at work after agreeing to end their nearly 3-month long strike late last week. The announced closure of a plant in Tyler, Texas, which employs 1100 people, initially sparked the strike. The new agreement will allow Goodyear to close the plant after the end of 2007.

Gerald Ford Funeral (4:20)
Today, the nation bid farewell to its 38th President–Gerald Ford, who died last Tuesday at 93. At his funeral, Ford was eulogized as a man who represented small-town American values, and a President who faced up to challenges in the nation and around the world. Yanmei Xie reports in Washington DC.

India Reacts to Saddam Execution (3:30)
People across India, home to the world’s second largest Muslim population, have responded with public anger to the execution of former Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein. Many Indian states were completely shut down by protests. Vinod K. Jose reports.

US Military Dead Surpasses 3000 (4:00)
The number of US soldiers killed in Iraq passed 3,000 on New Years eve. The death toll reached 3,003 today – 30 more than died in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In addition, the Veterans Administration reports more than 150,000 soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are receiving disability benefits. More than 70,000 have received treatment for mental health problems brought on by their war-time service. FSRN’s Aaron Glantz reports.

Deadliest Year for Press (2:00)
Press freedom watchdogs released their 2006 annual reports documenting violence against media workers and the numbers are grim. The International Federation of Journalists reported the highest number, recording 155 murders, assassinations and unexplained deaths of reporters and media staff. Likewise the Committee to Protect Journalists announced a surge in attacks over 2005 statistics. CPJ said 2006 was the deadliest year for journalists that the organization has ever recorded, with Iraq ranking as the most dangerous for media. Abi Wright is communications director with CPJ. Could you talk about some of the dangers faced by journalists in Iraq and how the nature of these threats has changed.

Wright: “Yes indeed, the violence in Iraq made 2006 the deadliest year that we’ve documented in a single country. Beginning in 2003, we began to see the number of journalists grow but the reasons for these murders have changed over time. The beginning of the war, we documented more killings in crossfire. What we see now is the targeted murders, not crossfire, not a question of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Do these murders and crimes against journalist often go unsolved?

Wright: “Absolutely. Impunity is one the main problems we are following at CPJ. The majority of cases, it’s actually rare that someone is brought to justice. We released an analysis of 15 years of statistics, and found in the vast majority of cases, no one is held accountability. The result is a self-perpetuating pattern where someone gets away with murder once, and other groups and parties who are interested in silencing journalists to commit similar crimes.”

Abi Wright is Communications Director for the Committee to Protect Journalists. Profiles of reporters killed or missing can be found at cpj.org

Violence Continues in Sri Lanka (1:17)
In Sri Lanka, the bringing in of the New Year was marked with more violence. As FSRN’s Ponniah Manikavasagam reports, civilians are suffering from the instability.

Net Neutrality Victory (2:00)
In a victory for advocates of equal access to the Internet, Telecom giant AT&T; has agreed to commit to principles of network neutrality for 24 months. Now, groups say Congress must act to pass a law that protects the public’s access to and use of the Internet. Craig Aaron is communications director for Free Press, which coordinated the “Save the Internet” campaign.

Aaron: “Last year the Republican Majority pushed together a pretty bad bill that would have been a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s telecommunications law. The good news is that bill failed to pass. It died in the Senate and after the election they could not get enough votes to bring it to the floor. That now sets the stage for the new Congress, with new leadership to go in a completely different direction, to tear up that bad bill that was just a big give-away to Verizon and Comcast and others and really begin a true public conversation about what the future of the Internet should look like.”

Though the issue was fairly obscure just one year ago, Aaron said the grassroots support behind net neutrality played a large role in this victory.

Aaron: “People want a free and open Internet where the biggest website and the smallest blog have a chance to attract a big audience where certain companies and content is not favored based on who owns the wires but that everyone has a chance at the same even playing field. And we’re confident, starting in the house that we’ll see legislation that looks a lot better that anything we saw last year.”

According to Free Press tens of thousands of letters were sent in support of net neutrality. After AT&T;’s commitment to protect net neutrality, the FCC voted to approve the company’s $85 billion dollar merger with Bell South.

Pakistan Border Fence (3:30)
Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf’s decision to build a fence on the Afghanistan border has provoked angry reactions in the country. But supporters insist that fencing and mining the border is an act of self-defense to safeguard the sovereignty of Pakistan. Masroor Hussain reports from Islamabad.

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