January 25, 2007

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Headlines (5:30)
Four people are dead and another 20 are wounded after clashes erupted today in Beirut between supporters and opponents of the government. Fighting started with an argument between university students over Tuesday’s national strike. The clashes escalated from rock-throwing to gunfire as it moved from the university campus onto neighborhood streets. The Lebanese Army has declared a curfew in effect until dawn. The violence has overshadowed news of a 7.6 billion dollar aid package for Lebanon that was announced earlier today at a donor conference in Paris.

While President Bush is coming under fire for his proposal to send more troops to Iraq, Britain’s Prime Minister has promised to bring British troops home. Naomi Fowler reports from London on the first full Parliamentary debate on Iraq for 2 and a half years.

Many were critical of Prime Minister Blair’s absence from yesterday’s Parliamentary debate. Instead, he was at a business conference and he sent his Defense Secretary Margaret Beckett to face angry Members of Parliament: (sound) “I don’t think it is any longer reasonable or legitimate to ask our armed forces to bear this burden and that’s why I believe the process of withdrawal should begin on the first of May and it should end in October. In short Mr Speaker, it is time to go.” Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell. While the British Defense Secretary said British troops would start to come home in the spring although she could not set a precise date, that same day US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad said he wanted Britain to keep its troops at the current level. “It is clear” he said “our preference would be ‘the longer we stay together here the better.” The British government is playing down any tensions between UK and US policy, insisting that British plans are consistent with the coalition’s long term strategy. This is Naomi Fowler in London for Free Speech Radio News.

The battle to increase the minimum wage continues as Democrats and Republicans in the Senate go into day 5 of their debate on the issue. Karen Miller reports from Washington DC.

A move to pass the minimum wage increase as a stand alone bill failed yesterday. Republicans and one key Democrat in the Senate want the legislation to include tax breaks for small businesses. Senate leaders are working on a compromise. Senator Ted Kennedy, Democrat from Mass: (sound) “This issue calls out for justice. It calls out for fairness. It calls out for action. We are sending out a very strong message to those who are opposing the increase. We will get an increase to the minimum wage.” The 2 dollar and 10 cent increase has already been approved by the House as part of its 100 hour agenda and Democrats in the Senate are determined to move forward on the issue. President Bush has said he would support the minimum wage increase as long as small business tax breaks are maintained. For FSRN I’m Karen Miller in Washington DC.

The administration of Ecuador’s new president, Rafael Correa was dealt a heavy blow last night with the death of the nation’s first female Defense Minister only 9 days after she took office. Joseph Mutti reports from Quito.

Guadalupe Larriva was the most visible member of the president’s new cabinet that includes six other women. She was widely respected on both sides of the political divide and had shown commitment to legal reforms that would make the country’s military subordinate to elected political authority. Her death, in what is reported as a mid-air collision between helicopters, is being treated as an accident although there are many who voice suspicion as to the timing and circumstances of the crash – above all because no other high ranking military official was with her at the time. The new government has been under siege from day one, with the Congress – which Correa refers to as a sewer of corruption – blocking the promised referendum on a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new constitution. Observers in Ecuador say that an indication of the president’s apprehension over an impartial military inquiry into the death of Larriva came today when he requested foreign expert help in investigating the crash. For FSRN in Quito, I’m Joseph Mutti.

India and Russia today signed a memorandum of intent for the development and construction of four additional atomic reactors in India. FSRN’s Vinod K. Jose reports.

Two were agreed earlier. Now, materials for four more nuclear reactors are on their way to India. Heads of Indian and Russian nuclear agencies signed a deal after a meeting between visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. India has an estimated 100 Billion dollar nuclear energy market and countries that supply materials for the nuclear industry have been eying this market since the passing of Indo-US nuclear agreement. New reactors can be built in India only after it is exempted from international restrictions on trading in fissile material by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Until then, it is the time for negotiating deals and signing agreements to make way for the huge nuclear energy business. For FSRN from New Delhi, this is Vinod K. Jose.

Iraq Resolution Opposing Bush’s Troop Increase Gaining Support in the Senate (1:00)
The Iraq resolution offered by influential Republican Senator John Warner, opposing the President’s troop increase in Iraq, is gaining broader support than the version offered by Senator Joe Biden, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Several moderate Democrats and Republicans, who are turned off by the strong language in the Biden bill, are pleased with the alternative. The Warner resolution avoided the word “escalation”, and cut out the term “not in the nation’s interest”. The Warner resolution also includes parts of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation to impose benchmarks. They also wanted to distinguish Anbar Provence, which they said needs additional troops. It is unclear which resolution will get a vote, or if a combination of the two will be offered.

Despite Optimism, Iraqi Economy Shows Signs of Continued Slump (2:30)
Fighting across Iraq today left at least 60 people dead, and there were street battles again between Iraqi and U.S. troops and Iraqi guerrillas on Haifa Street, a central Baghdad neighborhood that has seen increased fighting in the past two years. Fighting on Haifa Street on Tuesday included the apparent shoot-down of a helicopter belonging to the private U.S. security firm Blackwater, and the execution of four security guards inside it. Despite the ongoing violence, some argue that there are hopeful signs for Iraq’s economy, as the U.S. dollar weakens worldwide, strengthening other currencies. But many Iraqis are unconvinced. Hiba Dawood reports.

Conference of Mayors Calls on Fed to Fund Local Clean Energy Initiatives (4:00)
More than 250 mayors called for the federal government to fund local initiatives on clean energy and to improve energy efficiency at the 75th annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors in Washington DC today. Nan McCurdy has more.

American Indian State of the Union Highlights Need for U.S. to Make Good on Treaties (3:30)
The President of the National Congress of American Indians delivered the State of their Union address today. President Joe Garcia said Native Americans have made great strides, but have a long way to go. He said they’ll need the U.S. government to fulfill their side of past treaties and agreements. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Footballer’s Imminent Execution Highlight’s Singapore’s Troubling Death Penalty Laws (3:30)
A 20-year-old Nigerian footballer convicted of drug trafficking is due to be executed on Friday in Singapore. Singapore is said to have the highest per capita execution rate in the world – most of those executions are carried out for drug related offenses. The impending execution has not only brought Singapore’s high execution rate under spotlight, but also highlights the execution of persons, including foreign nationals, for crimes like drug trafficking, where no life was taken. Sam Olukoya has more from Lagos.

Italians Protest New U.S. Military Base (3:45)
Italy’s government signed an agreement with the United States to build a new military base in the country’s north, without consulting its population. Italian locals have staged an ongoing protest against the base, which, as Diletta Varlese reports, has now expanded to the national level.

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