February 02, 2007

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Florida Governor Charlie Crist has announced plans to abandon the touch screen voting machines that many of Florida’s counties installed after the disputed 2000 Presidential election. The state will instead adopt a system of casting paper ballots counted by scanning machines in time for the 2008 presidential election. Mitch Perry reports from Tampa:

Governor Crist says he wants the state to spend over $32 million dollars to make the transition from electronic voting machines to optical scan ballots in time for the 2008 Presidential election. Kindra Muntz is with the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections. She was behind a successful initiative in Sarasota last November that approved requiring a paper trail for elections in that county. She is one of many advocates for a paper trail that is hailing the Governors move (sound). Congress is also considering national paper trail legislation. South Florida Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler said Crist’s proposal is “consistent entirely with what Washington is likely to do. Wexler has been a vocal paper trail advocate who unsuccessfully sued the state in 2004 to outlaw paperless voting.. Mitch Perry, FSRN, Tampa.

Taliban militants in Afghanistan have seized control of an important town in the country’s southern region. Masroor Hussain has more.

Taliban militants inside Afghanistan have taken control of Musa Qila, an important town in the southern Helmand province. NATO had last year agreed to hand over security of Musa Qila to local elders after a peace agreement was signed. Reports coming out of Helmand region say some 300 Taliban who overran the town Thursday night are still in control of the district compound and they have disarmed the police. Many residents are said to have fled the town fearing NATO bombing in retaliation. US troops in Afghanistan who will take over control of Helmand province early next week face a difficult task of freeing Musa Qila from Taliban militants. Masror Hussain, Free Speech Radio News, Islamabad.

Iran has begun building the infrastructure for an underground uranium enrichment plant, further raising diplomatic tensions. Mitch Jeserich has more from New York.

Both Reuters and the Associated Press are reporting that unnamed high ranking Iranian official is denying accusations by the IAEA that the country is prohibiting it from placing surveillance cameras at the underground section of the Natanz facility where Iran is set to begin enriching uranium. The IAEA conducts inspections of Natanz and other Iranian nuclear facilities to try to verify that work is not being diverted to making nuclear bombs. The accusations only add to the ongoing escalation in words between the United States and Iran. Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, speaking to the pro-Israeli group AIPAC last night, said she will not take the possibility of attacking Iran off the table. Meanwhile, today US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the decision announced in January to send a second US aircraft carrier to the Gulf region does not mean the United States is planning for a war with Iran. He said the purpose was to show that the Gulf is a vital interest to the United States.

In Argentina, a former military officer admitted yesterday in court to having thrown dissidents from airplanes during the military dictatorship. Marie Trigona has more from Buenos Aires.

Former vice-admiral Luis María Mendía, now 82-years-old, on trial for human rights abuses during the time of the junta-run government testified in court that he participated in a plan to wipe out dissidents. He admitted that he gave orders to drug dissidents and drop them from planes into the Atlantic Ocean in the so-called “vuelos de la muerte” – or “death flights”. During his court appearance, Mendia defended torture and other illegal methods used by his subordinates, saying that they were only following former president Isabel Peron’s orders. A federal court is investigating Mendía in a mega trial into human rights violations at the ESMA Navy Mechanics School, the largest of the 375 clandestine detention centers used during the 1976-1983 dictatorship to disappear nearly 30,000 people. For Free Speech Radio News I’m Marie Trigona in Buenos Aires.

Indigenous leaders from Peru are in the US petrochemical capital of Houston today to protest new exploration on their oil-rich land. Renee Feltz reports.

Peru Petrol came to Houston to open its bidding process for 11 oil and gas concessions in the resource rich Amazon region. Officials with the state owned company met with potential bidders at the Petroleum Club in ExxonMobil’s offices. Peruvians working with Amazon Watch also attended the meeting. “They have come here all the way from the Amazon to say they want no more oil concessions on their land.” Previous exploration in the region caused environmental damage. Leaking pipelines polluted jungle rivers. Argentinian company PlusPetrol dumped oil waste into the rain forest region. Protesters also warned investors of legal concerns about new exploration. Lila De Torre is a Peruvian human rights attorney: “We’re b/c Peruvian government is concessioning off the Peruvian amazon without properly consulting the peoples’ PeruPetrol’s new concessions would open up about 22 million acres of tropical rain forest in the Peruvian Amazon. The oil there is thick as tar, and expensive to process. The company’s move to open up the area is driven by high oil prices that make the cost of refining and transporting heavy oil affordable. Amazon Watch says investors considering bidding on PeruPetrols’ concessions were eager to learn about environmental and human rights concerns facing the isolated communities living in the region. In downtown Houston, I’m Renee Feltz for FSRN.

International Panel on Climate Change Releases Report
The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change has issued its strongest report in Paris today, and urges policy makers to do more to fight against global warming. FSRN’s Tony Cross reports from Paris.

Defense Secretary Gates: No Evidence Iran is Supplying Weapons to Iraq
A long awaited intelligence report on Iraq was released today. The National Intelligence Estimate says the sectarian violence in Iraq is the most problematic the report mentions very little about Iran’s involvement there. Meanwhile, amid suspicions of looming war with Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the U.S. has no plans to do so. He added that there is no intelligence that confirms the Iranian government is supplying weapons to Iraq. Washington Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

World Leaders Meet to Discuss Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
Leaders from the US, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union are meeting in Washington today to discuss efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The meeting coincides with a new surge of intense fighting between Hamas and Fatah factions in Gaza. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.

Third Congress of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty Meets
A total of 2,148 people were executed for crimes committed in 22 countries in 2005, the overwhelming majority of them were put to death in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. These figures were published today in Paris during the Third Congress of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, a group of 53 non-governmental organizations, bar associations and unions. Participants discussed ways to raise awareness, and methods to influence governments worldwide to completely abolish the death penalty. Jan Van Der Made was there and files this report.

Peace Movement Moves Forward
In More news from Iraq, the Bush Administration is set to send a request to Congress for a $100-billion supplemental. That would bring the total amount spent on Iraq and Afghanistan for one year, 2007, to $170-billion. Peace activists want Congress to stop funding the war in Iraq, and they’re focusing their energies on Bush’s supplemental request to Congress Monday, the same days he sends the rest of the budget. FSRN’s Aaron Glantz has more.

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