March 21, 2007

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Headlines (5:30)
Fierce fighting has erupted in Somalia after government troops tried to search for weapons in one of Mogadishu’s neighborhoods. Abdurrahman Warsameh reports.

At least 17 people were killed and more than 100 civilians were wounded as heavy fighting broke out this morning between unidentified assailants and Somali government troops backed by Ethiopian soldiers around the Shirkole neighborhood and the former defense ministry building where the Ethiopians are based in the south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. A total of seven soldiers were killed. Two dead soldiers who were dragged in the streets of the capital by angry mobs are thought to be Ethiopians; but this can be difficult to determine, as both Ethiopian soldiers and Somali government troops wear same uniform. The sound of heavy artillery and small gunfire could be heard throughout the capital. The fighting has died down as night fall but is likely to resume at day time tomorrow. There has been an upsurge of sporadic attacks in Somalia particularly the capital, Mogadishu, since the Ethiopian-backed government forced Islamists from power in December. The government has blamed remnants of the defeated Islamist movement, who are in Mogadishu under clan protection, for the almost daily attacks. For FSRN I am Abdurrahman Warsameh in Mogadishu.

Ecuador’s Parliament was on its feet again today after 54 of 57 members recently fired for blocking a referendum on a new Constituent Assembly were replaced. FSRN´s Quito correspondent Joseph Mutti has more.

Ecuador’s Supreme Electoral Council effectively shut down the nation’s parliament on March 7th by removing 57 of its 100 members for deliberately blocking a referendum scheduled by recently-elected President Rafael Correa. The referendum on whether or not the people of Ecuador want a non-partisan Constituent Assembly was originally scheduled for March 18th, but had to be delayed by a month after the 57 deputies made a parliamentary vote approving the referendum impossible. They were subsequently removed for interfering with Ecuador’s political process for partisan reasons and censured by the remaining members of Parliament. There were clashes outside Parliament as the fired legislators and their supporters attempted to enter Parliament yesterday when 21 of the new 54 deputies were sworn in, but Correa has a 70% approval rating in the nation and has vowed from the outset that he would rid his country of the destructive party politics that had turned Parliament into what he coined “a sewer of corruption”. Correa is seen as having gained an important victory in this confrontation with the nation’s legislature and his political future is now generally agreed to be far more sound after the last two weeks of crisis. He had previously threatened to resign if he was unable to carry out his electoral promises. For FSRN, I’m Joseph Mutti.

Colombia’s Attorney General has announced he will make extradition requests to the US for eight employees of Chiquita Brands International. The banana company has already pleaded guilty in US federal court to having paid some $1.7 million dollars to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. The right-wing paramilitary group is on the US government’s list of terrorist organizations. Chiquita says it made the payments in order to protect its operations in Colombia. Both paramilitary organizations and guerrilla groups extort money from agricultural operations in rural Colombia by demanding protection money. The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC as its known by its Spanish acronym, has been implicated in the deaths of several union organizers and is responsible for some of the worst massacres in the the history of Colombia’s civil war.

The UK’s defence secretary, Des Browne, has ordered a partial ban on cluster bombs. The decision follows advice from government officials and human rights campaigners, who say that these bombs put civilians lives at risk. Manuel Rueda reports from London.

Cluster Bombs can be dropped by air or fired from the ground. They can disperse their smaller bomblets over an area as large as four football fields. Bomblets that fail to explode upon impact often become de-facto land mines. Starting today, the British armed forces will only hang on to so-called “smart” cluster bombs. In other words, those bombs that have self-destructing mechanisms. Thomas Nash, coordinates the Cluster Munition Coalition, he welcomes the new policy, but says that it does not go far enough. (sound) “The cluster munition coalition is saying very clearly ban the self-destruct cluster munition as well as all the other cluster munitions. If you walk through the fields of southern Lebanon you will see that there’s nothing about cluster munitions that makes a bomb smart.” The Cluster Munition Coalition says cluster bombs threaten lives long after conflicts are over. Norway is currently leading efforts to create an international ban on cluster bombs by next year. Over 45 countries have signed an initial declaration, but so far, the US and Israel have not shown any interest. Manuel Rueda, FSRN, London.

The House of Representatives today passed the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act by a vote of 302 – 125. The measure frees up federal money specifically aimed at easing the housing crisis in areas devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At least 25 people are dead and around 50 are injured following a gun battle between Maoist guerrillas and Madhesi activists in Nepal. The shootout came after the two groups argued over a venue for a public meeting. PC Dubey reports.

The clash erupted this afternoon when armed Maoists suddenly began putting up their own stage for a public meeting at the same venue in the southern Nepalese town of Gaur where preparations were already complete for a forum of Madhesi activists. The Madhesi meeting was announced a week ago while Maoists decided to hold their own only yesterday. Eye witnesses say Madhesi activists dismantled the Maoists’ stage. This enraged the guerrillas, who began firing upon the Madhesi activists. The latter were also armed and retaliated, triggering the bloodshed. The deceased and injured have yet to be identified. The local government has since slapped a 14 hour curfew on the area, deploying a large contingent of security forces. But fear of more Maoists-Madhesi violence looms large. Madhesis make up half of Nepal’s 27 million population, but are sorely under-represented in national politics. They began an uprising three months ago to win greater political rights and end the domination of minority highlanders over Nepal’s political scene. As the Maoists’ guerrillas are also led by highlanders, Madhesis are skeptical of their willingness to share equal power. This has strained their relations and even caused violent outbursts like the one witnesses today. Ironically, Maoists were the first to espouse the Madhesi’s desire for self-determination, but quickly jettisoned the cause once they became part of the political mainstream. I am PC Dubey for Free Speech Radio News.

House Panel Approves Subpoenas for Top White House Aides (2:00)
House Democrats have set up the stage for what could become a battle between Congress and the White House. Democrats voted to allow subpoenas of administration officials and administration documents pertaining to the firing of 8 US attorneys, who Democrats say were terminated because they would not use their positions for partisan political objectives. The White House originally refuted any direct link to dismissing the attorneys, but thousands of emails released by the Department of Justice appear to link Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and former White House chief consul Harriet Miers to the firings. Now, the House wants sworn testimony from top White House aides.

Rank and File Democrats Struggle with How to Vote on War Supplemental (4:00)
Democratic leaders are still trying to shore up enough votes to pass the war supplemental before the full House tomorrow. And as DC Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, rank and file Democrats are struggling with how they’ll vote.

New US Military Strategy in Sadr City Sparks Local Outrage (3:00)
Four years into the war, the US military is trying a “new” strategy to secure the violent Iraqi capital. But for many Iraqis, it is too little too late. This is especially true in Sadr City, a part of the capital US troops have mostly avoided since fighting ended between the military and the Mehdi Army, a Shiite militia controlled by Muqtada Sadr. Hiba Dawood files this report.

Al Gore Urges Lawmakers to Take Action Against Global Warming (1:30)
Former Vice President Al Gore returned to Capital Hill today, urging law-makers to take action to fight global warming. He spoke before committees of both Houses of Congress. His first stop was the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee. Gore called for legislation to raise fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, ban incandescent light bulbs, and enact a moratorium on the construction of coal fired power plants. Gore also supported legislation that would allow homeowners and small businesses to sell unlimited amounts of solar and wind generated electricity back to the grid at fair prices.

NASA Climate Watch Scientists Says White house Censors Speech (2:00)
A NASA climate watch scientist is alleging that the White House has been tampering with his scientific reports and censoring his speech. He testified before the House Government Reform Committee. Yanmei Xie has the story from Capitol Hill.

Critics Say Halliburton’s Plans to Move to Dubai Linked with Influencing World Trade Policy (3:50)
Energy services giant Halliburton recently announced it is relocating its corporate offices to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The move is part of a global shift away from US dominance of the energy market, and towards state-owned oil companies in the Eastern Hemisphere. But, as Renee Feltz reports, companies like Halliburton are working to shape world trade policy in this region. The result could be a downturn in use of the state-owned oil company’s profits for social good in order to maximize profit.

New Report Indicates West Papua More Disadvantaged than Ever (2:50)
The troubled Indonesian province of West Papua was granted special autonomy status in 2001, which in theory allows Papuans a degree of self-rule. Six years on, a report released by the Baptist Church in Papua says Papuans remain more disadvantaged than ever. Erica Vowles reports.

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