April 18, 2007

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Headlines (5:00)
A series of car bomb explosions in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad killed at least 170 people today and wounded nearly 200. Hiba Dawood reports.

All three car bombs targeted Shiite neighborhoods. The first explosion took place in a central Baghdad community dominated by Shiite Kurds. The second blast occurred in Sadr city, also home of the Mehdi Army; a militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr. The Mehdi Army used to play a very important role in neighborhood security. Militia members would patrol at night, provide assistance to local residents, and even direct the traffic during the day. But a crackdown on the Medhi Army resulted in the arrest of many of its members and has caused the security situation in Sadr City to disintegrate. Abu Huda is a resident of Sadr city who witnessed today’s explosion: “The Mehdi army used to cooperate with the Iraq forces in securing the city. There wasn’t a lot of traffic in the streets and they prevented the suicide bombers from coming in, because the Mehdi Army knows most of the people who come in, and so strangers couldn’t come in. Now the police and army are focusing on the big trucks only, and when the driver gives them money they take it and let the truck, that might be full of explosives, go.” The third bomb went off in Karada, another a Shiite majority neighborhood that faces at least couple explosions every month. A fourth explosion on a minibus killed another 2 people. In all, more than 150 died in what has become one of the bloodiest days in Baghdad since the start of the security operation in February.  I am Hiba Dawood for FSRN.

Jordan and Syria have asked the international community for donations to help cope with the influx of refugees from Iraq. Oula Farawati has more.

Syria hosts an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis, while Jordan says around 750,000 refugees currently reside here. Syrian Vice Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said his country needs 256 million dollars to continue providing Iraqi refugees with aid, health care and education over the next two years. Jordan’s Deputy Interior Minister Mukhaimer Abu Jamous estimates Iraqi refugees cost the government $1 billion a year and have put enormous strain on the resources of a country with just 5.6 million citizens. Senior officials from the two states made the appeal at a meeting convened by the United Nations in Geneva to tackle the humanitarian crisis caused by the displacement of nearly 4 million Iraqis fleeing conflict either inside or outside of Iraq. Jordanian economist Ghassan Moaammar: “When they speak economics, they should put all the angles of the equation to make their formula right. Iraqis do cost Jordan a lot of money but they have also supported the economy and have secured a lot of hard currency to the Jordanian economy,” The refugee situation has caused some Jordanian tensions to flare as prices rise for food and housing, but economist Ghassan Moaammar warns against scapegoating and points out that the refugees have also injected millions into the country’s fragile economy and have opened businesses and created thousands of job opportunities. In Amman, Jordan, this is Oula Farawati reporting for FSRN.

A United Nations report has accused Sudan of sending war planes and other heavy weapons into Darfur in violation of a Security Council resolution. Haider Rizvi reports from the United Nations.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today that he is deeply concerned and troubled by the evidence that the Sudanese government is using aircraft painted with UN markings. The report was leaked by a diplomat to the New York Times yesterday soon after UN officials announced that Sudan had agreed to allow a small UN peacekeeping force to enter Darfur. Describing Sudan’s decision as a positive step, Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that Khartoum should let the UN force in as soon as possible. Diplomats and observers say the disclosure about the use of military aircraft in Darfur by Sudan could complicate international efforts to address the Darfur crisis by political means. Both the US and Britain are now seeking to impose sanctions against Sudan. However, it is not clear whether Russia and China would support such a move. In the past four years, more than 200,000 people have been killed as a result of the ongoing ethnic conflict in Darfur.

The Senate failed to pass a measure today that would allow the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare patients. The House passed a similar version in January. Medicare drug reform passed Congress two years ago.  Republicans and the Bush Administration have hailed the program as a success but many patients find the rules confusing and the procedures difficult to navigate. A number of Congressional Democrats want to renegotiate the terms, saying the current program is a huge giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry. The Senate may soon negotiate language for a new measure that could gain enough Republican support to pass.

SCOTUS Rules on Abortion Procedure (3:12)
The US Supreme Court issued a major ruling today, upholding a ban on a second trimester abortion procedure.  It’s the biggest reversal to abortion practice since Roe v Wade more than thirty years ago.  FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Judiciary Committee Considers Immunity for Gonzales Aide (1:20)
The House Judiciary Committee might offer immunity to Monica Goodling, the former advisor and White House liaison to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  Goodling refused to testify before the committee, pleading the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. This immunity would protect her from that in exchange for testimony about the firings of 8 US attorneys. Representative Linda Sanchez, Democrat of California


The Committee has decided to postpone the subpoena until next week, to see if the White House provides necessary information on the investigation. Ranking Republican on the Committee, Lamar Smith of Texas:


The Justice Department failed to comply with a subpoena order for redacted documents.  The Committee is working with an uncooperative White House to get missing email messages. Attorney General Gonzales will testify before the Senate Thursday.

House Holds First Hearing on Organic Foods (2:20)
While most Americans get their food from the supermarket, there are some who seek out the local farmers’ market to find locally grown and organic food. The demand for organic agriculture has grown over the last few years, prompting Congress to examine the issue. Today the House of Representatives held their first ever hearing on organic foods. FSRN’s Karen Miller was there and files this report.

DC Climate Change Conference Finds Poor Will Suffer Most (2:30)
Scientists, activists and religious leaders from around the globe are gathered in Washington, DC this week to call attention to the impacts of global warming. As Yanmei Xie reports, participants of the conference warn that people in the poorest countries will suffer the most.

Freeport Mine Workers Strike for Better Conditions (3:00)
In Indonesia, thousands of workers from Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg mine are striking for better wages, job training and working conditions. Rebecca Henschke reports from Jakarta on the workers demands for the company running one the world’s largest gold and copper mines.

US-Australia Plan to Swap Refugees (3:52)
Australia has struck a deal with the United States to exchange up to 200 refugees each year. While the government believes the policy will deter asylum seekers, critics have slammed the plan, calling it expensive and inhumane. From Sydney, Erica Vowles reports.

South American Treaty Talks Conclude (3:20)
Leaders from all 12 South American countries have concluded two days of talks on energy issues at a meeting convened by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Diletta Varlese reports from the island of Margarita, Venezuela.

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