June 26, 2007

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It appears as though Britain’s Tony Blair may become a Middle East peace envoy after he hands over his Prime Ministerial job tomorrow. Naomi Fowler reports.

If he were to be appointed to this job, Tony Blair would represent the US, EU, UN and Russia – the so-called quartet partners – in attempting to assist in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. George Bush reportedly applied personal pressure to ensure that Tony Blair got the post after a conversation between the two men. The post was expected to have been announced immediately after today’s meeting between the quartet partners; but it’s perhaps a sign of dissent on the part of some that the appointed has yet to be confirmed. Tony Blair himself has been very public today that his future direction is East (audio): “Anybody who cares about greater peace and stability in the world knows that a lasting and enduring resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is essential. And as I’ve said on many occasions, I would do whatever I could to help such a resolution come about.” But many think Tony Blair is poorly suited for such a job; his credibility in the Middle East has been undermined by his part in the invasion of Iraq, his closeness to George Bush, his failure to insist on a ceasefire during Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon last summer and the fact that he has never called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. This is Naomi Fowler in London for Free Speech Radio News.

Senate Republicans have blocked debate on a bill that would have made it easier for workers to organize for collective bargaining rights. The Employee Free Choice Act would have allowed workers seeking union representation to have had the option of a majority sign-up process, meaning that a majority of workers signing cards of approval would have effectively created a union. Current labor law requires a lengthy secret balloting process, which labor organizers say gives employers time to intimidate and harass pro-union workers. The bill, which passed the House by a comfortable margin earlier this year, effectively died today when Democrats were unable to rally the 60 votes necessary to force consideration of the measure. The Bush Administration had previously indicated that the bill would have faced a presidential veto.

Inspectors from the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency have arrived in the North Korean capital Pyongyang to discuss the shut down of its main atomic reactor. FSRN’S Jason Strother has the latest from Seoul.

The team from the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, will draw up plans to power down the Yongbyon reactor. This marks the first visit by the IAEA since Pyongyang expelled the UN agency in 2002 and later withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. North Korea pledged back in February to dismantle its atomic weapons program and re admit the inspectors… but soon recanted, saying that it would not move forward until a 25 million dollar banking dispute with Washington was resolved. Pyongyang announced on Monday that it now has full access to the funds. The Yongbyon reactor produces plutonium, the type that was used for the North’s first nuclear test last October. The White House claims that North Korea also has a secretive highly enriched uranium program, which can be used for nuclear warheads. Washington’s top envoy to de-nuclearization talks, Undersecretary of State Christopher Hill, says that the shutdown of the reactor and the resumption of negotiations could take place next month. Reporting for Free Speech Radio News in Seoul, I’m Jason Strother.

The government of Venezuela has completed the process of nationalizing the country’s most important strip of oil fields, known as the Orinoco Belt. Foreign oil companies can continue to operate under joint venture arrangements that give Venezuela’s national oil company, PDVSA, a controlling share. Texas-based Oil giants Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips have declined to accept minority stakes in their operations and will therefore withdraw from the Orinoco Belt – one of the largest oil reserves in the world.

The United Nation’s world heritage agency, UNESCO, has declared the Galapagos Islands to be in danger from excessive tourism, immigration, and invasive species. The 19 island archipelago 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador is home to unique animal and plant life and served as inspiration to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The Galapagos Islands have become a popular tourist destination for cruise ships. The construction and maintenance of infrastructure for the tourism industry has drawn immigrants from mainland Ecuador to populate the islands. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has acknowledged the problem and has pledged to promote measures to protect the islands’ unique ecosystem.

Influential Republican Calls for Troop Reduction in Iraq
A new stance of opposition to the war in Iraq by one key influential Republican Senator has taken many by surprise. As DC Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, many fellow GOP members have similar concerns voiced by Senator Richard Lugar.

Immigration Debate Back in the Senate
The Senate passed the first hurdle to revisit immigration legislation. Lawmakers agreed, 64 – 35, to proceed with the bill. The Graham-Kyle-Martinez Amendment adds border security and interior enforcement provisions, it focuses on repercussions for those who commit crimes or violate their visa regulations – including mandatory detention of violators until they are ordered deported. In addition to that measure, nearly two dozen other amendments have been agreed on, half of them Republican, half Democratic. There could be several efforts to derail the entire bill. President Bush’s 4.4 billion dollars in enforcement was already added to the bill. GOP leaders are meeting with the President this afternoon to rally up support.

Activists Urge the Return of Habeas Corpus
Thousands of activists rallied on Capitol Hill today to call on Congress to restore habeas corpus, fix the military commission act and end torture and abuse by the US government. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.

Mid-East Peace Talks Wrap Up in Egypt
Four-way talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli President Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosney Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah are under way in the Red Sea reort of Sharm al-Sheikh. The talks, the first of their kind since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, are intended to open dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to strengthen Abbas’ post. FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura has more.

French Rapper Trial
France’s Interior Ministry today took its battle to convict a rapper for slandering the police to the highest court of appeal in the land. Two courts had already judged the action an attempt to stifle freedom of expression. But the state took its appeal as far as possible, perhaps encouraged by the fact that the Interior Minister who started the case in 2002 was Nicolas Sarkozy, now the Country’s president. The final judgment will be handed down on 11 July. Tony Cross reports from Paris.

Web Radio Goes Silent Today
Many internet radio streams are silent today, as an act of protest against a ruling from the Copyright Royalty Board to increase rates for playing music over the internet. The bill for the increased rates and fees will come due on July 15, and many web casters say that the impacts will be devastating. They are hoping that the National Day of Silence will increase awareness of the issues and move Congress to intercede on their behalf. Eric Klein has more.

GLBTQ Case in Pakistan
A current court case in Pakistan has brought national attention to a subject generally shrouded in silence and denial. A transgender man and his wife were recently imprisoned for allegedly lying about the husband’s gender. A.V. reports from Lahore, Pakistan.

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