January 17, 2008

  • Nobel Peace Laureate Reestablishes Contact with Burmese Military Government
  • Massive Demonstrations and Violence Continue in Kenya
  • The Iraqi Government’s Official Outreach to Baathists May Seem Luke-Warm, but the Bush Administration Sees it as a Victory
  • Democratic Presidential Hopefuls and Political Organizers Look ahead to Nevada
  • Study Pins Human Activity as Main Cause of Coral Reef Decline

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California Lab Clones Creates Human Embryo Clone
Scientists from private laboratories in La Jolla, California claim to have successfully created an embryo-clone using mature tissue from human donors. It’s the first time that the technique known as Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer has succeeded in a human test. The researchers claim the process has great potential for designing stem cell lines. The use of human clones for harvesting medical and research products has raised strong ethical questions in the scientific community. But – before now – they were largely hypothetical due to limited experimentation. It only took a decade for cloning technology for animals to go from the experimental stages to the commercial. The FDA approved cloned meat and diary products for human consumption earlier this week.

Mystery Illness Affects Slaughterhouse Workers in Two States
In other news, federal authorities are investigating a mysterious neurological illness that has affected workers at an Indiana slaughterhouse. The Center for Disease Control is working with state health officials in Indiana and Minnesota to investigate a possible link between the outbreak in the Indiana facility and an illness that affected 12 slaughterhouse workers in Austin, Minnesota. The affected workers in both plants had the same job function: to blast brain tissue out of hog heads using compressed air.

Bird Flu Outbreak in West Bengal
Bhutan has imposed a ban on Indian poultry imports following an outbreak of bird flu in the neighboring Indian state of west Bengal where the authorities are engaged in a massive culling operation. Bismillah Geelani reports.

Bhutanese authorities announced the ban a day after Government of India confirmed that the death of an estimated 35,000 birds in some districts of West Bengal was due to the deadly H5N1 avian flu strain. State authorities are in the process of culling nearly 400,000 chickens to contain the virus. The state Animal Husbandry Department has identified Bangladesh as the source of the bird flu outbreak, saying the germs were brought by winds blowing from the neighboring country, which is also battling the virus. Bhutan shares its South-western borders with West Bengal and is a major buyer of Indian poultry products importing nearly 100 metric tons of processed chicken and 30,000 cartons of eggs annually. Bhutan’s Chief Veterinary Officer Karma Tenzin said the ban would continue until India declares itself bird flu free. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization today described the outbreak of bird flu in West Bengal as far more serious than two previous outbreaks. For FSRN, this is Bismillah Geelani from New Delhi.

Australia Picks Up Sea Shepard Hostages
Australian customs authorities have picked up two anti-whaling activists who had been held hostage for two days on a Japanese harpooning vessel. The two men from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society were prevented from leaving the Japanese ship after boarding it on Tuesday. Sea Shepard says the two were delivering a letter to notify the whaling fleet of an Australian federal court ruling which declared the hunt illegal while in waters claimed by Australia. Australian authorities brokered a deal to let the Japanese fleet continue their hunt in Arctic waters in exchange for the release of the environmentalists. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says it will continue to pursue the fleet and disrupt its hunt. Whale hunting for sport is against international law, but Japan claims its expeditions are for “scientific research” purposes.

French Court Orders Total to Pay Millions in Compensatory Damages
A French judge has ordered the oil company Total to pay more than 285 million dollars in damages for a 1999 oil spill off the northwest coast of France. The Erika oil tanker broke in half in December of 1999, spilling almost 20-thousand tons of crude oil into the sea— killing hundreds of thousands of birds along 400 kilometers of coastline. Sarah Elzas reports from Paris.

The judge named four entities responsible for the spill: the ship’s owner; it’s manager; the certification company RINA; and the French oil company, Total. He the owner and manager were responsible for skimping on repairs on the 23-year old ship; RINA’s inspections and Total’s vetting process were also not adequate. On top of fines for pollution, the four were ordered to pay reparations totaling 192 million euros, to be paid to 101 plaintiffs–including cities and departments along the coast. Lawyer Alexandre Moustardi represented some of the cities, like La Baulle, which he said suffered from pollution on its beaches: (audio) “So, there were less tourists than the other years. So that was really damage to their image. That’s why it’s important to cities that they like this- that they were recognized that they had this sentence.” The money from the environmental damages penalty will go to regional and departmental governments. Total—which maintained its innocence throughout the trial–has not said whether or not it will appeal the decision. A spokesman said they’d study it. For FSRN, I’m Sarah Elzas in Paris.



Massive Demonstrations and Violence Continue in Kenya

Today was the second day of mass community action in Kenya, protesting recent elections many claim were rigged. The government’s ban on demonstrations has not hampered opposition leaders, led by Raila Odinga, from continuing with the mass action.

Kenyan authorities say 600 have been killed since the elections, but others claim the number is as high as 1000. Odinga has said, “The government and the police have turned [the] country into killing fields of the innocent.”

In the midst of this national tension, the country seems unsure about the best way forward. John Bwakali reports from Nairobi

The Iraqi Government’s Official Outreach to Baathists May Seem Luke-Warm, but the Bush Administration Sees it as a Victory

The Iraqi Parliament has passed a law granting a modest “welcome back” to members of Sadam Hussein’s Baathist party. They were expelled from government posts en masse when Hussein’s government fell. Critics say the original sweep was too broad and unfairly penalized many party members who were only trying to save their own lives.

The new law will allow former Baathists to hold low-level positions in the new government. Reintegrating Baathists into public life is one of 18 benchmarks the U-S has laid out to measure governmental progress in Iraq. The law is being hailed as a milestone and a sign if success by war supporters. FSRN correspondent Matt Laslo reports from Washington

Democratic Presidential Hopefuls and Political Organizers Look ahead to Nevada

Now to election news: Candidates are preparing for two key primaries coming up Saturday. Most Republicans are focusing their efforts on South Carolina – where John McCain and Mike Huckabee are expected to lead polls. Only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are actively campaigning for Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada. The state will be the first in the West to officially weigh-in on the presidential hopefuls. And that’s were Democratic Presidential candidates are focusing their attention.

Politicking in Nevada can be difficult as many residents are transient. The state is also diverse in demography as well as geography. But political organizers are seizing the national political spotlight to energize their support base and carry momentum into the National race. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Nobel Peace Laureate Reestablishes Contact with Burmese Military Government

The government of Burma says a bus conductor was killed in a small bomb blast yesterday. It’s the fourth such bombing attack since the New Year. The military government blames ethnic rebels, likely from the state of Karen. There the Karen National Union has been fighting for decades for greater autonomy for ethnic Karen people.

In other news from the country, Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with her country’s military junta for about an hour late last week – establishing contact with the government for the first time in nearly two months. The Nobel Peace Laureate has been under house arrest for the past 12 years, and was taken from her lakeside home in the nation’s capital to meet with a military liaison. From Burma, Zack Baddorf has more.

Study Pins Human Activity as Main Cause of Coral Reef Decline

A groundbreaking study of coral reefs was released this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. The Canadian-led study singles out a combination of human activities, such as agriculture and development, as the primary cause of degradation in Caribbean reefs. KPFA environmental correspondent Jude Fletcher has the story:

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