February 22, 2008

  • Democratic Debate Signifies a Rare Chance for Texans to Make their Mark in the Primaries
  • Homeland Security Focuses it Attention and Budget on Securing the Mexican Border
  • Massive Protests in Serbia against the Independence of Kosovo Fuels Nationalism and Violence
  • Bolivia Joins Other South and Central American Nations and Withdraws from the School of Americas
  • The Firing of the Progressive President of William and Mary College in Virginia Causes Outrage on Campus

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Turkish Troops Push into Northern Iraq
Thousands of Turkish troops have pushed into Northern Iraq to crack down on Kurdish separatists. The Turkish Army began their ground invasion late Thursday, after giving prior notice to US and Iraqi authorities. The Pentagon has acknowledged sharing intelligence data with Turkey and says it will readily supply information regarding potential PKK targets. The PKK – or Kurdistan Workers Party – has been calling for an independent homeland for Kurdish people, who live predominately in areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The governments of the US and Turkey consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Turkey started to build up troops along its shared boarder with Iraq in October of last year, triggering concern that military action could de-stabilize one of the calmest regions of Iraq. A Pentagon spokesman told reporters today that the Pentagon has (quote) “strongly urged the Turkish government to bring any ongoing operations to a swift conclusion,”.

Al-Sadr Extends Ceasefire
In other news, Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr has extended his militia’s ceasefire for another six months. Al Sadr first ordered his Madhi Army to cease attacks on other militias, Iraqi police, and US troops in August of last year. The ceasefire was set to expire tomorrow.

Will New Coalition in Pakistan Affect US Military Operations There?
The new-found power of Pakistani opposition parties could threaten secret plans to intensify America’s military drone strikes within the country. The New York Times reports US officials worry the new political leaders might annul arrangements made in January with President Pervez Musharaff’s government to loosen rules for American forces in their attacks in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Zack Baddorf reports from Islamabad.

Two leading Pakistani politicians agreed late last night to form a coalition of their two parties in the parliament. They’ll rule by “national consensus.” When reminded of the president’s stated willingness to work with other political parties, opposition leader Nawaz Shairf responded, “What help do we need from Musharaff?” The new coalition could scrutinize the new “looser rules of engagement” for American military attacks against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistan. The Times reports the strikes are launched from a secret CIA base in Pakistan with a “handful” of unmanned aircraft called Predators controlled from the US. During his visit to Pakistan earlier this week, Senator Joe Biden said the Pakistani army is “stretched relatively thin” in its fight against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. (Biden clip) “There are two things. Will of Pakistani government and capacity of Pakistani military. I think we have underestimated the will and overestimated the capacity.” For Free Speech Radio News, I’m Zack Baddorf in Islamabad.

EU Parliament Lambasts “Collective Punishment” in Gaza

An Israeli air strike killed two Palestinian fighters in Gaza today, just one day after the European Union’s parliament criticized the Israeli blockade of the coastal region as ‘ collective punishment’. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.

An Israeli air strike early this morning killed two members of Islamic Jihad in central Gaza, after a number of fighters clashed with an Israeli undercover army force in the town of Maghazi. The Israeli army has carried out a series of attacks on Gaza in the past two weeks, including small-scale ground invasions and shootings aimed at Palestinian fighters. According to an Israeli army radio report on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he prefers pinpoint attacks to large-scale offensives in the coastal Strip. Last week, Olmert gave his army a free hand to launch attacks on Gaza. Meanwhile, the EU parliament yesterday lambasted the Israeli blockade of Gaza as “collective punishment” and called on the ruling Hamas party to stop homemade rocket fire onto nearby Israeli towns. Hamas welcomed the position of EU’s lawmakers, but says the rockets are a response to the continued Israeli actions against the Gaza Strip. Israel has enforced a crippling closure on Gaza’s 1.5 million residents since the Islamist Hamas party took over the region in June of last year. For Free Speech Radio News, I’m Rami Almeghari in Gaza.

Signs that FARC May Release Another Hostage
During his visit to Colombia yesterday, France’s foreign minister confirmed that the FARC guerrillas are planning to release a fourth hostage to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Manuel Rueda has more from Bogota.

The identity of the 4th hostage has not officially not been confirmed, but all signs point to former senator Jorge Gechem. He was was kidnapped in 2002 and is reportedly very ill. Gechem´s family can travel to Caracas – Venezuela´s capital – in the following days, where they will join the relatives of three ex-congressmen, whose pending liberation was announced by the FARC in early February. Venezuelan government sources have told the families that their relatives will be released by Tuesday. And today, President Chavez canceled a state visit to China, another sign, experts say, of an imminent release. If the liberation is successful, this would be the second time that the FARC has released hostages to the Venezuelan President. In early January, Venezuelan military helicopters picked up two FARC hostages in Colombian territory. And the following day, Chavez urged the Colombian government to recognize the FARC as an armed insurgency group, rather than as a terrorist organization. For the Colombian government, Chavez´s statements are an unwelcome intrusion in its internal affairs. And security experts in this country worry about Venezuela´s ties with the Colombian guerrillas. As a result, President Uribe has said that he wants to work with European countries, and not Venezuela, to release the remaining hostages. But the FARC only want to negotiate with the Venezuelan president. Manuel Rueda, FSRN, Bogota.


Democratic Debate Signifies a Rare Chance for Texans to Make their Mark in the Primaries

Thursday’s Democratic debate in Austin between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was a historic event for Texas voters. The state hasn’t been a pivotal player in a national election since the 1970s. The prolonged primary season this year has brought the candidates’ attention to the concerns of Texas progressives.

Although the debate focused primarily on national concerns, candidates did speak to an issue of particular interest to many in Texas: the construction of the so-called border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, a thriving area whose economy operates on both sides of the U.S. Border with Mexico. Ann Raber has followed the border wall issue for FSRN, and was at last night’s debate.

Homeland Security Focuses it Attention and Budget on Securing the Mexican Border

The Department of Homeland Security has released its annual report, which almost exclusively focuses on the Southwestern border. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff plans to increase prosecution of employers who hire undocumented workers, and continue to expand fencing and high-tech surveillance across the Mexican border. At a press conference at the Department of Justice today, Chertoff revealed plans for the upcoming fiscal year. Homeland security has seen a 6.8 percent increase in its federal budget, while nearly all other domestic programs have seen cuts or no increases at all. From Washington DC, Katharine Jarmul reports…

Massive Protests in Serbia against the Independence of Kosovo Fuels Nationalism and Violence

Massive riots in Belgrade, Serbia protesting last weekend’s Declaration of Independence of Kosovo, has triggered condemnation from much of the international community. Today, the United States pulled all non-essential diplomats and American families out of the country in response to yesterday’s burning of their embassy. One charred body was found, but it doesn’t appear to be of an embassy employee, instead, US officials believe it was one of the protesters. The Turkish, Croatian, German and British embassies were also attacked

The European Union has demanded the Serbian government offer protection for foreign personnel, saying not doing so could hurt the country’s prospects of ties with the EU. Amy Miller reports from Belgrade.

Bolivia Joins Other South and Central American Nations and Withdraws from the School of Americas

This week, Bolivia formally withdrew from the U.S. Army’s training institute in Fort Benning, Georgia, better known as the School of Americas. The school was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001.

Following Venezuela, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Uruguay, Bolivia is the fifth Latin American country to cut ties to the training center because of its historic links to military dictatorships and human rights abuses throughout the hemisphere. Juliette Beck and Aldo Orellana Lopez file this report from Bolivia.

The Firing of the Progressive President of William and Mary College in Virginia Causes Outrage on Campus

The recent resignation of the President of the College of William and Mary has unleashed uproar about freedom of speech on campus. President Gene Nichol, who moved William and Mary in a progressive direction by promoting diversity and freedom of speech, resigned his post last week after being informed that the Board of Visitors would not renew his contract. This week a member of that Board resigned in protest to the firing. Many students have passionately denounced the firing as ideological, but criticisms of the president’s management skills persist. Tanya Snyder reports.

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