February 28, 2008

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Breakthrough in Kenyan Mediation
Kenya’s government and opposition today signed a power sharing agreement after two months of uncertainty and violence. FSRN’s John Bwakali reports from Nairobi.

Kenya’s government and opposition today reached a political settlement that ends two months of unrest that left more than 1,000 people dead and 300,000 displaced. President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga signed a power sharing agreement that paves the way for a coalition government. The new settlement will put Raila Odinga the newly-created position of Prime Minister. Odinga leads the party which already holds a majority in Parliament. Other ministerial posts will be shared proportionately between the two sides. The breakthrough in the political stalemate came after six hours of intense negotiation between Kibaki and Raila, together with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, the current chairman of the African Union. Mediator Kofi Annan said the key points of the accord will be “entrenched in the constitution”. For Free Speech Radio News, I am John Bwakali reporting from Nairobi.

Madhesis in Nepal End Shutdown Strike for Equal Rights
The Nepalese government today signed an 8-point agreement with Madhesi leaders to end an indefinite shutdown stike that had paralyzed southern Nepal for the past 16 days. The ethnic Madhesi community constitutes nearly half of Nepal’s population of 26 million. The new agreement allows for the formation of a semi-autonomous Madhesi state within the borders of Nepal. It also stipulates that Madhesi, Dalits, women and other minorities are to receive proportional representation within the army, police forces, the legislature and other governmental bodies that have long been controlled by ethnic highlanders The government has also agreed to withdraw court cases against Madhesi activists and extend the nomination period for the constituent assembly elections to ensure greater participation by Madhesi parties. India, the US and the UN have praised the agreement as a major step towards democracy in Nepal.

“Virtual Fence” Delayed Due to Technical Problems
Bush Administration plans to build a so-called “virtual fence” along the southern border are on hold due to technical problems. The White House and the Department of Homeland Security now say the first phase of the hi-tech fence won’t be complete until well after the next president is in office. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.

This is not the first time that the “virtual fence” has run into “technical difficulties”. The Department of Homeland Security contracted with weapons manufacturer Boeing to build a high tech barrier with cameras, towers, radars and sensors along 28 miles of the border near Tucson, Arizona. Technical glitches with the $20 million pilot project forced delays in its completion – but didn’t stop Boeing from getting an additional $65 million contract to correct issues in the software it had used in the project. The Tucson sector virtual fence – known as Project 28 – is part of a lucrative series of contracts attached to the larger Secure Border Initiative network. The 3 year-delay announced yesterday pushes the project’s completion until after the end of Boeing’s contract date. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says it’s business as usual for these types of projects fall into the next president’s lap. (clip) “We have a moral responsibility actually to invest now, particularly in things that might not harvest in our term in office.” The Department of Homeland Security estimated back in 2006 that it would spend 7.6 billion to fence in the southern border. The Government Accountability Office says it can no longer estimate the total cost of the project. For FSRN, I’m Karen Miller.

Teachers Continue Strike in Puerto Rico
Public school teachers in Puerto Rico are entering their second week on strike. Teachers are demanding a pay increase, improvements to school system infrastructure and smaller class sizes. The strikers from the the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation also want to retain power in the organization of the local school system. The strike has already sparked demonstrations, clashes, and arrests. Riot police have been sent to guard schools where teachers and students have crossed picket lines. The Department of Education – which runs the Puerto Rican public school system – has refused to negotiate until after the teachers end their strike.

Nader Names Running Mate
Presidential candidate Ralph Nader announced today that his running mate is Matt Gonzales, the former head of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At a news conference in Washington DC, Nader said he wanted someone who “has a record of accomplishment in areas such as election reform, criminal justice, and the creation of the highest minimum wage in the country.” Nader announced his bid for President Sunday, but has not yet said if he will run as an Independent or as a Green Party candidate.


Republicans Kill Legislation to Get US Troops out of Iraq

On this third day of Senate debate on the Iraq War, Republicans have blocked a troop withdrawal measure from going to vote. Democrats knew the measure would not pass. So they used the debate time on the floor to highlight the war’s failures and skyrocketing costs. Republicans highlighted the war’s successes. All the while President Bush held a news conference today chastising Congress and the Democratic Presidential candidates on a variety of issues. FSRN’s Washington Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

European Court on Human Rights Rules a Person Cannot be Deported into a Torture Situation

Today the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of a former terror suspect from Tunisia. Italy acquitted Nassim Saadi of terrorism charges in 2005, but in his absence, Saadi was sentenced to 20 years in Tunisian jail for similar charges. The European court ruled that it would violate Saadi’s human rights for Italy to deport him to his home country, because there he would allegedly face torture in jail. Diletta Varlese reports from Rome.

Women along Pakistan’s Western Border Disenfranchised by Fundamentalist Tribal Leaders

In Pakistan, about 45 percent of the country’s 160 million people went to the polls for parliamentary elections earlier this month. A portion of the population boycotted the elections to send a message to the ruling powers. But others were not permitted to vote. Hardliner Pakistani tribal men prevented thousands of women from casting their ballots in the tribal areas near the Afghan border. They hung posters in cities warning political candidates not to bring their female supporters to the polls. Zack Baddorf has the story from Pakistan.

Palestinian Authority Withholds Pay for 40,000 Military and Civilian Personnel

The number of dead in Gaza continues to rise in the wake an Israel-imposed economic blockade. A series of Israeli air strikes on Gaza over the past 48 hours has claimed the lives of 25 Palestinians, including seven children. In the eight months since the border was closed, public life in Gaza has been almost paralyzed. Israel continues to call for Hamas to stop homemade rocket fire onto nearby Israeli towns. Adding to the internal stress on Gaza’s residents, the Palestinian Authority has been withholding the pay of thousands of military and civilian personnel. FSRN’s Rami al-Meghari looks at reasons why.

Community Program in Pittsburgh Helps Inmates Reintegrate into Society

Two-point-three million people are currently incarcerated in the United States Prison System. With the prison population continually growing, many are questioning the lack of rehabilitative and educational services for inmates both during and post incarceration. But a new study released by the University of Pittsburgh shows some promising steps are being made. It found a community collaborative at Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Jail reduces recidivism rates and helps former inmates reintegrate into society. FSRN’s Andalusia Knoll reports:

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