February 8, 2008

  • Poland’s Prime Minister Travels to the Kremlin to Ease Escalating Tension
  • Congress Wants Say in Plans for Long-Term US Security Forces in Iraq
  • Declaration of Kosovo Independence Expected Soon, Followed by Violence
  • Kenyan Mediation Talks Close on a Positive Note
  • Protesters Charged as Terrorists Await Government Action in El Salvador

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Economic Stimulus Package Heads to President’s Desk
President Bush is set to approve an economic stimulus package after the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure last night. Most individuals making up to $75,000 per year will receive a 600 dollar tax rebate. The compromise version of the bill includes rebates for low income seniors and disabled veterans – but not proposed benefits for the unemployed. The economic stimulus package will also provide tax breaks to some industries to spur investment. The cost of the package will add 150 billions dollars to the national deficit as it falls outside of “pay as you go” rules instituted last year by the Democrat-majority Congress.

Parts of Peruvian Amazon on Auction Block in Houston
Representatives of the Peruvian government are in Houston today to auction off blocks of rainforest to oil and gas companies. But some of the region’s inhabitants have also traveled to Houston to tell the companies that their land is not for sale. Rachel Clarke reports.

Environmental activists gathered outside of the Petroleum Club of Houston today in solidarity with Peruvian indigenous leaders who traveled to Texas to oppose the sale of rainforest concessions to oil and gas companies. The Peruvian government has been auctioning off entire blocks of the Peruvian Amazon to foreign energy corporations since 2003 in an effort to generate revenue. These auctions have moved forward despite strong opposition from indigenous rainforest inhabitants. US-based companies Hunt Oil and Conoco-Phillips are first in line to purchase these lands, often with funding from the US government and the Inter-American Development Bank. Among areas for sale to the highest bidder are the some of the last refuges in which native people live in voluntary isolation. Indigenous leaders attended today’s meeting with their message ‘The Amazon is not for Sale’. Environmental advocacy group, Amazon Watch, says the proportion of the Peruvian Amazon zoned into blocks for oil and gas exploitation has increased from 13 percent to roughly 70 percent in the past two years alone. For FSRN, I’m Rachel Clarke in Houston.

Scotland Yard Concludes Suicide Bomber Killed Bhutto
Scotland Yard investigators have concluded that a suicide bomb – and not gunfire – killed the Pakistani opposition leader and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. The conclusion reached by the British investigators mirrors the official explanation given by the Pakistani government; that the force of the blast caused Bhutto to crack her head on the lever of her vehicle’s sun roof. The Scotland Yard investigation did not include an autopsy or X-rays of her body other than from her head. Witness testimonies from the attack – as well as amateur videos – indicate that Bhutto collapsed into her car as gunshots rang out just prior to the bomb blast.

Pakistani Opposition Leader Calls for US to Support Democracy
Also from Pakistan, the head of an opposition party today called on the United States to support democracy there. At a press conference in Islamabad, cricket player-turned-politician Imran Khan said American lawmakers welcomed his suggestions in Washington last week and expects changes to come from American policy. Zack Baddorf reports from Islamabad.

Imran Khan said the “war on terror” has become a “war of terror” because of American policies. The leader of the Pakistan Justice for Movement party said he ultimately blames President Pervez Musharraf for the political crisis in the country today. (clip) “Musharraf wages a war on terror only to maintain power whenever he gets an order from the United States. He starts killing his own people, innocent people, everywhere in the country.” Pakistani security officials barred Khan from entering the country’s largest city yesterday for the third time. He was heading to Karachi to promote his boycott of the February 18th parliamentary elections. Khan claims the leader of the MQM party, Altaf Hussain, is responsible for the murder of hundreds of political workers in Karachi last year. Khan called Hussain a “terrorist” and has filed a request with Scotland Yard to investigate the murders, since the UK hasn’t extradited Hussain, who works in the Musharraf government. In Islamabad, I’m Zack Baddorf for Free Speech Radio News.

Hamas Confiscates Red Crescent Aid Convoy
The Jordanian embassy in the Palestinian Territories voiced concern today over the interception of a Red Crescent aid convoy by Hamas-led police forces in Gaza. Rami Almeghari has more.

Hamas-led police forces in Gaza intercepted a Jordanian aid convoy yesterday – made up of 16 trucks of food and medicine assistance sent by the Jordanian Red Crescent Society. The convoy, which crossed through the Israeli-controlled Eritz checkpoint, was en-route to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Gaza. The Jordanian embassy released a statement saying this episode is not the first since Amman began sending assistance into the Gaza Strip last year. Islam Shahwan, a spokesperson of the Hamas-led police force in Gaza, say that – in the past – aid had gone disproportionately to Fatah loyalists. Therefore, the Interior Ministry has decided to monitor its distribution. “We were surprised that the second time when such assistance came in, that the assistance was also distributed to people in Fatah’s former preventive security service. Therefore, the government wanted to have a say in the distribution of the assistance”. The Gaza-based Palestinian Red Crescent Society was not available for comment by deadline. For Free Speech Radio News, I’m Rami Almeghari in Gaza.



Congress Wants Say in Plans for Long-Term US Security Forces in Iraq

The situation on the ground in Iraq is still relatively unstable. Reports of violence against civilians continue to come in from all over the country. Yesterday alone, nearly 20 bodies were found – many women, and one a Sunni Imam. Despite only making 10-dollars per day, Iraqi security forces are on the ground helping US forces work towards stability. But US troops continue to bear most of the burden – and if President Bush has his way, those troops will remain in the country indefinitely.

Congress is attempting to limit this. In two separate committees this week, Congressional members debated who had jurisdiction over long-term security forces in Iraq. Members from both the House and Senate argued the need for congressional approval if President Bush enters an agreement with the Iraqi government to provide continuing security forces in the country. Katharine Jarmul reports from Washington.

Poland’s Prime Minister Travels to the Kremlin to Ease Escalating Tension

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk paid a visit to Russia today, hoping to establish warmer ties between the two countries – despite rifts over energy supplies and the US missile defense program. At the Kremlin, Tusk discussed bilateral issues with President Vladimir Putin and his likely successor Dmitry Medvedev.

Ties between the largest ex-communist EU member and its neighbor, Russia, have been all but frozen for the last two years. Political analysts have welcomed the resumption of dialogue, but stress that serious challenges remain. Danuta Isler reports from Warsaw.

Declaration of Kosovo Independence Expected Soon, Followed by Violence

A unilateral declaration of independence by leaders of the Serbian province of Kosovo is expected in the next few weeks. But the newly elected government of Serbia has not changed its position towards the small province, insisting that it must remain within Serbia. The potential for violence after the declaration is strong. Amy Miller reports from Starogracko, Kosovo on the fears of the minority.

Kenyan Mediation Talks Close on a Positive Note

More than a thousand people have been killed in post-election violence in Kenya – and the number of internally displaced people has soared to over 300-thousand. There’s good news for those wanting an end to the upheaval – mediation talks ended today on a positive note. The Kenyan government and opposition leaders have agreed in principle to ensure they reach a political settlement. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General and the Chair of the talks, said that they were now working out the details. He expects that a settlement will be reached in the coming week. FSRN correspondent John Bwakali reports from Nairobi.

Protesters Charged as Terrorists Await Government Action in El Salvador

In El Salvador, thirteen organizers and community members are being charged under the country’s Anti-Terrorism and Organized Crime law. They were arrested last July as they attempted to attend a forum and vigil against water privatization. In response to outrage from members of the international community, the government released the protesters. But the charges still remain and could carry hefty prison sentences.

The Salvadorian government has until the end of today to present a case against the 13. In a country whose social movement saw brutal repression before and during the civil war 16 years ago, this is seen as an ominous move towards once again criminalizing dissent. Meredith de Francesco has more from Suchitoto.

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