April 4, 2008

  • Poor May Pay the Price for Kenyan Government Restructure
  • Democratic Senators Want Legislation to Create Clear Timetable for Iraq
  • Chevron May Have to Pay Record Breaking Damages in Ecuador
  • Palestinians Protest Against Bi’lin Wall
  • Update on Sean Bell Murder Case
  • 40 Year Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Assassination

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Government Crackdown in Zimbabwe as Election Results Remain Unclear
Zimbabwe appears to be headed for a runoff between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Election authorities have been slow to announce the results of Saturday’s presidential election, but a substantial government crackdown on opposition party offices and foreign journalists suggests that the long-ruling Mugabe is not willing to concede defeat. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe without interruption for the past 28 years. The delay in announcing the results has led to speculation that Mugabe lost outright in the 1st round but plans a major clampdown ahead of a forced run-off vote.

Niger Delta Militant Leader Charged With Treason, Facing Death Penalty Pending Secret Trial
The arrested leader of a militant group fighting for control of Nigeria’s oil resources has been charged with treason – a crime punishable by death. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

Henry Okah, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), is facing the death penalty. The rebel leader was formally charged yesterday with 47 counts of treason and gun trafficking. Okah’s group, which was formed in 2005, is the largest of the militant groups seeking a share of the Niger Delta’s oil resources. The group is known for kidnapping foreign oil workers and attacking the region’s oil infrastructure. Okah was arrested last September in Angola on allegations of gun running. Angolan authorities sent him to Nigeria earlier this year. The Nigerian government says it intends to conduct Okah’s trial in secret, meaning only lawyers and security agents will be allowed into the courtroom. His lawyers openly object to the secret trial and human rights groups are calling on the government to make the trial open. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Sam Olukoya in Lagos.

California State Prisons on Lockdown
California state prison inmates are on lockdown statewide after a stabbing incident at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi. A group of prisoners allegedly rushed 3 guards yesterday, injuring them with improvised stabbing weapons. The Tehachapi facility hold more than double the inmates it was designed to house. California prison authorities have not yet indicated when they will lift the statewide prison lockdown order.

Colombians March for Hostage Release
Thousands of Colombians took to the streets today to ask for the release of all of the country’s hostages. Over the past 10 years, more than 3,000 people in Colombia have been kidnapped by rebel groups, paramilitaries and common criminals. Manuel Rueda reports from Bogota.

Today’s protests were sparked by recent news of the critical health condition of Ingrid Betancourt, the presidential candidate who was kidnapped by the FARC guerrillas in 2002. She is allegedly suffering from Hepatitis B, malnourishment and depression. Thousands crowded Bogota´s main square, to call for her release. The Colombian government considers the FARC to be a terrorist group. And it does not usually broker deals with the rebels. But Betancourt is also a French citizen, and President Alvaro Uribe seems willing to include the French in on some negotiations. Uribe signed a decree last week that would allow Colombian courts to release imprisoned guerrillas in exchange for Betancourt. But today, the FARC rejected the President´s gesture, saying will be no more unilateral hostage releases. The FARC wants political recognition and for the government to remove the military from two strategic municipalities in southwest Colombia. In Paris, Betancourt´s Sister , Astrid, called on the Colombian government and on the FARC to resort to the mediation of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. “Neither side can let my sister die,” she said, “it would be a humiliation for Uribe, and the beginning of the end for the FARC.” Manuel Rueda, FSRN, Bogota.

Clashes Over Amazon Land in Brazil

Large landowners in Brazil are fighting against federal police action to remove settlers from a protected indigenous area in the Amazon region. Debora Pill reports from Sao Paulo.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva officially designated the Raposa Serra do Sol region in Northwestern Brazil as a protected reserve for the 15 thousand indigenous people who live there. The area came under federal protection in 2005, but rice planters been invading the area for years, establishing settlements. Poverty is rampant in the Raposa Serra do Sol area and poor farmers and some Macuxi indigenous people have allegedly been hired by local political bosses and rice plantation owners to settle parts of the vast Amazon reserve for farm land. Federal police were deployed to the reserve last week to remove the illegal settlements. But the settlers are fighting the government decision, by blocking all police access points to the region, including roads, bridges, and even airplane landing strips. Special Military Police have been sent in to complete the removal operation by the end of the month. Land reform and re-distribution has been a huge political issue in Brazil for many years now, but so far no administration has been willing to challenge the powerful large landowners. The seven landowners who own more than half of the land in Raposa Serra do Sol have refused to negotiate with the government, leaving many poor farmers to colonize and deforest the Amazon. For FSRN, I’m Debora Pill in Sao Paulo.


Poor May Pay the Price for Kenyan Government Restructure

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister designate Raila Odinga have agreed to jointly form a 40-member cabinet – the largest ever cabinet in the nation’s history. This comes at a time of financial crisis following post-election violence that left the economy crippled. FSRN’s John Bwakali reports from Nairobi.

Democratic Senators Want Legislation to Create Clear Timetable for Iraq

Top US military commander General David Petraeus is scheduled to address Congress next week for the first time since September. Patraeus is expected to report that the surge is working, and he will propose that troop withdrawals remain limited while defense officials analyze security conditions in Iraq, according to Reuters. But Senators Joe Biden and Carl Levin say that the surge is not working, and are calling for new legislation with a clear timetable, adding that the Bush administration is trying to push the issue onto the next president without making necessary policy changes. Katharine Jarmul reports from Washington.

Chevron May Have to Pay Record Breaking Damages in Ecuador

In Ecuador, a huge damages estimate rendered this week by a court-appointed expert in a long lawsuit against California-based Chevron Oil is likely to break all records. FSRN’s Joseph Mutti reports.

Palestinians Protest Against Bi’lin Wall

About a hundred Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists protested in the West Bank village of Bi’lin today against the wall that cuts through what they say is Palestinian land. Six months ago, Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered the government to reroute the barrier that divides Bi’lin and the farm land that 60 percent of its villagers rely on. So far, Israel’s military has not acted on these orders. Zack Baddorf reports from the West Bank.

Update on Sean Bell Murder Case

Criminal prosecutors rested their case this week in the case of New York police officers charged with the murder of Sean Bell – the 23-year-old African American who was killed in November of 2006. Plainclothes officers fired 50 bullets at Bell’s car, as he and two friends were leaving a club where they were celebrating his bachelor’s party; Bell was to be married the next day. Police say that Bell, who was driving, hit a police van, and they began shooting, thinking he may have been armed. No weapon was ever found. We spoke with Esther Wang, member of People’s Justice, and attorney Sanford Rubenstein, who represents Nicole Bell (Sean Bell’s fiancé), and Joe Guzman and Trent Benefield, who survived the shooting.

40 Year Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Assassination

40 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of a Memphis motel room. He was 39 years old. Just one day before King was shot, the civil rights leader delivered his famed speech, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” – where he addressed recent threats upon his life. We’ll hear an excerpt of that speech, as well as from Institute for Policy Studies Senior Scholar Dedrick Muhammad, who authored a report titled “40 Years Later: The Unrealized American Dream”.

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