May 16, 2008

  • Texas Mayors File Lawsuit against Homeland Security
  • Taliban Stabilizes Flour Prices in Pakistan
  • Migrant Organizations Work to Lower Money-Wiring Fees
  • Islam Seeing New Influence in Indonesian Politics
  • Division Remains Over 60th Anniversary of Israel

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Chinese Earthquake Toll Rises to 21,500 as Aftershocks Trigger Landslides
Aftershocks have rumbled through the Chinese province devastated by Monday’s earthquake, causing landslides and damaging the recently-repaired communications infrastructure. Officials estimate that as many as 5 million people have been left homeless. The confirmed death toll has now risen to over 22,000 with tens of thousands more officially considered missing persons.

Myanmar Junta Increases Official Death Toll by Tens of Thousands

Meanwhile in Burma, the military junta has conceded the number of dead from Cyclone Nargis is much higher than the figures it released yesterday. The Myanmar junta now puts the official death toll at 78,000 but both the United Nations and the Red Cross estimate the cyclone and its aftermath killed more than 100,000. Aid workers now say that water-borne illnesses could increase that death toll even further unless more is done to get clean water to cyclone survivors.

Suicide Bombing in High Security Zone of Sri Lankan Capital

In Sri Lanka, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people and wounded 95 others in the capital city, Colombo. Ponniah Manikavasagam reports.

The attack occurred in the capital’s high security zone near the President’s office and the army headquarters. A Military spokesman said a suicide bomber on a motorcycle rammed into a bus carrying riot police down a busy street. Eight policemen and two civilians are among the dead. Hospital officials said the blast wounded 30 policemen, 2 soldiers and scores of civilians. The attack has been blamed on the Tamil Tigers, but the rebels have not commented or claimed responsibility. The blast came hours after the air force raided a rebel training base in the restive north. Tamil Tiger rebels are famous for suicide bomb attacks and the outfit is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. The rebels are fighting for a separate state for the ethnic Tamils and thousands have been killed since 1983. For Free Speech Radio News, I am Ponniah Manikavasagam, in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka.

Iraqi PM Offers Cash and Amnesty for Militant Weapons in Mosul

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has set a 10 day deadline for militants in Mosul to turn in their heavy and medium weapons in exchange for cash and a promise of amnesty. The amnesty deal does not apply to those accused of committing crimes against civilians. A military offensive in the region has been targeting what officials describe as the last urban stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq. During his visit to Mosul today, Al-Maliki encouraged members of the Christian and Yazidi minority groups to join the ranks of the local security forces. Elsewhere in Iraq, a ceasefire in Baghdad’s sprawling Sadr City district seems to have calmed the fighting that has gripped the Shiite neighborhood since late March.

WWF Report Documents Huge Losses in Biodiversity
A report released today by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature shows the world’s species are declining at a rate “unprecedented since the extinction of the dinosaurs,” due to human activity. From London, Naomi Fowler reports.

Biodiversity has declined by more than a quarter in the last 35 years; the consequences are not just devastating for wildlife but also for humans too. The WWF report makes it clear that world governments are not on track to meet the targets they’ve set themselves on preventing biodiversity loss. Rolf Hogan of the WWF: (clip) “They don’t understand it’s importance, they don’t really understand that it underlines and supports the planet and gives a lot of the services that we get from the planet. If they take the issue seriously enough then I think they can reach these targets, I think if there is a political will, it can be achieved.” The report calls on governments to achieve zero net annual deforestation by 2020 and act on their commitment to put in place effective protected area systems with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities. This is Naomi Fowler in London for Free Speech Radio News.

Burger King Fires 2 Employees After Public Relations Scandal Involving Florida Farmworkers
Burger King has fired 2 of its employees for unauthorized activity after the Fort Myers News-Press revealed that internet posts attacking the Coalition of Immokalee Workers came from a Burger King company server. The CIW is a group of Florida farmworkers that campaigns for higher wages for the state’s tomato pickers. While Burger King did not identify the dismissed employees by name, one person linked to the public relations scandal was Burger King Vice President Stephen Grover. The fast-food giant says it has also discontinued its association with a private investigation firm that infiltrated the Student Farmworker Alliance, an organization that works closely with the CIW. The farmworker organization wants Burger King to commit to paying one penny more per pound of tomatoes to raise wages for the pickers in its supply chain.

Texas Mayors File Lawsuit against Homeland Security

A coalition of Texas mayors filed a civil lawsuit today against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. They asked for a judicial ruling to stop the construction of a fence along the Texas-Mexico border and a declaration of illegality for the connected land seizures. Katharine Jarmul reports from Washington, DC where the suit was filed.

Taliban Stabilizes Flour Prices in Pakistan

Flour shortages are still a serious problem in Pakistan. As in other parts of the country, the governments in tribal areas have had little success in controlling prices. But the Taliban has been stepping up – arranging lower prices for the local community. Consequently, security analysts fear the Taliban’s humanitarian assistance may make them heroes in eyes of the people, and increase their influence in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Correspondent Rahman Ullah has more from Peshawar.

Migrant Organizations Work to Lower Money-Wiring Fees

Wiring money around the world is big business. And money transfer companies like Western Union and Money Gram have been taking their cut from migrants’ earnings for years. To counter that, over 100 community-based organizations convened in Mexico City this week to form an association that would lower the cost of sending money home to a $3 flat fee. Additionally, the newly-formed Global League of Community Sustainers plans to establish a fund, and terms by which local communities can pay for development projects in migrants’ home countries. Monica Lopez has more from Mexico City.

Islam Seeing New Influence in Indonesian Politics

Under the Soeharto New Order regime, Indonesia’s secular constitution was strongly enforced. Islamic groups were suppressed by the military. But over the last ten years, a small hard-line Muslim fringe has been pressuring the government. And the Indonesian President has been accused of succumbing to the pressure. Rebecca Henschke reports on the struggle over the future of Islam in democratic Indonesia.

Division Remains Over 60th Anniversary of Israel

Eighteen world leaders, including President Bush are in Jerusalem this week to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the formation of Israel. Palestinians celebrated the anniversary in their own way – releasing one black balloon for each day since Israel’s creation –21-thousand, 915 balloons in all. The day has mixed meanings for Israelis as well. As Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem, many still struggle with two perspectives on a day that marks statehood.

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