February 18, 2009

  • Obama unveils plan to reduce foreclosures
  • India offers help for Sri Lankan civilians
  • Clinton engages with Indonesia’s progressive Islamic community
  • Baha’i community faces persecution in Iran
  • Medical infrastructure lacking in the Gaza Strip

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UWA and Automakers Reach Tentative Deal

The United Auto Workers union has agreed to reductions in labor costs at Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.  But the agreement is contingent upon reaching a deal on retiree health care funding. Doug Cunningham of Workers Independent News has more on the story.

In providing federal loans to the Detroit Three, Congress required automakers to bring labor costs to a rough parity with foreign auto plants operating in the U.S.  And weeks of subsequent negotiations have brought the union and car companies to a tentative agreement.  Details of the deal still haven’t been officially released, but the AP reports that the package includes cuts to bonuses and raises.  Now, the sticking point is how the Detroit Three will fund the union-managed retirement health care system known as a VEBA.  The program began in 2007 as a long-term cost-savings initiative.  But the economic crisis is prompting the companies to try to reduce their cash outlays to the program.  For FSRN, I’m Doug Cunningham.

Appeals Court Rules on Guantanamo Uighur Case
A US Appeals Court ruled today a group of Chinese Muslims, called the Uighurs, must remain in the Guantanamo Bay prison.  Last October, a district court ruled the 17 Uighurs must be released into the United States.  The judge said because the men aren’t enemy combatants, they cannot be held in Guantanamo.  But today’s ruling said the case is now an immigration issue and only the executive branch can make those decisions.  This case stands to pose a significant dilemma in the Obama administration’s attempts to close the detention facility.


Immigrants Riot at Italian Detention Facility
Today hundreds of immigrants rioted at an Italian immigration facility, setting the building on Fire.  North African and Middle Eastern immigrants travel through the immigration center on the South Italian island of Lampedusa every day.  But recent shifts in Italian policy means the immigration center on the island functions more as a detention center, where immigrants are held and then repatriated to their home countries.  Federico Mastrogiovanni reports from Italy.

The United Nations refugee agency says the immigration center on Lampedusa violates human rights because of inhumane prison conditions.  In protest of these conditions and the prospect of being repatriated, yesterday 300 immigrants from Tunisia began a hunger strike. Today the strike turned into an uprising.  Prisoners set mattresses and bedding on fire, causing an enormous conflagration.  Police say the prisoners were trying to escape and answered the riot with tear gas and violence.  More than 20 police and 50 immigrants were injured in the confrontation. Many Lampedusa officials blame the Italian government for the uprising.  Island Mayor Bernardino De Rubeis said- quote – “The government is the guilty party who has transformed the center into a concentration camp… immigrants are exhausted.”  For Free Speech Radio News, I’m Federico Mastrogiovanni in Rome, Italy.

Israel/Gaza Truce Deal Deadlocked
The Israeli cabinet decided today that any ceasefire deal with Gaza-based factions should include the release of an Israeli soldier that Hamas captured in a cross-border attack in June of 2006.  FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.

The ruling Hamas party today rejected Israel’s call for a prisoner release as part of the truce, and sees the decision an impediment to Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire.  But Hamas says it is willing to negotiate a prisoner swap for captured soldier Gil’ad Shalit as a side deal.  Khalil Abu Laila is a spokesperson for Hamas in Gaza.

“At any rate, the Palestinians have only one option; defending themselves with whatever means at their disposal. And if the Zionists attempt to attack again, they will find Palestinian factions are ready to defend their people and themselves.”

Last week, Hamas announced an 18-month ceasefire was likely. The proposed truce was supposed to include reopening six Gaza border crossings that have been closed for more than 20 months.  Meanwhile Palestinian national unity talks, originally slated for February 22, have been postponed due to the lack of a ceasefire.   For Free Speech Radio News, I am Rami Almeghari in Gaza.

US/Mexico Border Bridges Blocked by Protesters
Six banners containing death threats against the police chief of Ciudad Juarez appeared today in the Mexican border city across from El Paso, Texas. The threats, presumably from one of the cartels battling for turf, come just one day after the assassination of the city’s deputy police chief along with 3 other officers. It also comes on the heels of coordinated protests on Tuesday against military anti-drug operations along the Texas/Mexico border…but Mexican officials say there’s more to the protests than meets the eye. Shannon Young has the story.

Women and children holding signs telling the army to (quote) “get out” brought traffic to a standstill at the bridges connecting Cuidad Juarez, Reynosa, and Nuevo Laredo to their sister cities in Texas. The largest protest took place in the northern industrial city of Monterrey, where riot police made arrests and dispersed crowds with a water cannon.   Intermittent bridge blockades and protests began about two weeks ago…but the organizing force behind them is unclear. Some protesters say the military presence in the border cities has caused violence to skyrocket, with battles against the drug cartels spilling into the streets. Others complain of random home searches and theft of personal belongings at military checkpoints. But some protesters told reporters that they were paid to hold signs and block traffic at the bridges. Mexican officials – including the governor of Nuevo Leon – say members of the Gulf Cartel are feeling pressure from the military operations and recruiting the poor to protest in the streets on their behalf. For FSRN, I’m Shannon Young.



Obama unveils plan to reduce foreclosures
President Obama unveiled a new plan to stem the foreclosure crisis today. He laid out the details in Mesa, Arizona: the state has the third highest foreclosure rate in the nation. The President says his plan is the second part of a comprehensive plan to stabilize the economy. As FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell housing advocates are cheering.

India offers help for Sri Lankan civilians
India says it is ready to help in the evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians caught up in the fighting in Sri Lanka – as many as 70,000 people are trapped in the war between Tamil Tiger rebels and Sri Lanka’s government forces. India has called for the rebels to put down their arms. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government has once again ruled out a ceasefire after a call to do so from its moderate ethnic Tamil opposition political party. FSRN’s Ponniah Manikavasagam has more.

Clinton engages with Indonesia’s progressive Islamic community
Anti-American protesters in Jakarta demonstrated against Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visits to Indonesia today – part of her East Asian tour this week. Clinton met with her counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda, and talked about constructing a wide-ranging alliance with the Muslim-majority nation. Clinton’s visit is being touted as a new step in the U.S.’s relationship with Indonesia: during the Bush administration’s so-called “war on terror”, the nation’s Islamic schools were often characterized as the breeding grounds of terrorism and violence. But most schools and institutions provide an important place of education for the country’s poor and rural communities, while offering an ideological challenge to fundamentalist groups. FSRN’S Dorian Merina takes us to West Java, where a group of scholars and educators are promoting a progressive agenda of religious pluralism and gender equality – all within the schools themselves.

Baha’i community faces persecution in Iran
Baha’is around the world are holding vigils for seven religious leaders who face looming indictments in Iran. They are accused of spying, but human rights advocates say the seven are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. The Baha’i religion is not acknowledged in Iran’s constitution, and the international community has condemned the treatment of Iran’s estimated 300,000 Baha’is in the past. Africa Jones reports from the Bay Area, where supporters are praying for justice in Iran.

Medical infrastructure lacking in the Gaza Strip
The recent 23-day long Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip left an already strangled health care system struggling to survive. Doctors in the Gaza Strip are fraught with outdated equipment and are running dangerously low on medicine – as patients fight just to stay alive. In the second part of a series on Gaza’s medical infrastructure, FSRN’s Aya Batrawy reports.

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