April 29, 2009

  • Infant first swine flu casualty in the U.S.
  • Supreme Court considers Vote Rights Act
  • Border deaths increasing
  • Violence in El Salvador fueled by violence
  • Japanese-Brazilians caught up in global recession

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US economy contracts again
The US economy contracted again in the first quarter of 2009 according to new numbers released today by the Commerce department.  The 6.1% gross domestic product decrease is only a slight improvement over last quarter’s drop.  In other financial news today, the US House passed a reconciled version the Obama Administration’s 3.44 trillion dollar budget.  The bill is now in the Senate’s hands and could be on Obama’s desk by this evening for signing – a move that would significantly cap Obama’s first 100 days in office.  President Obama will hold a press conference this evening to discuss his first months in office.

Obama calls for end of crack/cocaine sentencing disparity
The Obama Administration also called on Congress today to put an end to the disparity in crack and cocaine sentencing.   Historically jail sentences relating to crack offences have been much larger than for cocaine – a difference many chalk up to economic and racial bias in the system.

Accused Lebanon PM assassins released
A United Nations tribunal in Lebanon released four senior Lebanese generals today detained for their alleged involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.  The men had been held for four years without trial.  Free Speech Radio News’ Jackson Allers reports from Beirut.

In issuing the generals’ release, the special UN tribunal said, “the evidence was insufficient to continue holding the four officials.”  All four generals held prominent security positions in Lebanon during Syria’s 29-year military presence, and were jailed when an anti-Syrian government backed by the United States assumed control following Hariri’s death.  Gunfire from AK-47s could be heard throughout Beirut today – as the generals’ supporters celebrated the UN tribunal ruling.  Beirut-based political analyst Saseen Kawzally Kawzally said the UN tribunal decision casts doubt over the widespread allegations that pro-Syrian elements were to blame for Hariri’s death. He says that there is evidence that suggests other groups may be responsible

“There has been information about radical Islamists being involved in the assassination of Hariri and other political players in the region.”

Kawzally also says the ruling is a victory for the Hezbollah-led opposition that had for four years called for the release of the generals.  Meanwhile, one expert working with the tribunal told FSRN that despite today’s ruling, the generals could still be indicted in a later phase of the UN tribunal.  Jackson Allers.  FSRN.  Beirut.

African states give Zimbabwe $400 million lifeline
African countries have become the first today to respond favorably to Zimbabwe’s pleas for financial assistance.  They have extended a 400 million US dollar credit line to help the country revive its crippled industrial sector. Southern and East African countries provided the money. FSRN’s Moses Magadza has the details.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Commerce, Professor Welshman Ncube, says the credit line will be available to companies, which are now operating at an average 10 percent capacity.  Ncube told Zimbabwe’s state media that the Southern African Development Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa provided the funds.  Despite its recent troubles, Economists have upheld Zimbabwe as one of the few diversified economies in southern Africa.  They say, with a strong financial injection and good management, the country’s economic turnaround could be sooner than expected.  Leaders of Zimbabwe’s new unity government have appealed for 5 billion in aid, but the international funds have been slow to come. Today’s credit lifeline from African countries comes at a time when western donors are squirming under the global financial crisis.  Many are withholding aid until the new government pushes through broad political and economic reforms.  They’re also calling for an end to a new round of land redistribution trained at the country’s few remaining white commercial farmers.  Human Rights Watch today also urged countries not to give development aid until the government ends human rights abuses. Moses Magadza, Free Speech Radio News.

Canadian gold mining company raises ire of protesters
Barrick Gold, the world’s largest pure gold company, held their Annual General Meeting in Toronto this morning, where their world headquarters is located.  But the shareholders received a hostile reception from a group of Canadian, South American and Pacific Islander protesters.  From Canada, FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff reports:

Dozens of people demonstrated outside the Metro Convention Center this morning, calling for an end to alleged destructive mining practices by Barrick in countries around the world. Sakura Saunders, one of the protest organizers, is critical of the power that Barrick gold wields both at home and abroad.

“They also have one of the most powerful board of directors in the world, which includes Brian Mulroney, the former Prime Minister of Canada. They’re extremely influential in Canadian foreign policy, and have recently been implicated for influencing the Harper government’s response on the round-tables on the extractive industries.”

The demonstration was lead by two people from communities directly affected by Barrick mining operations, one from Papua New Guinea, and the other from Chile. According to protest organizers, hundreds of army troops in Papua New Guinea are acting on Barrick situation reports.  The troops have recently entered the Porgera region neighboring one of the gold mines, and have burnt down 80 houses. The company declared nearly 8 billion dollars in sales in 2008. Aaron Lakoff, FSRN.



Infant first swine flu casualty in the U.S.
A 23 month-old infant is the first known casualty of the swine flu in the United States. The Texas toddler died in Houston Monday night from pneumonia caused by the flu – government officials confirmed Tuesday that at least 91 people around the nation are carrying the virus, also known as A/H1 N1. The infant arrived in the Texas border city of Brownsville after crossing from Matamoros, just over the U.S.-Mexican line. The Health and Human Services Department, along with the Centers for Disease Control, have created a website where you can read more about planning and preparing for the spread of this virus: www.pandmicflu.gov.

Supreme Court considers Vote Rights Act
The Supreme Court heard a crucial case on the Voting Rights Act today. The high court could decide to roll back the landmark legislation that has improved access to the polls for minority voters. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell was at today’s oral arguments and files this report

Border deaths increasing
Recent figures indicate at least 128 people died attmpeting to cross the Mexican border with the U.S. during a 6 month period ending in March. Federal officials admit that high counts of deaths year after year, including more than 500 in 2005, don’t correspond to an increase in people attempting to cross the border. As John Han reports, some say statistics are proof the U.S. should reform its border policies.

Violence in El Salvador fueled by violence
Increasingly high levels of violence are creating a security crisis in El Salvador. Ricardo Martinez is in San Salvador, where he takes a look at the weak economy, coupled with deportations from the United States — both are fueling a hub of violence in Central America.

Japanese-Brazilians caught up in global recession
Some one hundred years ago, a wave of poor Japanese migrants resettled in Brazil to work on coffee plantations.  Today, their descendants number around one million, and are one of Brazil’s most successful minority groups. In the 1990s, Japan offered these descendants work visas and close to 300,000 Japanese-Brazilians have since returned to their ancestral homeland.  FSRN’s Jason Strother is in Nagoya where he reports that now, due to the global economic recession, many are heading back to Brazil.

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