July 30, 2009

  • Progressive and conservative Democrats divided over public option
  • Obama administration discusses stimulus plan to curb homelessness
  • Opposition forces defeat Communists in Moldova parliamentary elections
  • US envoy Holbrooke concerned about instability in Pakistan
  • Guantanamo detainee Mohammad Jawad to be released

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Iranian government breaks up mourners at fallen protester’s grave
In Iran today, people mourned the citizens killed in post election protests, but not without interference from state security forces. Hundreds gathered at the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young protester who became the international face of the turmoil.

This was the scene at Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, from an unconfirmed video posted today on YouTube. It shows hundreds of protesters chanting the name of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, in addition to chants of “death to dictator” and “don’t be afraid, we are all together.”  Reuters reports that Iranian security forces broke up the cemetery protest, detaining at least three. Witnesses say Mousavi attempted to attend the memorial gathering, but was forced to leave by police.

Protesters also gathered in other parts of Tehran, continuing their call for justice. Reports coming through on Twitter document further clashes between security forces and protesters. The government denied requests for mourners to gather in the Grand Mosalla prayer center – a square in central Tehran that can accommodate 10-thousand people.

Lebanon’s newly-formed government gives Hezbollah increased power
Almost two months have passed since Lebanon’s closely fought elections, and the country’s Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri finally announced the country’s new cabinet today. The announcement means that the new government can finally begin it’ work, but it is also a sign of significant consensus between the pro-Western majority and Hezbollah-led opposition. From Beirut, FSRN’s Don Duncan has more.

Many thought it an impossible task – but Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri has succeeded in naming a 30-member cabinet approved by both sides of Lebanon’s polarized political scene.

The main point of contention was whether veto power should be granted to the opposition. In Lebanon, it only takes a 1/3 vote to block legislation. Hariri has given Hezbollah one seat short of this veto power. But the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman says he will grant one of his five cabinet selections to the opposition. This will technically enable a blocking veto, but under the president’s strictly non-partisan auspices.

Veto power is crucial for the Hezbollah-led opposition so as to protect its armed wing and to ensure no compromises are made to national security – especially regarding US influence in the country. Don Duncan, FSRN, Beirut.

Human rights group says Nigerian security forces killing civilians
A Nigerian relief agency says 4000 people have now been displaced as a result of the fighting in the Northeastern part of the country. There, security forces are fighting Islamic militants. And there are growing indications government forces have been killing civilians. FSRN’s Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

The death toll is estimated at 300 following three days of fighting in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. Reports from the area suggest some of the dead were innocent people deliberately killed by government forces.  Shamaki Gad Peter, director of Nigeria’s League for Human Rights, says he counted 20 corpses, some of which appeared to have been shot from behind, presumably while trying to escape the fighting. One eyewitness told the BBC he saw three young men shot dead at close range while they were kneeling on the floor with their arms in the air.  Nigerian security forces have a very poor human rights record. The government is not likely to take any action against those involved in civilian killings. Its priority is to deal with the militants who want to impose an extreme Islamic form of government. Sam Olukoya, FSRN, Lagos.

Workers occupy UK wind turbine plant to protest planned closure
Tomorrow’s planned closure of the only wind turbine factory in the United Kingdom looks as if it will be delayed. Workers have occupied the Danish-owned Vestas plant, preventing, for now, the loss of six hundred jobs. And despite food shortages and eviction attempts, the protesters are staying put. FSRN’s Tom Allan has the story from Southern England.

For ten days now, twenty workers have staged a sit-in at the Vestas factory on the Isle of White. Fenced off from supporters, they’re short on food, but are getting their story out by any means they can – waving from the balcony, giving interviews on mobile phones, and even throwing video footage, hidden inside a tennis ball.  Ian Terry is among those inside.

“We’re calling on the Government to save our jobs, and nationalize the factory really. We could produce the equipment at a gain for the country, we could also use the energy at a gain for the country, and everything would be returned back in, none of it going to big businesses who are willing to pull out at the drop of a hat just to maximize their profits.”

Two weeks ago the British Energy Secretary announced plans to build 10,000 new wind turbines over the next decade. But Vestas says demand from the UK has been sluggish. It blames local opposition to wind turbines from rural communities, and say they will move production to Colorado in America, where there is more demand. The company has rejected the government’s offer of financial assistance to keep the factory open – and despite calls from the plant’s employees, nationalization seems unlikely.  Tom Allan, FSRN, Bristol.

Myanmar warns against protests ahead of Suu Kyi verdict
And finally, a Myanmar court is expected to issue a verdict in the trial of pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi tomorrow – and today Suu Kyi’s lawyer says she has begun stockpiling supplies – like books and medicines – in preparation for an expected guilty verdict. Suu Kyi is charged with violating her house arrest. The state media in the country has issued a warning to citizens, forbidding them to protest the verdict.



Progressive and conservative Democrats divided over public option
Attempts to overhaul the health care system are slowly trudging along in Washington. Democrats in the House are struggling to unify the party. Liberal Democrats are outraged by a proposal from conservative Democrats that would weaken the government-run public option.  Meanwhile, proponents of a single-payer system are rallying in Washington and in cities across the country. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Obama administration discusses stimulus plan to curb homelessness
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is offering one-way plane tickets to homeless people who will return to their home towns or home countries.  The program has been around since 2007, but it’s now receiving criticism from advocacy groups that say it fails to address the problems that made people homeless in the first place. Bloomberg defends the relocation scheme, saying it is less expensive than spending up to $36,000 a year to keep a family in a homeless shelter.

The Federal Government along with policy makers and activists are also talking about homeless programs.  The government is allocating more than $1 billion in stimulus money to programs that aim to prevent homelessness in the first place. The White House has other ideas about how to keep people off the streets. FSRN´s Karen Miller has more.

Opposition forces defeat Communists in Moldova parliamentary elections
Opposition parties won a majority of parliamentary seats in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova. With about 98 percent of the votes counted, the ruling Communist party received only 45 percent of the vote, a drop of about five percent since the April elections that were marred by charges of vote rigging and violent protests.  Miles Ashdown reports from Moldova’s capital, Chisinau.

US envoy Holbrooke concerned about instability in Pakistan
In Pakistan´s Baluchistan province today, the United Nations said it is taking precautions in the wake of threats from a separatist group.  The UN has closed down some offices and others will be scaled back.

Meanwhile in Peshawar Wednesday, Taliban militants killed a pro-government militia leader who previously provided support to groups fighting the Taliban.  The ongoing violence continues as NGOs and the government grapple with a massive humanitarian crisis; some 3 million people were displaced from clashes between militants and the government.

While Pakistan´s government has been publicly optimistic about their campaign against the militants, the US government is less so.  The State Department envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, spoke to reporters Wednesday after returning from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“We don’t know exactly to what extent the Pakistani army dispersed or destroyed the enemy.  And the test of this operation is, of course, when the refugees return, can they go home? Are they safe? And we’re just going to have to wait and see.  The Pakistanis have moved a very large number of troops from their eastern border to their western border, that’s a historical and significant redeployment.”

The government recently authorized a three-phase program to return IDPs home. According to local sources, many are returning to continued attacks and clashes between the government and militants.

Guantanamo detainee Mohammad Jawad to be released
A US district judge today ruled that a Guantanamo detainee must be released in three weeks time.  Mohammad Jawad was arrested in 2002 in Afghanistan, when he was a teenager, allegedly for throwing a grenade at two US troops and an Afghan interpreter.

Jawad confessed to participating in the attack, but last year a military judge ruled his confessions had been obtained through torture and could not be used in court. The Department of Justice said last week it will no longer hold Jawad as an enemy combatant. But government attorneys say they will continue to conduct a criminal investigation against him, and they claim they have found new evidence from eyewitnesses.

Jawad´s attorneys are saying the US government should stop pressing charges against their client.  FSRN spoke with Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney at the ACLU´s National Security Project, who currently represents Mohammad Jawad.

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