October 12, 2009

  • Suicide bomber kills more than 40 in Pakistan as Taliban offensive continues
  • Puerto Rico prepares for general strike
  • US Senate issues controversial apology to American Indians prior to Columbus Day
  • National Equality March; LGBT community demands equality under federal laws
  • Baha´i followers in Egypt fight for equality and community acceptance

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Six sentenced to death in Urumchi unrest cases
Six men were sentenced to death and one to life in prison today for their roles in the Urumqi riots, in the western province of Xinjiang, China.  Shuk-Wah Chung in Beijing has more.

The convicted men were found guilty of murder, arson and robbery during a huge brawl three months ago between the Uighurs – a Chinese Muslim minority group – and the Han Chinese majority. One of the men was said to have stabbed five people with an iron pipe.

Another was accused of setting fire to a shop, killing five people inside. The trial is the first after the riots which saw 197 people killed and thousands injured. But critics have suggested it was not a fair trial as all the convicted have Uighur names. According to the World Uighur Congress based in Munich, Germany, the men “did not have access to legal aid during the entire process of their detention, or during the trial.” There are now fears this could further inflame tensions between the Han and Uighur communities. The verdict comes just two days after 11 people were sentenced for their roles in the ethnic melee in southern China that sparked the whole Xinjiang riot. A Han man was identified by the court as the “principal instigator” and has received a death sentence. The accused will die either by lethal injection or by firing squad. Shuk-Wah Chung, FSRN, Beijing.

Mexico shutters electricity distributor – 40,000 lose jobs
Mexico’s president issued a decree over the weekend to liquidate a state-owned company that distributes electricity to 25 million customers in Mexico City and surrounding areas. Shannon Young has the story from Oaxaca.

President Felipe Calderon cited the company’s unsustainable financial situation as the reason behind his decree to shut it down and lay off all of its 40 thousand workers. The company, Luz y Fuerza del Centro, has been out-spending its income at a rate of nearly 2 to 1, with federal subsidies keeping it afloat. One thousand federal riot police took over the power company’s Mexico City headquarters late Saturday night while many in the capital were celebrating a victory by the national soccer team. The move comes just days after a close and controversial election changed leadership at the influential electricians union. The government says it will offer laid off workers buy-out packages equal to two and a half years salary and will take on the liabilities of pension payments to those already retired. The electricians union has vowed TO maintain pressure to reverse the decree. For now, the Federal Electricity Commission, which generates and distributes electricity to the rest of Mexico, will take over what had been the operations of Luz y Fuerza in the Mexico City metropolitan area. Shannon Young, FSRN, Mexico.

UN-backed panel on Afghan elections loses member, Kai Eide acknowledges fraud

One of only two Afghan’s on a U.N.-backed panel charged with investigating allegations of fraud in Afghanistan’s Presidential elections quit today. Maulavi Mustafa Barakzia cited “the interference of foreigners.” And the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide rejected allegations from his former deputy Peter Galbraith that he covered up cheating to smooth the path to victory for President Hamid Karzai, stressing the importance of bringing Afghanistan through the electoral process and installing democracy. Yesterday Eide acknowledged “widespread fraud” in the disputed presidential election in the country.

“It is true that in a number of stations that opened in the South and South East there was significant fraud, but not only there. The extent of that fraud is now being determined. It has been claimed that there was around 30% fraud. There is no way to know at this stage what the level of fraud is. I do not know. Nobody knows. I can only say that there was wide-spread fraud.”

The panel will announce this week if enough votes should be tossed out to force a run-off between President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah.


Shantytown fire in Brazil leaves hundreds homeless
A fire engulfed a shanty town in western Sao Paulo yesterday. Shuhei Nakayama has more.
The devastating fire swept away the homes of at least 200 families. The blaze spread quickly through Diogo Pires where homes are mainly made with wood and cardboard. Panicked residents fled the community that is home to some 1,500 people. Sao Paulo’s Mayor says that the city will provide temporary shelter to those affected. According to fire officials, no deaths have been reported.




Suicide bomber kills more than 40 in Pakistan as Taliban offensive continues
In Pakistan today, dozens were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his weapon near a security checkpost.  This is the fourth deadly attack in about a week.  FSRN´s Nathan Moore read for our reporter in Peshawar, Gabe Matthews.


Puerto Rico prepares for general strike
Puerto Rico is bracing for a general strike this week. The strike is being organized by a group of civil servants, community groups and unions.

This follows governor Luis Fortuño´s decision to lay off 17,000 local government workers in the first week of November, saying it was unavoidable because government deficits are running too high. Fortuño´s plans have met stiff resistance from academics and labor unions. FSRN spoke with professor and social psychologist Mari Olga Reyes who´s helping organize the strike.


US Senate issues controversial apology to American Indians prior to Columbus Day
Monday marks 517 years since Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas.  It is a national holiday in Spain, in several Latin American countries and a holiday for US federal employees.  Columbus has a mixed legacy that includes the repression of thousands of indigenous people.  According to his own travel log, when the sailor first met the Arawak people in the Caribbean, he reported that they would make “fine servants.” He said, “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

As more Europeans settled in the western hemisphere, indigenous populations across the Americas were decimated by smallpox, massacres and forced relocation.  In the US, the Senate apologized for some of these actions last week. But the unprecedented apology has gotten mixed reviews. FSRN’S Tanya Snyder reports.


National Equality March; LGBT community demands equality under federal laws
Thousands rallied in Washington, DC over the weekend in the National Equality March demanding full equality for LGBT people in every state.The two-day long event culminated in a march to the White House and then the capitol. Tobias Packer with Equality Florida was one of the featured speakers.

“I come to you as a transgender person who was born,lived and works in a red state in the South.  I know first hand what it´s like to be denied employment I know what it is like to be treated as less than human just because I am transgender. I know the pain and the fear that comes with the constant reminder that I am not equal under the law. That we are not equal under the law…”

Straight and gay activists came from across the country in the biggest gay rights march in DC in nearly a decade. Participants were advocating for civil rights in a number of areas, including repealing “Don’t Act, Don’t Tell.” Lieutentant Dan Choi wore his decorated uniform for the Army National Guard.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country. But when we´re telling the truth about our love our country slaps us in the face and orders us don´t ask and orders us don´t tell.  Well I am telling you that the era and the time for asking is over. I am not asking anymore, I not asking anymore, I am telling, I am telling, I am telling, will you tell with me?”

In addition to long-time LGBT activists, pop icon Lady Gaga took the stage and demanded the Obama administration take action.

“Obama I know that you´re listening. Are you listening!  We will continue to push you and your administration to bring your word of promise to a reality. We need change now, we demand actions now. And to Barnie Frank, we are putting more than pressure on this grass and today this grass is ours.”

On Saturday night at the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner, keynote speaker President Obama reasserted his pledge to end the controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

“We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight, anymore than we can afford for our military´s integrity to force those willing to do so, into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie.  So I´m working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy, legislation has been introduced in the house to make this happen.  I will end Don´t Ask Don´t Tell.  That is my commitment to you.”

Some activists criticize Obama for moving too slowly on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and other civil rights issues. Equal rights advocates also want to see the Defense of Marriage Act repealed, and the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.


Baha´i followers in Egypt fight for equality and community acceptance
In Egypt, members of the Baha´i faith often face discrimination and violent attacks. Recently, attackers burned down four homes that belonged to followers of the Baha´i faith in a small rural town. And just last month, at least 50 people were arrested for demonstrating against government plans to re-house the Baha´is whose homes were attacked. Despite recent court gains made by Baha´is at the national level, this small group of Egyptian Baha´is is waging a battle for community acceptance.   FSRN’s Aya Batrawy reports.

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