December 2, 2009

  • White House officials come under sharp questions from Congress over Afghanistan plan
  • Obama focuses on threat of Al Qaeda to justify increase of troops
  • Afghans respond to Obama’s speech to increase troops in region
  • Israeli settlers continue construction efforts despite freeze in West Bank
  • Abortion issue threatens to stall health care bill in Senate

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House committee passes financial regulatory legislation
The US House Financial Services Committee approved legislation today that will give the federal government expanded powers to regulate the financial industry.  The new regulations seek to prevent future scenarios where companies that are deemed “too big to fail” are bailed out by taxpayers.  The legislation also opens up the Federal Reserve to Congressional audits for the first time in history.


Kasim Reed leading in Atlanta mayoral run-off
Although run-off election results in the Atlanta Mayoral race remain uncertified, preliminary indications show that Kasim Reed has won the race by less than 1000 votes.  Reed looks poised to maintain nearly 4 decades of African-Americans holding this office.  His challenger Mary Norwood, who led in the original November election, says she will call for a recount.


Honduran Congress debates whether to restore Zelaya to power
A US brokered deal between Honduran de facto President Roberto Micheletti and Ousted President Manuel Zelaya called for the Honduran Congress to make the final decision on Zelaya’s restoration to the Presidency.  Just after ten this morning the Honduran Congress began debate on the issue.  Tim Russo brings us this update from Tegucigalpa.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the Honduran Congress Wednesday morning to demand the restoration of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency.  Riot police and water cannons blocked the protesters from entering the building.

Earlier this month the Honduran Congress postponed a vote on whether to reinstate Zelaya, requesting an opinion from the Supreme Court and choosing not to address the issue until after last Sunday’s controversial Presidential elections.  The Supreme Court previously ruled that Zelaya’s reinstatement would be unconstitutional.  Last week it reconfirmed that stance.

Today’s congressional decision could define or complicate the international community’s decision to recognize or reject the outcome of last Sunday’s elections.  The Organization of American States has led the call for Zelaya’s reinstatement, and Brazil said they will not recognize the elections if Zelaya is not restored to power.  The US has embraced Sunday’s elections results but says that it is not enough to resolve the political crisis.

For his part, Zelaya says he will not return to power, even if the decision falls in his favor.  He criticizes the Honduran government for delaying the vote.  Tim Russo, FSRN, Tegucigalpa.

Powerful Philippines political boss charged in massacre
The Government of the Philippines has expanded its probe into the politically motivated killing of 57 people last week.  Today it announced it is charging the head of the powerful Ampatuan family with 7 counts of murder.  Prosecutors say provincial governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. was involved in the massacre.  Ampatuan’s son, Andal Jr. was charged yesterday with similar crimes.  In addition, five other members of the Ampatuan family and several other regional officials were charged.


Testimony reveals secret 1970s Okinawa pact between US and Japan
Relations between the United States and Japan are tense right now because of disagreements over the presence of a US military base on the islands of Okinawa.  Japan’s new government want to assert more independence and the Okinawa base is threatening to be a battleground.  Tomorrow negotiations between the two countries are set to resume in Tokyo.

The US presence on Okinawa has always been contentious.  And new revelations about a secret pact from the 1970s are prompting controversy in Japan.  FSRN’s Shuhei Nakayama has the story.

At the end of World War II, the US took control of Okinawa.  They held power until 1972, when the islands were restored to Japanese control.  Details of a secret pact governing that power-transfer emerged on Tuesday as an ex-Japanese diplomat testified in court.

The diplomat, 91-year-old Bunroku Yoshiro, said the agreement forced Japan to pay $4 million for restoration of the land used by US forces.  The US was supposed to shoulder the entire cost.  The testimony opens up discussion on another secret pact that allowed the US to dock nuclear-armed ships in Japan – despite its ban on nuclear weapons.

The previous Japanese government had denied the existence of both pacts.  But the new government has launched an official investigation.  Shuhei Nakayama.  Free Speech Radio News.

Thousands of unmarked graves found in Kashmir, suspected victims of conflict with India
A human rights group in Indian administered Kashmir says thousands of bodies have been found in unmarked graves across the region.  Today it’s taking its findings to the government, calling for an international probe to verify the identity of those buried.  The group suspects that the graves contain civilians dubbed by the police as militants.  Shahnawaz Khan reports from Kashmir.

The International Tribunal on Human Rights And Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir or IPTK calls its report, “Buried Evidence,” referring to the over 2700 graves, mostly unmarked, found in the region.  The government says the graves contain militants killed on the borders.  But IPTK says many are victims of extra-judicial and arbitrary executions, as well as massacres committed by Indian security forces.

Angana Chatterjee, one of the report’s authors, says he unmarked graves have a reasonable correlation with the people who have disappeared in the region.  IPTK members said its findings are only the tip of the iceberg, as its investigations were limited to some 55 villages in northern Kashmir.  Independent investigation in all Kashmir districts, could reveal more unmarked graves.  Shahnawaz Khan, FSRN, Srinagar.


New York Senate fails to legalize same-sex marriage
And finally, the New York Senate vote today on same-sex marriage legislation:

“Announce the results.  Ayes 24, Nays 38.  The bill is lost.”



White House officials come under sharp questions from Congress over Afghanistan plan
One day after President Obama laid out his plan to expand the war in Afghanistan, members of his cabinet were dispatched to Capitol Hill to sell the war to lawmakers. The plan includes sending 30,000 more US troops to the country. Lawmakers were assured that the proposed timeline to begin a withdraw, July of 2011, will be not be a quick retreat and an American presence could remain for years to come. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Obama focuses on threat of Al Qaeda to justify increase of troops
In outlining his plan for Afghanistan last night, Obama narrowed the goal of the military operation to focus on Al Qaeda.

“Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future. To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.”

To reach that goal, Obama ordered an additional 30,000 US troops to be deployed beginning in 2010. Yet, while the goal has been defined, the strategy to achieve a stable and safe Afghanistan remains contested.

We’re joined by Erik Leaver, he’s a research fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think-tank based in Washington, DC.


Afghans respond to Obama’s speech to increase troops in region
In Afghanistan today, many woke up before dawn to watch President Obama’s anticipated speech – which aired at 5:30 AM local time. Just two hours after the speech ended, General Stanley McChrystal spoke to reporters about what the additional troops will be doing.

“There are some who are coming just to train and they will operate on some of the training bases. There are also some forces that we call enablers, roto wing aviation, intelligence elements and what not. But the vast majority of the force, the combat or maneuver forces are gonna partner. It’s our goal to have every coalition force partnered with an Afghan force and to have every Afghan force partnered with a coalition force.”

So far, we’ve heard from military leaders, the President and administration officials on the troop surge. But what do Afghans think? FSRN’s Kabul-based reporter Mujahid Jawad spoke to residents in the capitol about their response to more US troops in their country.

Included in this report are the voices of Kabul residents Saeedullah Rishteen, a law Faculty Graduate Student; Ahmad Zia, an IT engineer; Fahima Brishna, a computer engineer; Afghan political expert Ahmad Saeedi; and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, the head of the Islamic research center and the former deputy of Jihadi Leader, Ostad Abdul Rab Rasool Sayaf. FSRN’s Mujahid Jawad recorded and produced this segment.


Israeli settlers continue construction efforts despite freeze in West Bank
The international community is expressing growing concern about Israeli policies in East Jerusalem. A new report by an Israeli rights group says Israel revoked residency status for more than 4,500 residents of East Jerusalem in 2008 – by far the largest number in the last 40 years.

Meanwhile, a classified report from European consuls obtained by the Israeli paper Haaretz criticizes Israel for deliberately altering the demographics of East Jerusalem and working to cut it off from the West Bank.

The annual report, which has never been made public, urges EU officials to act to protect Palestinians, including issuing sanctions. In recent days, Israeli settlers have also attempted to install building foundations in the West Bank, to bypass a government freeze on new construction. FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura has the details.


Abortion issue threatens to stall health care bill in Senate
Hundreds of pro-choice advocates gathered in Washington today to protest anti-abortion amendments to the health care bill. Conservative Democratic Senator Ben Nelson has announced plans to introduce an amendment similar to the Stupak amendment that is part of the House bill. That measure would expand restrictions on abortion coverage for women. But Democrats say stall tactics by Republicans in the Senate threaten the bill’s passage. FSRN’s Matt Pearson reports.

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