March 19, 2010

  • Health care reform nears critical weekend vote in Congress
  • Cuban ‘Ladies in White’ demand release of imprisoned relatives
  • Marking Iraqi invasion, protesters turn toward broader anti-war strategy
  • Nations wrap up round of free trade talks in Asia Pacific region
    (Click here for web only special)
  • Disarmament deal in Niger Delta stalls over government inaction

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Israel initiates air strikes on Gaza after rocket fire kills Thai national
Israeli warplanes carried out a series of air raids on the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours.  This after rocket fire from Gaza killed a Thai farm worker in Israel.  FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has the latest.

Local hospital sources in Gaza say recent Israeli attacks have left two civilians injured.  Israeli air raids targeted three underground tunnels, a metal foundry and two open fields.

Many residents here in Gaza City were enjoying a Friday holiday as the air raids began in other parts of the region.  Mohammad Abu Sheira and a friend were walking the Jundi Almajhoul Public Garden.

“Youth in the Gaza Strip are not afraid of a second or third war.  We are going to defy Israel.  What has been taken by force should be restored by force, not by negotiations, which are nonsense.  What has been taken by force, should be restored by force.”

Meanwhile, a Gaza-based armed faction says it launched mortar shells at an Israeli army base in eastern Gaza Strip.  In the past 24 hours, Palestinian armed factions have carried out at least five rocket attacks, according to Israeli media reports.

Since the 2009 Israeli war in Gaza, the ruling Hamas party in here has been calling for a ceasefire.  Though, the recent actions of Israel in the West Bank have prompted armed factions in Gaza to increase the use of homemade rockets.  Rami Almeghari.  FSRN.  Gaza.

US, UN, EU and Russia condemn Israeli settlements
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a conciliatory call to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an effort to smooth over recent diplomatic bumps.  Israel announced new settlement plans during Vice President Biden’s visit last week despite US calls for a settlement freeze.  The details of the call have not been released, but prompted the US to say it would attempt to restart the peace process.

Today, Secretary of State Clinton is in Moscow attending the Quartet meeting on the situation in the Middle East.  FSRN’s Jenny Johnson reports from Russia.

The United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations concluded the two-day Quartet meeting in Moscow by condemning Israel’s plans to expand its settlements.

The quartet issued a joint statement calling on Israel to abandon any expansion in East Jerusalem.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke to reporters after the meetings.

“The Quartet believes these negotiations should lead to a settlement negotiated between the parties within 24 months that ends the occupation which began in 1967, and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors.”

Analysts said the statement by the Quartet displayed an unusually harsh line toward Israel regarding its affairs of state.  Today’s statement also calls on Israel to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001.  Jenny Johnson, FSRN.

Fighting in Yemen’s north possibly resolved
Yemen’s President announced today that the civil war between the government and Houthi Shi’ite rebels in the northern part of the country is over, according to Al-Arabiya TV.  Fighting over the past six years has displaced tens of thousands of civilians.  The parties were in the midst of an uneasy ceasefire.  The rebels have agreed to remove their landmines and roadside bombs, and have released pro-government fighters.  The government promised to release Houthi prisoners as well.  But many don’t feel the peace will last because the government still hasn’t addressed the underlying causes of the conflict.


Polar Bear/Bluefin Tuna trade to continue after failed international vote
Countries across the globe will not curb their trade in polar bears or bluefin tuna.  This, after two proposals to ban the practice were defeated as part of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna.  Delegates have been meeting four times a decade since 1975 to decide how to shape international trade in light of conservation needs.  Countries voluntarily adhere to the Convention.

Polar Bears are experiencing habitat loss due to climate change and the tuna have been fished to the point of population collapse.  Canada led the fight to defeat the polar bear ban.  Many of its indigenous groups depend on polar bear hunting and trade.  During a short debate, Japan and Canada both fought the proposed bluefin tuna ban, saying that the international fishing treaty organization, ICCAT, should be responsible for regulating the industry.  Japan is the world’s largest consumer of bluefin tuna.  The World Wildlife Fund says that organization has repeatedly failed to sustainably manage the fishery.  The WWF also says the lack of debate on the issue was “scandalous.”


Report: Mercury pollution on the rise
Mercury emissions at half of the nations most-polluting coal power plants increased between 2007 and 2008, according to a report released this week by the Environmental Integrity Project.  The report says overall mercury emissions by the top-50 polluters did fall, but only by a quarter of a percent – despite repeated promises from the industry that it will improve.  Power plant mercury emissions in at least 11 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, have increased in the past decade.  Five of the top-10 polluting power plants are located in Texas, which is planning to build several new coal fired plants.  The Environmental Integrity Project says these emissions could be cut significantly with the installation of modern pollution controls.


Lt. Dan Choi in court after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell protest arrest
Openly gay US Army Lt. Dan Choi appeared before a DC judge today after being arrested while protesting the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.  Lt. Choi and another officer, Lt. Jim Pietrangelo both handcuffed themselves to the fence of the White House during Thursday’s protest.

Ambi of protest, Lt. Choi Speaking, police moving in.  (Audio from YouTube.)

Last night, supporters gathered in Fresno for a solidarity rally.  Today another rally is planned in New York City.  Both Lieutenants pleaded not guilty to charges.



Haiti’s government outlines recovery plan at international donor conference
Today world leaders gathered in New York to outline the next steps for the recovery efforts in Haiti and call for an increase in financial assistance to the devastated country. UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon opened the donor conference by outlining the goal of the day.

“Today, we will rise in solidarity with Haiti. By the end of this day, I’m confident we will truly have helped Haiti along the road to a new and better future.”

The January 12th magnitude 7 quake killed an estimated 230,000 and injured some 300,000. More than 1 million are homeless and thousands of commercial buildings are destroyed. Speaking at today’s conference, President Rene Preval said the people of Haiti express their deep gratitude for the international response to the crisis.

“This is an opportunity to say thank you to friendly countries who have rapidly mobilized resources to help us. First, our neighbors who were there hours following the earthquake with humanitarian logistics. Words of equal gratitude to the citizens and the governments of those countries who are far away, geographically, historically, who despite this sent large amounts of humanitarian assistance, emergency responders, trucks with tons of material, medicine, water and food. The Haitian people, historically an open people, who have paid in blood the price of fighting for the defense of human dignity, feel moved by the this solidarity and compassion expressed by the whole word.”

The emphasis of the conference was on securing vital donations for recovery, which the UN has said have decreased recently.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellarive presented a government action plan to outline how the funds would be used. The Plan divides recovery into three time stages. The first is the emergency period, which focuses on accommodating Haiti’s homeless, providing food and medical needs and preparing for the coming Hurricane season; second, is the implementation period, which will focus on economic growth and job creation; and the third is a ten to twenty year period in which the country will rebuild to become self sufficient.

Prime Minister Bellarive focused on the second stage of the plan, to take place over the next 18 months. This is Bellarive speaking through an interpreter:

“To implement this we need massive job creation. The next few months will focus on high labor intensive industries, agricultural infrastructure, building, clean up of devastated areas. We’ll have to find ways to get these jobs out to people to train them, vocational training, relevant training to transform this tragedy into a sustainable economic enterprise.”

Bellarive said the country needs about 4 billion dollars during the next 18 months. He also emphasized transparency, a concern OF international donors who point to a history of corruption in Haiti’s government and mismanagement of past aid.

Former President Bill Clinton, who has overseen the United Nations aid mission in Haiti, commended the long term plan, but pointed to the short term needs that still exist.

Haitian President Preval designated Clinton and Prime Minister Bellarive to head up a commission to oversee the recovery efforts. Some have criticized the commission for not having enough Haitian involvement. President Clinton:

“I want to thank the president, my long time friend, President Preval, for asking me and Prime Minister Bellarive to co-chair this interim commission. I would like to explain it to all of you that have questions: it is an interim commission.”

Clinton emphasized that it would last 18 months and said he encouraged the input and involvement of Haitians.

Michele Montas represented the Voice of the Voiceless forum, which brings the perspectives of Haitians not included in the conference in an official capacity.

“There is a strong demand for an end to exclusion. The exercise was an opportunity for people to express their views often for the first time on issues of concern to their communities and to themselves as individual citizens. Reconstruction package should package all Haitians regardless of their status and location.”

According to the country’s post disaster needs assessment damage from the earthquake was nearly 8 billion dollars, or 120 percent of the country’s GDP for 2009.


Activists call for Haitian women to have role in reconstruction
As the international donors held high level meetings to pledge billions for Haiti’s reconstruction, some activists called for more transparency and accountability in that country’s government. Some women activists also appealed to donors to include Haitian women at every level of the rebuilding and reconstruction process. FSRN’s Salim Rizvi reports.


Obama announces expansion of off shore drilling
President Obama announced a major expansion of off shore drilling. The politically charged debate has environmentalists decrying the move and the oil and natural gas industry praising it. But as FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, this could be an attempt to build consensus for comprehensive energy legislation.


March 31st to honor Chicano labor leader, Cesar Chavez
The late Chicano labor leader Cesar Chavez would have turned 83 today. Celebrations are being held around the country to honor his legacy and impact on farm workers’ rights.  Meanwhile, President Obama signed a declaration today declaring March 31st Cesar Chavez day nationally.  FSRN’s Matt Pearson reports.


Violence in Pakistan threatens musical traditions

Photo by Gabe Matthews

In Peshawar, Pakistan the growing frequency of suicide bombings over the past year has affected daily life in the city. Many avoid going to parks and large gatherings. In the wake of a deadly attack on a volley ball game which killed some 200 people, many types of recreation and entertainment have disappeared, from sporting events to film screenings to concerts. People have also stopped inviting musicians to wedding ceremonies to avoid being targeted by militants. The change is not only affecting the long tradition of music at weddings, but also the singers and drum masters who make a living performing at weddings. Today, FSRN begins a two-part series exploring the impact of the current conflict in Pakistan on ancient traditions and livelihoods. FSRN’s Scott Pham reads for our reporter in Peshawar, Gabe Mathews.