March 5, 2010

  • Iraqi voters face ‘decisive moment’ in elections
  • Israeli troops use tear gas, rubber bullets to counter protests in West Bank
  • Shelter deteriorates for thousands in Haiti as heavy rains continue
  • Sugar workers in Nicaragua demand compensation after illnesses
  • Federal agency that monitors globalization to be eliminated

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Chile revises death toll numbers lower
Aftershocks continue in Chile today as the country struggles to recover from an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and several subsequent tsunamis.  The government today revised their published death toll– from more than 800 to approximately 550.  One reason is the initial inclusion of some missing persons in the total.  The Chilean Interior Ministry says it has identified 279 of the bodies at this point.  The government says death figures will likely continue to change in the coming days.


Turkey recalls US ambassador in wake of genocide vote
Turkey’s foreign minister today said a US House committee vote on Armenian  “genocide” would damage ties between the US and Turkey.  Yesterday, the country recalled its ambassador from the United States after approval of a resolution labeling the killing of ethnic Armenians in the aftermath of World War I as “genocide.”  And the slim 23-22 passage by the Foreign Affairs Committee could complicate reconciliation efforts between Armenia and Turkey.  FSRN’s Jacob Resneck reports from Istanbul.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman prefaced his support for the resolution by calling Turkey “a loyal ally” in a “volatile region.” But that has done little to limit the fallout here as the run up to the vote on the non-binding resolution has been one of the week’s biggest stories.

The parliaments in both Turkey and Armenia are under pressure to ratify a protocol that would normalize relations between the two countries and reopen the border.

Mesut Alarcin is an editor at CNN’s Turkish-language channel.  He says the stakes are high for both countries.

“If [the] protocol is accepted in the Parliament, borders will open in two months and also we will establish diplomatic relations with Armenia.”

Next month will be the 95th anniversary of the killing of up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians as the Ottoman Empire crumbled.  Turkey denies that the killings were orchestrated by the state and rejects the term “genocide” fearing it would make the state liable for compensation to the descendants of survivors.

In a statement the Turkish government accused the US of “a lack of strategic vision” and said it was recalling its ambassador to the capital Ankara for “consultations.”

The Obama administration has not supported the resolution.  A State Department spokesman has said the administration is concerned what impact it will have on relations with both Turkey and Armenia.  Jacob Resneck, FSRN, Istanbul.

Levin urges no new contracts for Blackwater
Michigan Senator Carl Levin has sent a request to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to rethink new contracts to the security company Xe Services – formally known as Blackwater.  The letter charges that the government is preparing a new $1 billion dollar contract with the company for work in Afghanistan.  Levin wants Gates to “consider the deficiencies” in the company’s previous work before moving ahead with any further contracts.


Court rules Mexican state human rights agencies can’t sue government
Mexico’s Supreme Court has handed down a ruling that greatly restricts the country’s publicly funded human rights institutions.  Shannon Young has the details.

The sweeping 7 to 4 ruling prevents Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission and its state-level counterparts from challenging laws that violate or may violate human rights provisions in international treaties signed by the country.  The court determined that governmental human rights institutions can only seek to annul laws that violate Mexico’s constitution.

Non-governmental groups can still work on human rights cases based on international law.  But the exclusion of publicly funded institutions from this type of work is significant.

The founding of government-funded human rights institutions in Mexico was a requirement of the North American Free Trade agreement – or NAFTA.  Supporters of NAFTA often cited this “watchdog” requirement to argue that the trade agreement would improve the human rights situation in Mexico.  Shannon Young, FSRN.

AIG settles $7 million mortgage discrimination claim
AIG has settled a federal discrimination complaint to the tune of $7 million.  The Department of Justice charged that two AIG subsidiaries discriminated against African-Americans during mortgage loan application processes, charging them higher broker fees than their white counterparts.  The discrimination took place between 2003 and 2006.  The DOJ says this is the first time it has held a lender responsible for making sure its brokers do not discriminate on the basis of race.


Pentagon shooter dies of wounds
The man who opened fire at the entrance to the Pentagon yesterday evening has died.  John Patrick Bedell injured two police officers before being shot by a third.  Pentagon Police Chief Richard Keevil says the California man was well armed, but the shooting is not being considered as part of a terrorist plot.

“At this time, and I emphasize that this time, there does not appear to be anyone acting in concert with Mr. Bedell.”

This raises questions once again about the US government’s definition of terrorism.  Last month, US officials dismissed the terrorism label for an attack against federal employees in Texas.  Joe Stack flew his plane into an Austin IRS building killing himself and one other employee.  The Council on American-Islamic Relations has criticized the government’s decision, saying being Muslim seems to be an unspoken qualification for being labeled a terrorist.




Iraqi voters face ‘decisive moment’ in elections
This Sunday Iraqis will go to the polls for parliamentary elections throughout the country. At stake are the 325 seats that could determine the next prime minister. But the process has been marred with controversy. In January, some candidates were barred from running and targeted bombings of polling sites have increased this week.

The top UN envoy in Iraq, Ad Melkert, said the country faces a choice.

“It is for Iraq a very decisive moment. I think it’s actually the most decisive moment since 2003, the invasion that of course turned the country upside down. And now is the chance, also against the backdrop of the withdrawal of the American troops in the next few years that Iraqis really define by themselves their own way forward, their own destiny.”

We’re joined now by Raed Jarrar. He’s a senior fellow on the Middle East at Peace Action, a nationwide grassroots peace organization. He’s also one of the first Iraqi bloggers and he grew up in Baghdad.


Israeli troops use tear gas, rubber bullets to counter protests in West Bank
In the West Bank today, Israeli troops used tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets to counter several anti wall protests. Earlier this week Israel started to build a new section of the Wall in the southern West Bank. Residents say that it threatens homes, land and is leading to the destruction of valuable olive trees in the area. FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura has the story.


Shelter deteriorates for thousands in Haiti as heavy rains continue
Heavy rains hit Haiti this week as hundreds of thousands remain in makeshift shelters. The organization Partners in Health says that the need for sanitation and clean water is “extreme.” The group runs health posts for five spontaneous settlements and reports that the clinics are still seeing around 6,000 patients every week. Attention has also turned toward offering rehabilitation services for amputees and providing prosthetics to patients, but staff and supplies are still short.

Executive Director Ophelia Dahl spoke to reporters on a teleconference today. She explained witnessing hundreds of thousands of residents in Port Au Prince in flimsy shelters. With the recent rains over the past few days, she said, the conditions are deteriorating.

“So what little people have is now soaked, they’re sleeping in the rain and the makeshift shelters are already breaking down and dissolving and the conditions for these homeless and displaced people are absolutely inhuman and getting worse every single day.”

Partners in Health also said that they have stopped calling the shelters “tent cities” because it implies a structure that does not exist. Ted Constan, the group’s Chief Program Officer, said the disaster has changed the landscape, making it more precarious.

“The other thing we’ve understood is that with the earthquake there are a lot of changes to the rock and underlying aquifer in Port Au Prince so as the rain comes the water isn’t even going to go in its normal pathways so there will be flooding and mudslides in areas that have never experienced it before. Probably the worst scenario right now is if you’re on a mountainside in a settlement camp because you’re in trouble.”

Constan said that what is required is to move beyond tarps to more resilient transitional shelter that can withstand strong wind and rains.

The International Organization of Migration launched an effort in the end of February to register those living in makeshift camps. In announcing the effort, the IOM predicted heavy rains to begin mid-March, but it appears this year that the rainy season is coming earlier and making recovery efforts dire.


Sugar workers in Nicaragua demand compensation after illnesses
In Nicaragua, sick sugar cane workers are demanding compensation from their former employer, Nicaraguan Sugar Estates Limited, one of many companies owned by the wealthy Pellas family. More than 8,000 current and former sugar cane workers suffer from chronic illness and more than 3,000 people have died.  They say they were poisoned by the toxic chemicals used on the sugar cane in production.  Nan McCurdy has more from Nicaragua.


Federal agency that monitors globalization to be eliminated
Unemployment numbers released today show little change up or down, meaning the economy isn’t recovering as fast as some had hoped or tanking as fast as some had feared. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is finding its budget under the knife too and a little-known office that tracks globalization is slated for closure and attracting new interest. FSRN’S Tanya Snyder reports.