Newscast for Friday, March 25, 2011

  • Protests and bloodshed In Syria
  • Yemen: Tens of thousands call for president’s ouster
  • Japan: Officials fear meltdown
  • Chernobyl expert visits Washington
  • Massive anti-austerity protests planned for UK
  • Violence in Gaza escalates
  • Correction

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Death toll rises from Myanmar earthquake

More than 70 people are confirmed dead in the wake of Thursday’s earthquake in Myanmar, along with 100 injured.  The 6.8 magnitude quake centered near the border of Northern Thailand, and was felt in Vietnam and Laos. Buildings in many villages in Myanmar collapsed, and a hospital has been damaged.  There is little known about conditions in rural parts of the country; Myanmar’s ruling military government came under intense criticism in 2008, when it held back information about damage done by Cyclone Nargis, which killed 130,000 people.

NATO takes control of Libya no-fly zone

The US military continued bombing Libya today, firing 16 missiles over the last 24 hours.  The war effort will soon be in the hands of NATO< after all 28-member countries approved a plan to take command of the no fly zone.  Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have also offered military aircraft.  Meanwhile, African Union leaders held an international conference on Libya, presenting a road map that calls for an immediate end to the conflict.  Colonel Gaddafi sent a delegation to the meeting, attended also by UN and EU officials.  But the Libyan opposition was not present. Also in line with UN sanctions, Uganda today announced they will freeze Libyan assets in the amount of about 375 million dollars.

UN says over 1 million have fled homes in Ivory Coast

France and Nigeria have introduced a UN resolution that would place sanctions on Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down since his opponent Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner of elections in November.  As fighting continues in the capital city, and worries about civil war increase, more than one and a half million people have now fled their homes, according to the UN’s refugee agency.  Melissa Fleming from the UN’s High Commission on Refugees says Ivorian refugees in Liberia have now reached 100,000.

“Families fleeing areas of conflict have told UNHCR monitors that they are afraid of being caught in the fighting and killed by stray bullets. Others say they can no longer cope financially due to closures of banks and businesses and resulting unemployment. Costs of food have risen, and there is little available in the markets. Price rises have also hit public transport. Bus terminals are overcrowded with passengers desperate to get seats on vehicles heading to northern, central and eastern parts of the country where there has been no fighting so far.”

The proposed UN resolution calls Gbagbo to hand over power, and for the International Criminal Court and the U.N. human rights chief to report to the Security Council on alleged abuses against civilians.  It’s scheduled to be discussed next week.

Mexican news outlets sign drug war reporting pact

Most of the major news outlets in Mexico have signed onto a 10-point plan that lays out ground rules for reporting on the Drug War and associated violence. But as FSRN’s Shannon Young reports, the rules might mean news reporting will contain a bit less information than before.

Some hail it as a necessary code of ethics for a press that often sensationalizes drug cartels and the violence that surrounds them.  But critics condemn the code for further restricting a press that already practices a significant amount of self-censorship.  Among the rules are the requirements that reporters take a position against violence perpetrated by organized crime, not allow themselves to become “involuntary spokespersons” for the cartels, and “not interfere in the combat against crime” by publishing information that could put an investigation or operation at risk.  There are also guidelines for journalists in danger, allowing them to file stories anonymously, and to not produce live reports from an area deemed violent. Only 4 major national media outlets have not signed onto the pact; but they may face pressure to conform to the new guidelines. Mexican senators have indicated they’ll move a proposal as early as next week to make the voluntary reporting guidelines law. Shannon Young, FSRN, Oaxaca.

Vermont House passes single-payer healthcare

Vermont is one step closer to having single-payer health care, after the state house of representatives passed a bill that would establish government-run universal coverage for all state residents.  The bill creates a 5 member board to design the healthcare system, funding would be determined by 2013, and the plan, called ‘Green Mountain Care’, would be fully up and running by 2015. It assumes the state would be granted a waiver by the federal government to opt out of the new federal healthcare law and create its own system.  The measure overwhelmingly passed the house, 92-49 and is expected to pass the State Senate with some changes.  Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who campaigned on the issue of single payer healthcare, has indicated he will sign the bill into law.

100th anniversary of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  146 garment workers were killed when a fire broke out in a lower Manhattan sweatshop.  When the women tried to escape the building, they found the doors had been locked by the bosses, who were worried about workers sneaking out, or union organizers coming inside.  The outrage that followed the tragedy led to major improvements in labor laws, workplace safety codes, and helped spark the rise of organized labor in the US.


Protests and bloodshed in Syria

A major escalation in anti-government protests in Syria today. Organizers had proclaimed today a “day of dignity”, launching protests across the country that drew crowds ranging from the hundreds to the thousands. Government spokespersons said they’d instructed security forces to handle the protests peacefully. But that’s not how it worked out.

There are scattered witness reports of Syrian security forces shooting and killing protesters in at least three separate demonstrations, with the worst incident just outside the southern city of Daraa, where initial reports say at least 20 have died. Syrian Government spokesperson Reem Haddad said soldiers opened fire near Daara because some protesters were armed.

“It became a matter of national security – I mean, you can’t unleash armed people on the streets and then ask security to do nothing about it, because then you would have a state of chaos.”

However, Al Jazeera English is publishing multiple eyewitness accounts that say the protesters were unarmed, and soldiers were responding not to a threat of violence, but the fact that some protesters were tyring to destroy a statue of a former Syrian president.

Yemen: Tens of thousands call for president’s ouster

Tens of thousands hit the streets in Yemen to call for the ouster of president Ali Abdullah Saleh. There are relatively few reports of violence in those demonstrations — which may have something to do with the fact that the protests are being guarded by troops loyal to General Ali Mohsen, who defected from the government earlier this week. State television also broadcast a pro-government rally. The president told supportive crowds that he’s ready to step down, under the right conditions:

“We need to transfer power to capable hands, not malicious hands . . . we are prepared to give up power, but only to the hands to be elected by the people”

Joining us to discuss the situation is Stacey Philbrick Yadav, assistant professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges who’s been writing about Yemen for the Middle East Research and Information Project.

Japan: Officials fear meltdown

Japanese officials say fear a breach in the core at the Fukushima nuclear power plant’s number three reactor. That’s the one reactor at the facility that uses the more-dangerous Mixed Oxide, which is higher in plutonium. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the situation very serious:

“The situation at the Fukushim Daiichi power plant is still very serious. We must remain vigilant, and prevent a deterioration of the situation. We are still not in a situation to be optimistic, and will treat every development with importance.”

Engineers halted work at the complex, where they’ve been trying to stop several reactors from proceeding to full meltdowns. The began suspecting a breach at reactor 3 when two workers suffered skin burns after wading into water 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found in water in or around a reactor. David Lochbaum with the Union of Concerned Scientists told reporters it’s not clear whether there was a breach in the reactor core. But if there was, he says

“Most likely the reason for that would be that the core was damaged to the point of melting, some of the molten mass fell down to the bottom of the reactor vessel, and burned a hole through that became the breach.”

Today marks the two week anniversary of the devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck Japan. The death toll now stands at more than 10,000, with over 17,000 missing – though there may be some overlap on the two lists.

Chernobyl expert visits Washington

As concern increases over the nuclear crisis in Japan and the government response, the leading Russian expert on the aftermath of Chernobyl was in Washington Friday to talk about the similarities to Fukushima. Michael Lawson has more.

Massive anti-austerity protests planned for UK

In Britain there is increasing opposition to government cuts to public spending and jobs. Trade unions and community organizations have organized a mass demonstration this weekend. FSRN’s George Lavender reports.

Violence in Gaza escalates

Violence on the Gaza-Israel border escalated this week, after Israel launched military strikes following a series of rockets fired from Gaza. The strikes left 10 dead and dozens injured, including civilans. In the eastern Gaza city neighborhood of Shija’yia, the Alhelo family lost three members including two children, after being hit by shells in front of their home. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari visited the family.


In Wednesday’s story on hydrolic fracturing in Pennsylvania, we incorrectly identified the first sound clip as belonging to Dr. David Velinsky, Vice President of the Patrick Center for Environmental Research at the Academy of Natural Sciences. It was actually Adam Garber, field director for PennEnvironment. We also incorrectly identified the source of the second sound clip as Adam Garber, with PennEnvironment, and described PennEnvironment as “pro-fracking.” PennEnvironment is in fact critical of fracking and the impact on health and the environment. FSRN regrets the errors and any erroneous mis-representation of the sources.

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