Newscast for Monday, March 21, 2011

  • US lawmakers criticize Obama administration’s actions in Libya
  • Libya expert says no fly zone necessary but warns of imperialist objectives
  • US experts say Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant is stabilizing as review of US facilities is announced
  • Egyptians vote for changes to their constitution
  • Haitians prepare for winner of drawn out Presidential contest

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High level officials in Yemen abandon the President

In Yemen today a powerful Brigadier General abandoned President Ali Abdullah Saleh. General Ali Moshen al-Ahmar called Friday’s government sponsored attack on protesters unconstitutional – some 50 people were killed. He spoke for himself and his command.

And there were more high level defections today – three more Generals, five ambassadors, the head of Yemen’s state news agency, and one of the country’s most influential tribal leaders. Political analyst Abdul Gahni al-Iryani calls the defections extremely significant.

But that possibility of military conflict remains – Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ali warned today that the government will not allow any attempts to overthrow the Saleh regime.

Protests broaden in Syria

In Syria today, protests spread but riot police stood by and did not attack thousands of protesters who marched in Deraa after the funeral of one of the five killed there last Friday. According to Voice of America, civilians in the southern city report government forces sealing off the town. Officials did release 15 kids who had been arrested for spray painting pro-democracy graffiti. President Bashar Assad has ruled the middle eastern nation since inheriting control from his father more than a decade ago. Emergency law has been in place in Syria for almost 50 years.

Dozens still missing in Bahrain

In Bahrain, a protester missing since security forces squashed pro-democracy protests last week was found dead, he’d been shot in the abdomen. An opposition spokesperson says at least 75 people are still missing and unaccounted for.

Protesters in Senegal call for economic and social reform

Protests spread to Senegal over the weekend. The Democratic west African nation is set for elections next year – and sitting President Abdoulaye Wade will run for a third consecutive term. Anti-government demonstrators say Wade’s policies are short on social and economic supports and long on nepotism. Senegal Indymedia journalist Sekou Diawara reports from the scene where security forces prevented demonstrators from marching afield of the rally site.

Government supporters were out en masse as well. Just before the rallies, the government announced the arrests of four people accused of planning a coup – those detained are members of a youth opposition movement.

Protests in Morocco peaceful

In Morocco, tens of thousands were in the streets across the country in peaceful protests calling for expanded civil rights and an increased political voice.

Pictures from Stryker Brigade kill team published by Der Speigel

Three photos of US soldiers posing with the corpses of civilians randomly killed in Afghanistan were published by Der Spiegel today. The German news weekly reports having about 4000 pictures and videos taken by members of the Stryker Brigade in Kandahar last year – they say they only intend to publish these three. Twelve soldiers face various charges in the murders of three civilians. The US military issued an apology today.

Four local men killed in Pakistan in retaliation for drone strike

And in Pakistan, four dead bodies were discovered with notes attached saying the men were killed for allegedly giving the US information that resulted in last week’s massacre of local tribesmen. The notes warned others who cooperate with the US may meet a similar fate. Last Thursday, a drone attack killed at least 24 civilians who were attending a mediation over a mine dispute. The other 12 killed were Taliban who were negotiating the dispute. The US does not comment on un-piloted aerial attacks – but it is widely believed that such assaults are carried out by US forces and tacitly condoned by Pakistan.

Large slick spotted in Gulf of Mexico; Coast Guard says it’s not from Deepwater Horizon

Oil was spotted in the Gulf of Mexico this weekend, although the Coast Guard says that it is not coming from the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded last April. Zoe Sullivan has more.

Reports from the Gulf of Mexico say that the Coast Guard is investigating an oil slick roughly 100 miles long 30 miles from shore south of the Grand Isle area. A Coast Guard report says the substance has been analyzed and contains trace amounts of petroleum hydrocarbons, oil and grease. The report also notes that oily material was washing ashore in different parts of Louisiana, and notes that some of it may be sediments from dredging operations in the Mississippi River. Capt. Jonathan Burton, of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City said that 5,000 feet of hard and soft booms had already been delivered TO the area and that an additional 14,000 feet is being prepared for deployment. For FSRN, I’m Zoe Sullivan.



US lawmakers criticize Obama administration’s actions in Libya
Today is the third day of bombing by U-S and European forces over Libya following last week’s UN resolution that sanctioned a no-fly-zone.  The resolution allows all necessary measures to protect civilians.  But Last night, a cruise missile struck Colonel Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli. US and European forces have denied they’re targeting the leader.  Meanwhile, critics of the military actions have emerged, including US Democrats and Republicans. Michael Lawson has more.

Libya expert says no fly zone necessary but warns of imperialist objectives
For more on Libya, we now go to political analyst Gilbert Achcar, Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He coauthored the book, Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, with Noam Chomsky. He spoke to The Real News Network’s Paul Jay.

US experts say Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant is stabilizing as review of US facilities is announced
In Japan, the government has responded to growing fears of radiation poisoning from its nuclear disaster by prohibiting the sale of Spinach and raw milk from the Fukushima prefecture.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami continues to rise.  More than 8800 are confirmed dead, with more than 12,000 missing, according to Kyodo news agency.  More than 300,000 people remain in temporary shelters and many remain without electricity or running water.

At the Fukushima nuclear plant the situation is still very serious but technicians have made some progress. David Lochbaum, Director of Union of Concerned Scientist’s (NCS) Nuclear Safety project is providing daily updates on the nuclear emergency. He said a power line that was run to the site on Friday started a slow process of restoring a cooling system to Units 1 and 2.  He said at the spent fuel pools at Units 3, 4, 5 and 6 the situation was improving across the board:

“Units 3 and 4, efforts over the weekend to get water back into the spent fuel pools largely succeeded the radiation levels have gone down.  There are indications that water in those pools has been restored and the temperatures have stabilized whereas before they were heading upwards.  Those conditions on 3 and 4, the spent fuel pools have been much better than they were just a few days ago.   On Units 5 and 7, the spent fuel pools, the cooling systems  have been re-energized, they’re running, the temperatures have nominally decreased but there are now plenty of margin available that wasn’t there just last week.”

But Lochbaum said there were still concerns about the smoke today at Unit 3 that caused an evacuation.  In response to events in Japan, nuclear officials in the US are taking a closer look at  power plant safety. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) met today to discuss how to proceed.  Director of Operations Bill Borchardt said they will review current regulations and procedures at US plants:

“We are beginning very soon a 90 day effort that will evaluate all of the currently available information form the Japanese event and look at it to evaluate our 104 operating reactors’ ability to protect against natural disaster, to evaluate the response to station blackouts, severe accidents and spent fuel accident progression, look at radiological consequent analysis and also look at severe accident management issues regarding equipment.”

Borchardt said US nuclear facilities were prepared to deal with any scenario. But watchdogs have raised concerns that US nuclear reactors are not prepared to deal with a seismic event. UCS scientist Edwin Lyman said the NRC’s confidence in US nuclear facilities is based heavily on safety measures put in place following the September 11 terrorist attacks, but he says those plans are secret so they can’t be independently evaluated as to their effectiveness during an earthquake. Lyman encouraged the media to press the NRC for details about these post 911 nuclear safety plans.

Egyptians vote for changes to their constitution
In Egypt, after Saturday’s referendum – the first completely democratic vote in that country for decades – Egyptians have strongly backed constitutional changes that will allow the country to move quickly on to elections. Official results show that 77% of voters in Saturday’s referendum backed the changes. Turnout was just over 40% for the country’s 45 million eligible voters. A parliamentary vote may now take place as early as September. Raphaël Krafft reports from Cairo.

Haitians prepare for winner of drawn out Presidential contest
Haiti enters a new era this week after Friday’s celebrated return of a popular ex-President Jean Bertrand-Aristide and the final round yesterday of this drawn-out, contested Presidential election that will decide the country’s leadership for the next five years.  Ansel Herz has more from Port-au-Prince.

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