Newscast for Friday, May 6, 2011

  • Bahraini Royal Family accused of war crimes at The Hague’s International Criminal Court
  • In Syria and Yemen tens of thousands of people hold rallies for democratic rights
  • Thailand heads for elections a year after political unrest left dozens dead
  • Leaked draft executive order would require federal contractors to disclose more
  • An alternative to paid employment: the Time Bank

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Pakistan NGOs close, fearing retaliation for Bin Laden death
The fallout from Osama Bin Laden’s death continues in Pakistan today. Anti-US protests happened in three cities. The Taliban has issued threats against government officials – in addition to NATO forces in Afghanistan and NATO supply lines in Pakistan. And there are early reports of a bomb blast at a club in Karachi. Rose Ketabchi reads for FSRN’s Gabe Matthews, who reports from Pakistan.

The Taliban has traditionally launched attacks against targets on Fridays, especially during Friday prayers. Because of the threat, almost all international non-governmental organization and multinational companies in Pakistan have closed their offices and advised staff to avoid public places.

Twenty-four year old Rabia Shafi works in a US-based NGO focused on flood relief.

“Obviously every time I feel that there will be some suicide bomber will come and there will be a blast and every time, I am just thinking about it.”

In other news, a US drone strike has killed 12 people in North Waziristan. It’s the first reported drone strike since the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden. Several news agencies quote Pakistani Intelligence officials as saying those killed were suspected militants, but a source on the ground in the region tells FSRN that most of the dead are civilians. For FSRN, I’m Rose Ketabchi reading for Gabe Matthews in Pakistan.

Japan PM demands closure of Hamaoka Nuclear Plant
Nearly two months after a devastating earthquake and tsunami leveled parts of Japan, Prime Minister Naoto Kan addressed the nation last night in a rare live TV speech. He made the first-ever direct request that a nuclear plant be shutdown. Not the crippled plant in Fukushima, but at Hamaoka, 124 miles west of Tokyo. That plant has recently become a special target of Japan’s anti-nuclear campaigners. FSRN’s Claudia Cragg has more.

PM Kan gave an impromptu TV address to the nation asking the Chubu Power Company to shut down Hamaoka’s two active reactors as soon as possible. Ever since the March 11 earthquake, activists in Japan have staged widespread protests about the lack of full disclosure about plants with a history of earthquake-related problems.

Hamaoka is sited directly on top of a major earthquake fault, and despite the loss it will cause to the nation’s – and particularly the capital’s – power supply, PM Kan said the plant must close for two years while a higher seawall is built to guard against tsunami. It is expected that the Hamaoka plant operators will comply. Claudia Cragg, FSRN.

Drug War activists en route to Mexico City for Sunday rally
Hundreds of people are marching to the Mexican capital today in the lead-up to national demonstrations against drug war violence planned for this weekend. FSRN’s Shannon Young has more.

Activists set out on a march from Cuernavaca Wednesday to call for justice for the nearly 40,000 people murdered in Mexico’s militarized Drug War. Many in the march have lost family members in the violence – including poet Javier Sicilia, who has become the movement’s figurehead.

Sicilia penned an open letter to the government and organized crime in April and has tapped into widespread frustration over Mexico’s pervasive levels of impunity. The emerging social movement is calling for a change in the four and half year old Drug War strategy that is increasingly claiming the lives of civilians.

The peace march from Cuernavaca is due to reach the central plaza of Mexico City on Sunday. Solidarity demonstrations will take place in more than 30 cities across Mexico this weekend. Shannon Young, FSRN, Oaxaca.

Vermont legislature passes universal health care
Vermont’s legislature has passed a health care reform bill designed to provide high quality, universal insurance coverage for all residents. The insurance would control costs by paying health care providers for good outcomes rather than for the number of procedures they perform. Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to sign the bill with great fanfare next week. FSRN’s Carl Etnier is in the capital.

For Vermonters, the Federal Affordable Care Act did not go far enough. Governor Shumlin campaigned last fall on a promise to set up a single-payer health care system in the state, with coverage for all residents, regardless of where or whether they are employed.

This bill, which gained final passage Thursday afternoon, creates a system called Green Mountain Care, which does not quite get the state to a single-payer system. But it does start a process that could produce single-payer coverage in the coming years. Private insurance plans will continue to be available, but Mark Larson, Chair of the House Health Care Committee, wonders who will sign up for them

“People may want to go out and purchase supplemental insurance beyond that, but I think people will be very pleased by the services that would be covered by Green Mountain Care.”

Much remains to be worked out, including how it will be paid for. A five-person board will be appointed later this year to start that work. Carl Etnier, FSRN, Montpelier.

AG Holder throws out same-sex couple deportation order
Attorney General Eric Holder has annulled a decision by a federal immigration court, asking it to reconsider the case of a bi-national gay couple facing deportation. Paul Dorman and his unnamed partner are in a New Jersey civil union. An immigration court ruled that because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the men could not be considered married and were consequently not eligible for immigration protections. But Holder’s decision, made public yesterday, said he wanted the judges to consider other factors in the case not directly related to DOMA. Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced it would cease to defend DOMA in court, calling it unconstitutional.


Bahraini Royal Family accused of war crimes at The Hague’s International Criminal Court
Today at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, lawyers representing five Bahrainis presented a case against the Bahraini Royal Family and members of regime, accusing them of war crimes. The lawyers presented evidence taken from events in Bahrain since the recent unrest started in mid-February. Yasser Al-Sayegh is one of the plaintiffs and fifteen years ago he himself was a victim of torture under Bahrain’s regime. He joined us from The Hague.

In Syria and Yemen tens of thousands of people hold rallies for democratic rights
In Syria, thousands of people in dozens of cities demonstrated across the country, and security forces responded with war canons, tear gas and live ammunition. Many cities’ central squares were blocked off, but following Friday prayers, residents formed spontaneous rallies in outlying streets and neighborhoods. More than a dozen were killed.

Deraa is the city that’s been under siege by the military for the last 11 days. Some members of the Red Cross were able to finally enter Deraa, and video footage purportedly of the city shows buildings riddled with bullet holes, walls painted with “x’s” and smashed and burned out vehicles.

Human rights activist Wissam Tarif reports there is still an army presence in Deraa, despite an announcement by the army that they would leave. He told the Guardian that following the government’s bloody crackdown, protesters have changed tactics, including in Midan, a historic quarter of Damascus:

“Today, Midan protest is bigger than it was in the last two weeks, from al Hassam mosque and people from other areas around Midan as we [are] speaking, I’m receiving feedback of [people] trying to join them in Midan. So of course, people are aware that at this stage of the regime, brutality, the regime oppression, they have to act themselves neighborhood by neighborhood and I think that’s what we’re seeing now inside Damascus in Midan area.”

Tarif’s human rights group, INSAN, says more than 600 people have been killed and about 2800 detained since the unrest began. Journalists are among those being arrested. Al Jazeera says the Syrian authorities have now admitted to holding their reporter Dorothy Parvaz who has been missing since last Friday.

Meanwhile in Yemen today, there were massive rallies in the capital Sanaa and the second largest city, Taiz. Demonstrators are renewing their calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.  Crowd sizes were difficult to confirm, but ranged from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Part of the protests included releasing thousands of balloons with the words ‘Leave Ali’ marked on them. A simultaneous rally of thousands of pro-government supporters also took place. Since the protests began in late January, more than 100 have been killed.

Thailand heads for elections a year after political unrest left dozens dead
Thailand’s Prime Minister announced today that he has formally requested that parliament be dissolved. If approved by the King, this would lead the way to general elections this summer. Elections were a key demand of “Red Shirt” protesters, many of them supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup five years ago. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva promised elections last November, following protests earlier that year that left dozens dead and hundreds injured. A year after the violence, no one has been charged with any crimes and human rights observers says the government, military and protest leaders share responsibility for the bloodshed and crackdown. Ron Corben reports.

Leaked draft executive order would require federal contractors to disclose more
A leaked draft of an executive order would require federal contractors to disclose more of their political activities. Watchdog groups are urging President Obama to issue the order in the name of transparency while critics call it a political power grab. Michael Lawson has more.

An alternative to paid employment: the Time Bank
The Labor Department released new job numbers today, showing a slight increase in the official unemployment rate from 8.8 to 9 percent. The rate for black workers at 16 percent is double that of whites. And for teens, it’s nearly 25 percent. But the so-called real unemployment is much higher, at 15.9 percent. This category includes people who are available for full time work, but who have had to take part time jobs or who have given up an active job search.

The tough economy has been forcing people to find creative ways to make ends meet, and some communities are using alternative economic models to get by. Today, we’re going to explore one of those alternatives: the Time Bank. It’s a sort of barter system where people trade time instead of money.  First created in the 1980s, it’s seeing resurgence in the US. From KMEC Radio in Ukiah, California, Christina Aanestad has our story.

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