Newscast for Tuesday, May 31, 2011

  • Growing frustration in Afghanistan over civilians killed by NATO forces
  • Former Honduran President Zelaya returns home two years after he was ousted in a coup
  • The easing of the blockade at Gaza’s Rafah border crossing into Egypt
  • The Supreme Court throws out lawsuit filed against former Attorney General John Ashcroft
  • EPA may reverse approval of controversial chemical used on strawberries
  • Obituary: Gil Scott Heron

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Pakistani journalists found dead
A Pakistani author and journalist missing since Sunday was found dead today. Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote an article published last Friday on the relationship between al Qaeda and Pakistan’s armed forces. According to Human Rights Watch, just days ago Shahzad reported receiving threats from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. He was the author of the book Inside al Qaeda and the Taliban, Beyond Bin Laden and 9-11. He also served as Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times and contributed to The Real Shahzad leaves a wife and three children.

Syrian President announces amnesty for politically motivated crimes
In Syria, state TV reports that President Bashar al-Assad has granted a general pardon for politically motivated crimes committed before today. Activists says as many as 10,000 people have been arrested in the past 10 weeks. Even as the announcement was posted – Syrian troops continued to repress protests in towns north of Damascus. Syrian officials remain silent on the UN request to allow investigators into the country.

Yemen turmoil continues
Government forces in Yemen are fighting on two fronts. There’s been more fighting in Taiz today where as many as 70 protesters were killed in the past few days when troops razed an encampment and removed a field hospital. And along the coast, five soldiers died when Islamic militants cornered an army convoy trying to recapture the town of Zinjibar. And Yemen’s major cell phone provider remains silenced – officials say they ordered the company shut over violations and past due fines.

Amazonian activists killed; four murdered in five days
Four Amazonian rural leaders were shot dead in the span five days in northern Brazil. They all fought against illegal loggers and had received death threats, but were refused police protection. FSRN’s Debora Pill reports.

Amazonian activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, were shot dead in an ambush last Tuesday. Three days later, Adelino Ramos was killed. On Saturday, Herivelto Pereira dos Santos was murdered. The four Amazonian activists sought to do what the state failed to: protect the forest reservation where they lived from illegal deforestation by loggers, farmers and land-grabbers.  The Catholic Land Pastoral, a group that tracks violence against environmental activists, said that more than 1,000 small farmers and rural workers have been killed in disputes over preserving land since 1988.  Most of the killings go unpunished. In the Amazon region there is little federal government presence and local governments are easily swayed by powerful interests in logging, ranching and farming. President Dilma Roussef has called for a federal investigation of the recent murders. Debora Pill, FSRN, São Paulo.

Germany to abandon nuclear energy entirely by 2022
A major German energy producer announced today that it plans to sue the government over its projected financial loss as a result of a national nuclear phase out. Yesterday, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that all of the country’s nuclear reactors will be shuttered by 2022.

“The work of the Ethics Commission has shown that our energy system has to be fundamentally changed and can be fundamentally changed. We want the electricity of the future to be safe, and at the same time reliable and economical.”

The move is a dramatic policy shift, one that Merkel attributed to lessons learned from the nuclear crisis in Japan.

Bombings in northern Nigeria welcome President Jonathan back to office; 15 dead
At least 15 people were killed in Nigeria in a series of bombings that began just hours after President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn into office on Sunday. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

The bombings occurred in four towns in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north between Sunday and Monday. The most serious incident was in a military barracks where three bomb blasts killed 13 people.  The attacks are believed to be politically motivated.  They occurred in the same parts of Nigeria where riots and attacks targeted at Christians claimed about 800 lives last month. The violence broke out after President Jonathan, who is a Christian , was re-elected. Nigeria  is almost evenly split between a predominantly Christian south and a mainly Muslim north. Some Islamic groups, like the Boko Haram, which has links with the Taliban of Afghanistan, are calling for an Islamic state. The group has claimed responsibility for past bombings as part of its efforts  to make Nigeria an Islamic nation. Sam Olukoya FSRN, Lagos.

Another NY hotel maid alleges sexual assault
Another maid in another exclusive New York hotel has accused another high profile international banker of sexual assault. The employee of the Pierre in Manhattan claims that Egyptian Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar locked her in his room and groped her – he was arrested yesterday. In the weeks since IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged with raping a hotel maid, reports of similar sexual assaults nationwide have emerged revealing perilous working conditions for low-income workers, many of them immigrants. One New York lawmaker has introduced legislation calling for panic buttons for hotel staff.

Indonesia and Malaysia strike accord on labor rights for maids
Immigration officials in Indonesia have lifted a ban on workers migrating to Malaysia to work as maids after reaching an agreement over working conditions. Malaysian authorities will now require that the more than 1 million Indonesians providing domestic service in the country will be guaranteed at least one day off each week – and can not be compelled to hand over their passports to employers.

Tulsa race riots – 90 years ago today
And 90 years ago today, race riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma decimated the Black Wall Street. 39 people died, more than 800 were injured, 6000 were detained, 10,000 left homeless and an entire community was lost.



Growing frustration in Afghanistan over civilians killed by NATO forces
In Afghanistan, there is growing frustration over civilians killed by NATO forces. Over the weekend, NATO attacked an area in Helmand province, and local officials said 12 children and 2 women were killed. In a statement, NATO apologized and said “The coalition takes each civilian injury or death extremely seriously.” But both residents and government officials say the civilian deaths and nighttime raids must stop. President Hamid Karzai said the Afghan people can no longer tolerate attacks on their homes.

“One day the Afghan government will be. . . of course the Afghan people know how to deal with that.”

Thousands of civilians have been killed since the US invaded the country in 2001. Although NATO has reduced civilian casualties, last year the UN documented more than 400 non- combatants killed by pro-government forces, including 171 through aerial raids.


Former Honduran President Zelaya returns home two years after he was ousted in a coup
On Saturday, the former President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya returned to his country after striking a deal with the current regime of President Porfirio Lobo.  The government sees Zelaya’s return as a step towards the country’s acceptance by the international community following the coup in June 2009. And tomorrow the Organization of American States is expected to vote in favor of Honduras’s return to its membership. But in recent months human rights groups report increasing cases of intimidation, arrests and murders of union activists, campesinos and journalists. For more, we were joined by Jesse Freeston, reporter for The Real News Network based in the Honduran capital, Tegulcigalpa.


The easing of the blockade at Gaza’s Rafah border crossing into Egypt
Over the weekend,  Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah crossing terminal to more Gazans, easing a blockade that has been in effect for four years. The new rules will make travel out of the country for many of the Occupied Territory’s .  1.6 million residents much easier.   FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.


The Supreme Court throws out lawsuit filed against former Attorney General John Ashcroft
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit filed against Attorney General John Ashcroft for detaining a U.S. citizen who was never charged with a crime. Today’s decision is a reversal of a Ninth Circuit ruling, which held that Ashcroft misused the material witness statute to arrest and interrogate people when there was no probable cause to legally do so. Alice Ollstein reports.


EPA may reverse approval of controversial chemical used on strawberries
The Environmental Protection Agency may reverse its approval of a controversial agricultural chemical commonly used on strawberries and other crops. Methyl iodide, a registered carcinogen, was approved by the EPA for use on us farm fields four years ago. Farmworkers and environmentalists are urging the EPA to ban the chemical, a known neurotoxin linked to late term miscarriages and autism. Kelly Benjamin reports from Tampa, Florida.  Funding for this story is provided by FSRN and the community at


Obituary: Gil Scott Heron
Over the holiday weekend, musician, spoken-word artist and author Gil Scott Heron passed away. Heron was born in Chicago in 1949, and began recording politically-charged records in the 1970s. One of his most-well known recordings is the first track, on his first album.  In an interview with Skip Blumberg posted on Youtube, Heron discussed the message in his song:

Known as the “Godfather” of rap, many hip hop artists and political activists credit Heron with influencing their art and work.  Heron put out 15 studio and 9 live records, including one, “I’m new here,” in 2010. He also published six books. Heron battled drug addiction for many years, and spent some time in prison. After his death Friday at the age of 62, founder of the record label XL Recordings Richard Russell said, “Gil was not perfect in his own life. But neither is anyone else. And he judged no one.”

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