Newscast for Wednesday, May 4, 2011

  • The Syrian regime continues its crackdown, cutting off access to cities and arresting residents
  • International Criminal Court prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for top Libya officials
  • Growing debate over what bin Laden’s death means for US foreign policy
  • Hamas and Fatah sign a reconciliation agreement
  • Environmentalists oppose a plan to burn part of Ohio’s largest state forest

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Indigenous peoples complain of ill health effects after tar sands oil spill
Indigenous peoples in Alberta, Canada say a large oil pipeline spill in the province is causing ill health effects in nearby communities. The leak was stopped shortly after it began last Friday, but not before thousands of gallons had leaked into the ground and nearby waterways. FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff has the story.

Last Friday, a Plains All American pipeline leaked nearly 30,000 barrels of oil in the Peace Region of northern Alberta. According to the Edmonton Journal, this is the province’s largest crude oil spill since 1975. It’s about 50 percent larger than the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan last year.

In a statement, the Indigenous Environmental Network says the Lubicon indigenous people of Little Buffalo, Alberta, are experiencing nausea, burning eyes, and headaches.

The Plains All American is just one of many pipelines linking the Alberta tar sands. Oil companies continue to push to expand piping of crude oil from the tar sands to the United States. However, following Friday’s spill, many indigenous communities in the surrounding areas are worrying about the negative health and environmental impacts. Aaron Lakoff, FSRN.

Rescue operations continue in northern Mexico mine
Rescue operations are ongoing at a coalmine in northern Mexico where an accumulation of gas caused an explosion yesterday. FSRN’s Shannon Young has more.

At least five miners died as a result of an explosion at the Sabinas coal mine in the state of Coahuila. At deadline, another nine miners remained trapped below the surface. Mexico’s Labor Secretary expressed pessimism that any of the trapped miners are alive.

The disaster was a reminder of the 2006 tragedy at the Pasta de Conchos coalmine, in which the bodies of 63 miners were never recovered. Reforms made to Mexico’s mining law after the 2006 explosion were touted as a way to improve mine safety. Yet Tuesday’s explosion and the 2006 one share the same origin; a build-up of flammable methane gas.

Government oversight of the Sabinas mine was so lax that regulatory agencies reportedly didn’t have complete or up-to-date information on its operations. The mine, operated by a little-known firm named Binsa, had only been open for 20 days. Shannon Young, FSRN, Oaxaca.

Thailand-Cambodia border reopens after recent violence
Officials reopened a disputed border between Thailand and Cambodia today. Clashes over the past two weeks have left 18 people dead, mostly soldiers. But the border opening seems to indicate a recent ceasefire may be sticking. Both countries lay claim to tracts of jungle along the border that contain several culturally significant structures, including a 900-year old temple designated a World Heritage Site.

Israel’s Nakba Law challenged at Supreme Court
Two human rights groups filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court today to have the country’s controversial Nakba Law overturned. The law could be used to cut government funding to groups that commemorate Israel’s coming Independence Day as a day of mourning. FSRN’s Jillian Kestler-D’Amours has the story.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn the law, arguing it violates freedom of expression, freedom of thought and academic freedoms. Adalah attorney Sawsan Zaher SAYS the law is especially troublesome for Israel’s approximately one-point-five million Palestinian citizens.

“It is also dangerous because this time, the racism and the discrimination is against the identity. It’s against the dignity. It’s against the collective memory and the legitimacy of their being and their dignity in the state of Israel.”

The Nakba Law passed in mid-March. It would allow the Israeli government to deny funding or fine any organization it says is working against the “Jewish and democratic” nature of Israel. Unless the Supreme Court rules quickly to suspend the law, the government will be able to enforce it during Independence Day observances next week. Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, FSRN, Jerusalem.

Interior Department strikes gray wolf from Endangered Species List in Western US
Today US Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a final rule officially de-listing the Gray Wolf from the Endangered Species List in several regions. The rule is the result of recent Congressional legislation requiring Interior to implement the 2009 rule delisting the wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The delisting covers Idaho, Montana, and parts of Utah, Oregon and Washington. It will return management to the states.

Officials say wolves are also “biologically recovered” in the Western Great Lakes Region. Interior is putting forth a proposal to de-list the wolves in that area as well. Secretary Salazar called the recovery of Gray Wolves in the US a great success story of the Endangered Species Act. But some conservation groups disagree with the decision. Defenders of Wildlife called the Congressional mandate a low point in the recent history of wildlife conservation, saying it put politics above science and sets a dangerous precedent.



The Syrian regime continues its crackdown, cutting off access to cities and arresting residents
The Syrian government continues its crackdown on civilians around the country. Witnesses told Reuters that tanks have been deployed around the town of Rastan, after residents refused to hand over several hundred men to the authorities. Residents also said tanks were heading towards the city of Homs. Activists and human rights groups estimate about 3000 people have been detained, and some this week received three year jail sentences. But rallies continue.

In town of Baniyas, residents chanted and symbolically waved flat bread in protest of the government’s brutal crackdown.

The city of Deraa remains under siege, and human rights groups are urging officials to let groups bring in food, water and medical aid. Military forces have not let outsiders into the city, which is also cut off from telecommunications access. The State Department’s Mark Toner said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad needs to cease the violence.

“We’re very disturbed about recent reports, credible reports that – of a Syrian military operation in Daraa that includes the use of tanks. We’ve also seen reports that the Syrian Government is conducting a widespread campaign of arbitrary arrests of – that target young men in Daraa. It’s our – also our understanding that electricity, communications, and other services – public service has been cut off now for several days and that the humanitarian situation there is quite grave. These are, quite frankly, barbaric measures and they amount to the collective punishment of innocent civilians.”

Amnesty International says it now has firsthand reports from victims of torture detained during the ongoing wave of arrests. One detainee said that he was made to lick his blood off the floor after being beaten with sticks and cables, kicked and punched. The human rights organization says it has the names of 542 people killed during the last six weeks of protests but that the actual number is almost certainly higher.

International Criminal Court prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for top Libya officials
An International Criminal Court prosecutor says he has evidence that war crimes were committed in Libya and will ask judges at The Hague to issue warrants for the arrest of top Libyan officials. Luis Moreno-Ocampo would not name the officials, but said they collected a record of evidence after interviewing dozens of people in 10 countries:

“It established reasonable grounds to believe that widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population have been and continue to be committed in Libya, including murder and persecution as crimes against humanity. In addition and since the end of February there has been an armed conflict in Libya. In this context there is also relevant information on alleged commission of war crimes.”

War crimes allegations include shooting of unarmed protesters, torture, forced disappearances and systematic use of rape. Investigators are also looking at war crimes against African migrants, who have been attacked, killed and detained during the conflict.

Moreno-Ocampo said a commission is discussing NATO’s bombing campaign and the killing of civilians, but he was vague on the details. This follows airstrikes that killed one of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s sons and reportedly several grandchildren, but NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said they haven’t independently confirmed these deaths:

“Obviously we regret any loss of innocent life in this conflict. NATO is not targeting specific individuals but genuine military targets, with care and precision and will continue to do so. We have warned all civilians to stay away from military sites and equipment – and I would like to repeat that advice today.”

Today heavy shelling in the port city of Misrata killed at least four civilians. A humanitarian aid ship that had been stuck in the harbor for five days, managed to briefly dock today, drop off supplies and pick up some of those stranded.

Jumbe Omari Jumbe is with the International Organization for Migration:
“There was really heavy shelling, in and around the port, which made the hundreds of people, Libyan civilians, made them to rush towards our ship, in their desperation, wanting to embark, to board the ship – of course these are the scenes that happened today. But finally we managed to evacuate 800 people, those are stranded migrants, and including 50 wounded civilians. There are also about 20 journalists – all of these we managed to evacuate today.”

Although the humanitarian ship managed to escape, many are concerned about continued access to the city. Jocelyne Sambira has more.

Growing debate over what bin Laden’s death means for US foreign policy
The US administration has decided that photos of Osama bin Laden’s body should not be released. White House spokesperson Jay Carney said it was important that images of bin Laden were not available as an incitement or propaganda tool:

“These are graphic photographs of someone who was shot in the face, or the head rather, and it is not in our national security interests to allow those images, as has been in the past been the case, to become icons to rally opinion against the United States.”

As more details are released about the US attack that killed bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, questions are being asked about the legality of the operation and how the evidence used to track the al Qaeda leader down was obtained. There’s also a growing debate over what bin Laden’s death means for US foreign policy and the ongoing US war in Afghanistan. Jeremy Hammond is an independent political analyst and Editor of Foreign Policy Journal.

Hamas and Fatah sign a reconciliation agreement
Leaders of the rival Fatah and Hamas parties signed a national reconciliation agreement today. In recent months, thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets in Gaza and the West Bank calling for political unity and today crowds rallied again to hail the reconciliation. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has the story.

Environmentalists oppose a plan to burn part of Ohio’s largest state forest
In Ohio, environmentalists are opposing a plan to burn part of Ohio’s largest state forest. They want a moratorium on the practice of controlled or prescribed burning, a method used by state forest agencies to clear underbrush in wooded areas. Evan Davis filed this story.

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