Newscast for Monday, June 20, 2011

  • The US Supreme Court dismisses a class action lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart on behalf of more than a million female employees
  • Global warming lawsuit filed by States to cut greenhouse gas emissions rejected by Supreme Court
  • In Syria, President Assad addresses the nation and calls democracy protesters vandals
  • Celebrating the anniversary of the end of slavery in the US
  • Critics say the Indian government’s census will exclude millions of poor people from assistance programs

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NATO strikes in Libya kill civilians

For the second time in as many days, Libyan authorities accuse NATO of killing civilians. State media reports that 15 civilians died when NATO fired rockets on compound to the west of Tripoli – NATO acknowledges the raid but calls the target part of the “Gaddafi regime command and control.” Yesterday, NATO spokesperson Mike Bracken admitted they struck a residential area.

“From our initial assessment of the facts, it appears that one weapon did not strike the intended target due to a weapons systems failure. This technical failure may have caused a number of civilian casualties.”

Libyan officials say that nine civilians died – two of them children. NATO also admitted it accidentally hit a contingent of rebel fighters last week. Meantime, rebels in Benghazi said yesterday that they have not received any of the about 1 billion dollars of international aid pledged to them last month.

Ousted Tunisian President goes on trial in abstentia

And legal proceedings began in Tunisia today against deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over more than a quarter of a billion dollars in drugs, jewels and money found in his palaces after he fled to Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali is being tried in abstentia – his court appointed attorneys are expected to petition for postponement. He also faces military charges of manslaughter and conspiracy against the state.

World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day. Antonio Guterres is the head of the UN’s refugee agency.

“Four fifths of the world’s refugees live in the developing world. And when we see sometimes the debate in Europe or North America about refugees and the burden they represent for societies, it is very important to remind countries in developed world that indeed it is the developing world that is granting protection and assistance to the overwhelming majority of refugees in the world.”

Guterres called the notion that industrialized nations are flooded with refugees “unfounded.”

Palestinians fail to achieve unity government

Palestinian leaders from Fatah and Hamas have called off the expected announcement of a unity government. The two groups reached a conciliation deal last month – but still disagree on leadership. Fatah proposes a candidate who is clearly untenable to Hamas. If  the two groups do forge a unity government, the Palestinian Authority could lose some $500 million dollars of US aid per year, because Gaza’s ruling party, Hamas, is on the US list of terrorist groups.

Aid convoy enters Gaza

A overland convoy carrying humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza was able to cross in to the region  last night – Rami al Meghari was there.

Organizers  of the miles to smiles 3 convoy say they are delivering medical aid, including fifteen ambulances dedicated to the children of Gaza. It’s the third such shipment by the group. Hamas officials welcomed the convoy and called for Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and regularly reopen the Rafah crossing. Meanwhile, Gaza travelers crossing into Egypt still face many restrictions on the Egyptian side of the terminal. Officials on the Palestinian side complain about the 10,000 registered travelers who still can’t cross. Salama Baraka, is in charge of the Rafah crossing on the Palestinian side.

“The first and foremost thing we look forward to is an increase in the number of travelers, especially during the summer holidays.”

Last month Egypt announced the regular opening of the crossing, but have only allowed a few hundred people through each day. Rami Almeghari. FSRN. Gaza

Freedom Flotilla 2

Just over a year ago, six ships known as the Freedom Flotilla tried to reach Gaza to deliver aid supplies and construction equipment. They were intercepted by the Israeli Navy and nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara were killed.  Later this month another international  flotilla will attempt to break the blockade. Gale Courey Toensin will sail aboard the US vessel.

“I’m scared. It’s scary, because we know what the Israelis have done.”

2 Nuclear power in path of Missouri River floodwaters

Two nuclear power plants in Nebraska are threatened by Missouri River floodwater. The Cooper Nuclear Station was placed on the so-called “unusual event list” along with the Fort Calhoun plant. And the FAA has issued  no-fly zones over both of the plants. The Fort Calhoun plant is offline – it was shut down for re-fueling in April. An NRC spokesperson says they think the plant is safe. However the subject of the NRC and safety assessments is the topic of an Associated Press report out today that says the nuclear watchdog has routinely watered down safety standards to accommodate weaknesses  in nuclear reactors. And the International Atomic Energy Agency ministerial met today in Vienna. IAEA head Yukiya Amano called for random, international safety checks for nuclear power plants worldwide.

Protests against austerity measures and economic policies continued over the weekend in Greece, Morocco, Spain. Sean Kinane was at one of the Toma la Calle demonstrations in Cordoba , Spain. One protester, Carlos,  explains why he is there.


The US Supreme Court dismisses a class action lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart on behalf of more than a million female employees

The Supreme Court has rejected a class action lawsuit, representing more than one million female Wal-Mart employees, that charged the company with sex discrimination.  The court sided with Wal-Mart and ruled that the lawsuit may not proceed. The lawsuit would have been the largest class action in US history.   Six women sued Wal-Mart for sexual discrimination and have spent the last decade trying to bring their case to trial.  From Washington DC, Michael Lawson reports.

Global warming lawsuit filed by US States to cut greenhouse gas emissions rejected by Supreme Court

In another ruling today, the US Supreme Court in Washington rejected a global warming lawsuit by six US states that aimed to force power companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The plaintiffs, including California and New York, argued that utility companies were a public nuisance because of their greenhouse gas emissions and wanted the courts to impose limits on these emissions. For more on this ruling we were joined by Peter Byrne is a Professor of Law at Georgetown University.  He wrote an amicus brief for this case supporting the plaintiffs, together with six other Environmental law professors.

In Syria, President Assad addresses the nation and calls democracy protesters vandals

In Syria, during a televised address today, President Bashar al Assad refused calls for him to step down.  It was his third address to the nation since protests began in March. He agreed with protesters that reform was needed and said a plan was forthcoming. But Assad also called the democracy protesters vandals, who were exploiting legitimate demands for reform:

“On some occasions peaceful demonstrations were used as a cover where armed infiltrators were hiding.  On other occasions they assaulted civilians, army and military personnel. Schools and public roads were closed by the force of the gun, they smeared the public image of the country abroad and called for international intervention.”

Translation courtesy of Al Jazeera.  Assad called on the thousands of refugees who have fled Syria or remain in camps on its borders to return home. He said the state would not seek revenge on these refugees and said the security forces were there to protect them. Al Jazeera reports that refugees in camps at the Turkish border reacted angrily to the speech hurling their shoes at televisions in a traditional Arab gesture of disapproval. This amateur video uploaded to YouTube, said to be from the town of Madaya, shows hundreds of demonstrators rallying in streets after Assad’s speech, continuing their ongoing protest against the regime.

The attacks by the Syrian army on civilians continue. Reports quoting refugees who have fled military assaults in the north of the country say the army has cut off the town of Bdama on the Turkish border. Yesterday tanks and soldiers raided the town that was supplying aid to fleeing families.

The United Nations has said that about 1200 people have been killed in the unrest and more than 10,000 have fled the country, but some estimates are considerably higher.

Today European Union foreign ministers were preparing a resolution expanding sanctions against Syria and the UN Security Council is also trying to reach agreement on another resolution condemning Syria’s attacks on protestors.

Celebrating the anniversary of the end of slavery in the US

Sunday, June 19th marked the Juneteenth holiday, a commemoration of the end of slavery. African-American communities across the country celebrate the day with festivals. It was the day that Union soldiers arrived in Texas to deliver the news of freedom. Texas was the last state to be notified of the Union victory in the Civil War. This year, the celebration had particular significance in New Orleans, the site of the largest slave rebellion ever in the United States. Zoe Sullivan has more.

Critics say the Indian government’s census will exclude millions of poor people from assistance programs

India’s government is due to launch a poverty census to identify people living below the poverty line. The census will also include collection of data about caste and religion. But many are criticizing the criteria the government has set to define the poverty line. Opponents say the approach is seriously flawed and will result in the exclusions of millions of poor from government assistance programs. Bismillah Geelani has the story.


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