Newscast for Thursday, June 9, 2011

  • A United Nations investigation finds Libya’s regime has committed crimes against humanity
  • In Washington, the Senate Armed Services committee grills the Defense Secretary nominee
  • Saudi Arabian activists push for women’s right to drive
  • Mexico Peace Caravan’s marathon journey nears end
  • Puerto Ricans are divided over gas pipeline

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Somalia agrees to delay elections for one year

The Somali President and Speaker of the Parliament have come to an agreement to push back elections in the war-torn country another year.  Although the UN is applauding the deal as a political breakthrough, Somali citizens showed anger by protesting in the capital.  For FSRN, Mohammed Yusuf has the story.

The so-called “Kampala Accord” delays the election of the President, the speaker and his deputies by one year.  The agreement was signed by Transitional President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the Speaker of the Parliament in the Ugandan capital.  It also calls for the resignation of Somalia’s Prime Minister within 30 days.  The agreement ends a political stalemate, and officials said the delayed election will help them deal with security issues.

The announcement sparked wide protests in Mogadishu and other parts of the country controlled by the government.  Ordinary Somalis, politicians and soldiers loyal to the ousted Prime Minister were among the demonstrators.  They blocked streets and burned tires.  They see the signing of the accord as a blow to the efforts by the government to defeat Al Shabab militants and bring peace and stability to the country.  Somalia has been without a permanent government since 1991.

Rashid Abdi is the Horn of Africa Analyst with the International Crisis Group.  He says people are angry about the Prime Minister being pushed out of office.

“He is a prime minister who is beginning to achieve, for his supporters I think this will be a sense of disquiet.”

In February, the transitional federal government extended its mandate to three years beyond the August 2011 deadline for forming a permanent government.  The international community protested the decision, and since then, increased pressure on officials to end political bickering and reach an agreement before the government’s terms expires.  Mohammed Yusuf, FSRN.

IAEA finds Syria out of compliance with international nuclear protocols

The International Atomic Energy Agency today told the UN Security Council that Syria is not in compliance with international law.  The IAEA says the Middle Eastern nation failed to declare the construction of a nuclear reactor, and additionally failed to provide design information for the facility to the nuclear watchdog agency.

A draft resolution on Syria is already being floated at the UN Security Council.  It has the support of permanent members France, the UK and the US, but the resolution condemning the Syian government’s use of force against protesters, is receiving push-back from Russia.  Russian officials say they don’t want to perpetrate another Libya-like situation.  A vote could happen by the end of the week.

Supreme Court increases sentences for those who flee police in vehicles

Today the US Supreme Court released decisions on several cases.  The court ruled 9-0 that mandatory minimum laws using the term “cocaine base” to outline offences does not only include crack cocaine, but says SCOTUSblog, “all cocaine in its chemically basic form.”

In the only mixed decision of the day, the court ruled 6-3 that a person in a vehicle intentionally fleeing police is committing a “violent felony,” which means they can be given longer sentences under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Justices Scalia, Kagan and Ginsburg dissented.

Blair Mountain protesters get push-back from community

Hundreds of marchers this week are following the route of the historic 1921 march on Blair Mountain, West Virginia.  10,000 miners fought a pitched battle with coal company hired guns, as part of the effort to unionize the mines.  It was the biggest labor confrontation in US history.  Hundreds were killed on both sides.* The current march has faced its own challenges.  Melinda Tuhus reports from Marmet, West Virginia, the starting point of both marches, 90 years apart.

The goals of the 21st century marchers are to save Blair Mountain from being blasted apart by mountaintop removal mining and preserve it as a national historic park.  They want to end all such mining in Appalachia, honor labor rights and to create sustainable jobs.

What was already a massive organizing effort to feed and house 200 to 300 marchers a day in tents at campgrounds along the way has become more challenging.  At the first planned campsite, after a confrontation with counter-protesters, police threatened to arrest people if they didn’t leave.  Then the owner of a private campground reneged on  paid reservations for the second night.

Justin Steele, one of the local organizers, addressed marchers at lunch on the second day.

”We’ve spent years of being one step behind the coal companies.  Now we’re a step ahead of them, and they’re scared… And no amount of intimidation, fear or pressure is going to stop us.  We’re going to Blair!”

Organizers opted to shuttle marchers back and forth to each day’s starting point.  They will be joined by hundreds more for a rally at the foot of Blair Mountain on Saturday.  Despite the setbacks, the reception from passing motorists was much more positive than negative.  Melinda Tuhus, FSRN, Marmet, West Virginia.

*Correction: The headline referred to hundreds killed on both sides during the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain. There were in fact 16 confirmed dead, but some researchers believe the number to be much higher.

PG&E reveals early leak along deadly San Bruno gas line

Pacific Gas and Electric has revealed that the same natural gas line that exploded in San Bruno, California last year had sprung a similar leak 20 years before.  The pipeline blast destroyed dozens of homes and killed 8 people. PG&E has come under fire not only for the accident, but for poor record keeping, and now for not conducting safety tests after the 1988 pipe break, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  The company handed over documentation of the previous leak to federal investigators last month.



A United Nations investigation finds Libya’s regime has committed crimes against humanity

In Geneva, the United Nation’s Human Rights Council has released the results of its investigation into alleged violations of human rights committed by both sides during the ongoing conflict in Libya.   Investigators studied more than 5,000 pages of reports, nearly 600 videos and over 2200 photos.  The Chair of the inquiry, Cherif Bassiouni:

There have been acts constituting murder, unlawful imprisonment, other forms of severe violations of fundamental rules of international law such as torture, persecution, enforced disappearances that were committed by government forces and by their supporters as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population with the knowledge that the attack was directed against part of the Libyan population.  Such acts fall within the meaning of crimes against humanity as defined in Article 7 of the ICC statute and under customary international law.”

Bassiouni said that while opposition forces did commit killings and torture that would constitute war crimes, these violations were not a systematic attack against civilians that would amount to crimes against humanity.

Members of the Council including the US, UK, France, Qatar and Jordan reading a statement on behalf of Libya’s opposition transitional council, supported the findings and recommendations.  The US representative, Eileen Chamberlain, said they accurately paint a stark picture of a ruthless government willing to use the most extreme tactics to stay in power.   Speaking through an interpreter, Muatafa Shaban, representing the Libyan government, rejected the report and said his administration was abiding by international law:

“It denies and reaffirms its denial of existence of widespread and systematic violations of human rights done with the knowledge of the authorities, by order of the Libyan authorities or covered up by them.  We also deny indications of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians or extrajudicial killings or arbitrary arrests, detention and torture, other abuses indicated in the report.”

Human rights investigators say they have mounting evidence of war crimes, including giving soldiers a Viagra-type drug to “enhance the possibility to rape.”  During today’s meeting, the panel did not provide a civilian death toll, but in a report released earlier this month, said government officials, the rebels and NGOs estimated 10,000 to 15,000 have been killed.

In Washington, the Senate Armed Services committee grills the Defense Secretary nominee

In Washington today, The Senate Armed Services committee grilled Defense Secretary nominee Leon Panetta. If the Senate confirms his nomination, he’ll be taking charge of multiple wars around the world, billions of dollars in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, and have responsibility for finally ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Alice Ollstein reports.

Saudi Arabian activists push for women’s right to drive

An online campaign by Saudi activists to overturn their country’s ban on women driving is gathering momentum and now has more than 80,000 online members.  The campaign is calling on Saudi women to defy the ban and begin driving openly next week on June 17th and, in an open letter calls on US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to make a public statement supporting Saudi women’s right to drive.  In May, one of the group’s most high profile activists, Manal al Sharrif was arrested and jailed by the Saudi regime for posting a YouTube video of herself driving. She was released last week.  For more we turn again to Madawi Al-Rasheed, a Professor in the Department of Theology at the University of London, for this, the second part of our interview I started by asking her, how did this campaign for driving rights start?

Mexico Peace Caravan’s marathon journey nears end

In Mexico this week, a nationwide caravan protesting the militarized drug war completes its final stretch of a nearly 1900-mile long journey. Hundreds are participating in the National Citizens’ Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, launched by writer Javier Sicilia whose son was murdered in March. Producers Clayton Conn and Murphy Woodhouse spoke to people affected by the increasing violence that has left an estimated 40,000 dead over the last four years.

Puerto Ricans are divided over gas pipeline

Activists in Puerto Rico and New York are heating up opposition to a controversial natural gas pipeline. While supporters say it would provide the island with cheap energy, others say the pipeline will harm the environment.  Community News Production Institute Reporter Jaisal Noor brings us more.

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