Newscast for Thursday, December 1, 2011

  • Congress debates measure that could allow indefinite detention of US citizens
  • Burma’s treatment of Kachin draws criticism as US assesses reforms in country
  • Voters in Russia greet parliamentary election with skepticism as democratic reforms erode
  • After public outcry, Oregon bank rolls back fees for unemployment benefits
  • Activists challenge Florida redistricting plan with focus on Hispanic vote

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UN calls Syria situation a “Civil War”; Turkey announces sanctions

UN Human Rights head Navi Pillay says the death toll in anti-government protests in Syria continues to grow.  “We are placing the figure at 4,000 but really the reliable information coming to us is that it’s much more than that. I have said that as soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms- I said this in August before the Security Council- that there was going to be a Civil War, and at the moment that is how I am characterizing this.” The international community is slowly ratcheting up pressure on the Syrian regime.  Turkey has now announced sanctions against its neighbor and former ally.  With the decision, it joins the European Union, US and Arab League, all of whom have already severed ties with Bashar al-Assad’s government.  FSRN’s Hermione Gee reports from Istanbul.

Bashar al-Assad’s government has “come to the end of the road,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday as he announced a package of economic sanctions against Syria.  “Every bullet fired, every bombed mosque,” Davutoglu said, “has eliminated the legitimacy of the Syrian leadership.”  Cooperation between the formerly friendly governments will be suspended, and Turkey will freeze Syrian assets, along with existing credit agreement it signed to finance infrastructure projects in the country.  Turkey is also suspending all military sales and supplies.  In addition, a travel ban will be imposed on members of the Syrian regime involved in the bloody crackdown.  Turkey and Syria share a long border and strong economic ties, with trade between the two countries amounting to close to US $2.5 billion in 2010.  The Turkish Foreign Minister said the sanctions will remain in place, “until a legitimate government at peace with its people is in charge of Syria.”  Hermione Gee, FSRN, Istanbul.

Denied South Ossetia election winner looks to Kremlin for backing

Thousands of demonstrators in the rebel republic of South Ossetia are settling in for a long, cold night.  Supporters of an opposition figure who defeated her pro-Moscow rival say the fledgling Republic’s democracy is on the line. FSRN’s Jacob Resneck has more from Georgia.

Protests are moving into the fourth day after the rebel Republic’s highest court said it would not consider an appeal by candidate Alla Dzhoyeva until next week. The former Education Minister took 56% of Sunday’s vote, but the result were annulled a day later by the Supreme Court. She spent most of Thursday in closed-door meetings with a Russian envoy dispatched from Moscow to defuse the crisis.  Earlier she told Russian-language television that she’s appealed to the Kremlin, which had supported her rival and backed the court’s decision to annul the election. “We have addressed Medvedev and Putin, we are waiting for their reaction.  If there is no reaction, we will have to appeal to the international community.  No one will steal our victory from us.” Earlier Thursday Dzhyoeva delivered an ultimatum to authorities to recognize her victory or else.  But that deadline has come and gone and police have vowed not to use force against protesters unless attacked. Jacob Resneck, FSRN, Tbilisi, Georgia

Papuan activist rally on independence anniversary

Shots were fired and several people injured in the town of Timika, Indonesia today during a gathering marking the 50th anniversary of declared Papuan independence.  Police have denied they used violence to disperse the crowd. Currently the symbol of Papuan independence, the Morning Star flag, is banned in the country. Photos from Timika show crowds waving the flag in defiance of the government.

Argentina advances transgender rights

Argentina has spearheaded initiatives for LGBT equality in Latin America, as the first nation in the region to legalize same-sex marriage. Now, the country is taking steps to advance the rights of transgender people. For FSRN, Marie Trigona reports.

Argentina adopted a measure Wednesday that allows transgender and transsexual security personnel to be recognized under their chosen gender. Under the security ministry resolution, trans people can wear uniforms that correspond to their gender and may use the bathrooms of their gender identity.  Federal, naval and airport police are covered under the order. Argentina’s lower house has also approved a bill that would allow transgender people to change their names and gender on all legal documents, ID’s and passports.  The Senate will now have to vote, and is expected to take up the legislation next year. Other gender identity laws have been passed in Latin America, but Argentina’s is different because it does not require medical, psychiatric or surgical intervention for a person to change their gender on legal documents. Marie Trigona, FSRN, Buenos Aires

World AIDS Day: Obama pledges $50 million to treat disease in US

And finally, today is World AIDS day.  While treatment techniques for the virus have come a long way, access to life-saving drugs, especially in the developing world, is still limited. Today President Obama committed an additional $50 million for AIDS patient care and drug assistance programs within the United States. He also set new goals of helping 6 million people access treatment worldwide – this is an increase of two million over previous targets. One NGO fighting the disease told WHYY that grants and contributions to the cause have decreased, blaming a slow economy and the growing perception that the AIDS epidemic is under control.



Congress debates measure that could allow indefinite detention of US citizens

The US Senate is considering legislation that critics say will allow the indefinite detention of US citizens. At the center of the debate is an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that grants expansive powers to the federal government. FSRN’s Matt Laslo has the story from Washington.

Burma’s treatment of Kachin draws criticism as US assesses reforms in country

Today US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon. Human rights groups hope Clinton’s talks with leaders from the military backed civilian government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, will lead to an end of rights abuses against the country’s ethnic communities and free political prisoners. This week FSRN is a taking a close look at human rights in the country. Yesterday we explored the situation for the Rohingya people, a persecuted Muslim group in Western Myanmar. Today we focus on the Kachin people in the north. As Ron Corben reports recent accounts of ongoing attacks have come out even as President Thein Sein talks of political reform in his country.

Voters in Russia greet parliamentary election with skepticism as democratic reforms erode

This weekend Russians will be voting to determine the country’s next parliament. But there is little enthusiasm ahead of the December 4th Duma elections. Some Russians say they won’t bother to turn out because they feel that the outcome has already been determined — much like the presidential elections in three months in which Vladimir Putin faces little opposition and is expected to win. Karen Percy reports from Moscow.

After public outcry, Oregon bank rolls back fees for unemployment benefits

Earlier this month, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reported on major banks making profits off the nation’s jobless by charging fees on the pre-paid debit cards that many states use to distribute unemployment benefits. Oregon, one of the states that charged the most fees, announced that it’s renegotiating its contract with U.S. Bank, to give unemployed Oregonians a better deal. For more on this development, we’re joined by Alice Ollstein.

Activists challenge Florida redistricting plan with focus on Hispanic vote

Activists in Central Florida say they will go to court to challenge new district boundaries. Orange County Commissioners had been urged to create one district with a Hispanic majority to reflect a growing population, but Mayor Teresa Jacobs, said that would take too many Hispanic voters out of a neighboring district.  Members of the Black, Latino and Puerto Rican Alliance for Justice, say the plan approved Tuesday unfairly dilutes the Hispanic vote. Matthew Peddie reports from Orlando, Florida.

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