January 20, 2012

  • On Citizens United anniversary, protesters “occupy” federal courts
  • Justice Department shuts down popular file-sharing site, detains execs
  • In Syria, tens of thousands detained as violence continues
  • Refugees swell across Gulf of Aden as region faces increased conflict
  • Gazans struggle to access health services as shortage of supplies remains tight

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Chevron gives us search for missing gas rig workers as fire blazes off Nigerian coast

US energy giant Chevron is now in its fifth day battling a huge fire at a natural gas rig off the Nigerian coast.  The company has called off a search for two oil workers who’ve been missing since the fire broke out.  FSRN’s Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

The raging fire has put Chevron in a desperate position.  The company said it plans to drill a relief well, which it hopes will help put out the blaze.  It’s believed the fire started after a build-up of gas pressure caused an explosion.

Members of the NGO Environmental Rights Action visited the area on Wednesday. The group says, “there were dead fish floating and some in throes of death; struggling to stay alive.” They also observed that an “unidentified dark colored liquid “spread as far as the eyes can see” and was moving towards the coast.

Coastal communities say they are already feeling the impact of the incident.  Many residents say they are now afraid to eat fish from the area. Sam Olukoya, FSRN, Lagos.

Haitian police convicted in inmate deaths

Eight Haitian police officers have been jailed for killing or attempting to kill inmates trying to escape during aftershocks of the devastating earthquake of 2010.  The officers will serve prison terms of 2 to 13 years.  Media report that the trial and sentencing are a rare thing in Haiti, where government employees rarely face accountability. Several of the accused officers have fled the country.

Indian officials struggle to dispose of Bhopal toxic waste

More than a quarter decade after a poisonous gas leak in Bhopal, India killed thousands of local residents, authorities are still trying to dispose of the toxic waste left behind.  A new proposal to burn the waste at a facility outside Mumbai has raised the ire of communities in the area.  From Bhopal, Shuriah Niazi reports for FSRN.

The Pollution Board governing the city of Bhopal is looking for a place to dispose of nearly 350 metric tons of hazardous waste left behind after the 1984 gas disaster.  After already being turned down last month by a Defense Research disposal, officials identified a facility near Mumbai.  The Board asked for permission to burn a small quantity of toxic water as a trial

But the Mumbai-based Pollution Control Board is denying the request.  Maharashtra state Environment Secretary Valsa Nair said the request was denied because officials didn’t want to set a precedent, allowing Mumbai to become a toxic dumping ground for the country. He suggested the waste be disposed of nearer to the original disaster site.  Shuriah Niazi, FSRN, Bhopal.

Republicans look to South Carolina primary for frontrunner

Primary voters in South Carolina are preparing to go to the polls tomorrow to mark their favorite to carry the Republican presidential nomination.  Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are among others on the ballot.  Recent polls have put Gingrich ahead of Romney in the race.

Judge rules Vermont can’t deny nuclear permit extension

A federal judge ruled the state of Vermont does not have the authority to close a controversial nuclear power facility when the plant turns 40 this March.  FSRN’s Carl Etnier reports.

Under Vermont Yankee’s original license, the nuclear plant was scheduled to close on its fortieth birthday.Following a common industry practice, the owner, Entergy Nuclear, sought to extend it’s operating permit for an additional 20 years.

Both the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state need to sign off on any license extension. The catch is that only the NRC can consider nuclear safety issues when making its decision.

Entergy contended that legislators were merely pretending to block the extension on non-safety grounds.  Entergy’s attorneys played recordings in court of lawmakers discussing the safety of the plant and its nuclear waste storage.  Judge Garvan Murtha ruled that the legal history plus those lawmakers’ comments showed that safety was the state’s prime consideration, and therefore the denial was illegal.

Entergy’s lawsuit had asked the court to halt virtually all state regulation of nuclear power plants.  Murtha’s ruling, however, was narrowly tailored to the Vermont Yankee case.  Vermont has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling. Carl Etnier, FSRN, Montpelier.

Active duty military suicides continue to rise

The overall number of US military suicides fell for the first time in four years, but rates among active duty personnel continued to rise. Taking a broader look, General Peter Chiarelli said the suicide rate was leveling off and that soldiers are getting medical and psychiatric help at higher rates.

“The increase in numbers of individuals who are hospitalized is because leaders are not walking past a problem, but getting soldiers the help that they need.”

The General said the military still had a lot of work to do on the issue. Officials also report that nearly 500,000 service members could be suffering from PTSD.  In addition, the Defense Department says there has been a 64% rise in violent sexual crimes within military ranks since 2006, with most victims being younger women.  The military has made steps to decrease the stigma of reporting sexual crimes, but still Secretary Leon Panetta said this week that actual rates of sexual assault are estimated to be about 600-times greater than what is reported.



On Citizens United anniversary, protesters “occupy” federal courts

With the US presidential election ramping up, corporate spending on the race is on full display, with Super PAC groups unleashing millions of dollars on ad campaigns. This weekend marks the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case – the decision that paved the way for outside groups to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections.

To mark the anniversary, demonstrators across the country are protesting. Occupy the Courts actions were scheduled at more than 100 federal courthouses as well as the Supreme Court in Washington. FSRN’s Michael Lawson reports.

Justice Department shuts down popular file-sharing site, detains execs

The Justice Department has shut down one of the world’s most popular file-sharing sites and arrested several of its executives, just 24 hours after websites went dark to protest anti-piracy legislation currently being considered by Congress. The seizure of megaupload.com triggered a massive retaliation from the hacker group Anonymous, who temporarily shut down the websites of the FBI, the Justice Department and the US Copyright Office. Anonymous also targeted entertainment industry leaders, including the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports from Washington, D.C.

In Syria, tens of thousands detained as violence continues

In Syria today thousands of protesters filled cities throughout the country calling for an end to the regime of Bashar Al Assad and a release of the tens of thousands of people held in detention. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights protesters were met by armed security forces. As many as fifteen people were killed across the country from security force fire, according to local activists.

The violence continues despite the presence of Arab League monitors as they wrap up their one-month-long mission in the country. The head of the mission is scheduled to report to the Arab League in Cairo on Sunday.

The advocacy group, Avaaz, has been documenting torture and detention in the country. A recent report details the killings of 617 individuals due to torture.

For more, we’re joined by Wissam Tarif. He’s Arab World Campaigner with Avaaz.

To access the report from Avaaz: http://www.avaaz.org/en/arrest_syrias_torturers/?fp

Refugees swell across Gulf of Aden as region faces increased conflict

According to the UN refugee agency, more than 100,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea last year – doubling the number from 2010. The refugees, mostly Ethiopians and Somalis, face drownings, physical and sexual assault and other abuses as they flee to Yemen, a country also facing conflict and unrest. UN Radio’s Dianne Penn reports.

Gazans struggle to access health services as shortage of supplies remains tight

In Gaza, residents face tough circumstances in accessing even basic health services. Hamas-run hospitals have suffered from A shortage of medicines and other disposable materials such as stitches and syringes, for the past four years. Hamas accuses the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah of not living up to commitments to the Gaza Strip’s health sector. But while officials trade accusations, many patients continue to struggle. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.

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