March 1, 2012

  • Syrian rebels retreat from Homs as thousands of families face bombardment
  • Measure that would restrict health care for women narrowly defeated in Senate
  • Crackdown on Russian opposition intensifies ahead of presidential vote
  • Philippine communities in remote Luzon protest economic zone

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Obama calls for an end to oil company tax breaks

In a speech today, President Obama once again urged Congress to end billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies. “Right now, four billion of your tax dollars, four billion, subsidize the oil industry every year. Four billion dollars. These companies are making record profits right now – tens of billions of dollars a year. Every time you go to the gas tank… or fill up your gas tank, they’re making money. ” In a part campaign, part policy speech, the President addressed high gas prices in the context of the election year, saying calls for drilling alone are short sighted and will not keep energy costs low. Obama also pointed out that since he’d been in office, US reliance on foreign oil has declined steadily. In 2006, the US imported 60% of its oil. In 2011, that had dropped to 45%.

Two controversial coal power plants in Chicago to close

Two of the nations oldest coal burning power plants will finally close after years of struggle and debate about their negative environmental and health effects.  From Chicago, FSRN’s Lisa Matuska has more.

A joint agreement between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Midwest Generation means the Fisk and Crawford power plants will close.  The coal plants are located in two predominantly-Latino neighborhoods in Chicago.  The decision comes after more than 10 years of lobbying and direct action by neighbors, environmental groups and local politicians.  In a city park directly across the street from the large smokestack of the Fisk plant, Chicago resident Leila Mendez said today the decision is a victory for her neighborhood’s health. “You see it on the cars.  You can get your car washed and the next day you’ll have the particulate matter all over it.  And I always think, oh my goodness that’s in my lungs that’s in my body.  So it’s good to know that it will be closed down and we’ll get to breath a little cleaner air.” The Fisk plant will close at the end of this year and the Crawford plant by 2014.  Lisa Matuska, FSRN, Chicago.

Protesters demand elections in Maldives, prevent Parliament from convening

Protesters blocked the new President of the Maldives, Mohammed Waheed, from opening Parliament today.  They’re angry about the questionable transfer of power from ousted democratically-elected leader President Mohamed Nasheed.  Many consider the take-over a coup. Video posted on YouTube shows hundreds of protesters sitting and standing in the street waving flags and signs, while a wall of police in riot gear block their path.  Protesters are calling for immediate elections.  Currently elections are scheduled for 2013.

Palestinians begin campaign against Israeli administrative detention

As Palestinian Hana Ash-Shalabi entered her 15th day of hunger strike in Israeli prison, Palestinians are gearing up to protest the detention of political prisoners being held without charges.  FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura reports.

The Palestinian Minister of Detainees, Issa Qaraqie, announced today that his ministry is organizing an international campaign against administrative detention and the ill-treatment of Palestinian political detainees in Israeli jails. “This campaign is an open invitation to all supporters of the Palestinian cause, governmental or non-governmental associations, to sign a petition that calls for pressuring the Israeli occupation to end its policy of administrative detention, since it’s illegal under international law and an inhuman practice.” Meanwhile Palestinian Political prisoners said they are going to boycott Israeli military courts in protest.  Three hundred of the 4500 political prisoners currently being held by Israel are under administrative detention. The recent developments come as political detainee Hana Ash-Shalabi entered her 15th day of hunger strike.  Last October, Israel released her as part of a prisoner swap deal, but then authorities arrested her again in February.  Ghassan Bannoura, FSRN, Bethlehem.

No new Armenian genocide bill in France before Presidential elections

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s U-M-P party says it will be at least mid-summer before a new Armenian genocide law could be passed.  Sarkozy had promised to draft a new bill immediately after France’s high court struck down the recent law that made it a crime to deny Turkey’s alleged 19-15 genocide of Armenians.  From France, FSRN’s Liam Moriarty explains.

Turkish officials reacted with fury in January when French lawmakers passed the bill.  Turkey denies the mass-killings of Armenians during the break-up of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago constituted genocide.  In fact, in Turkey, it’s a crime to publicly call it that.  In response to the French law, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Paris and threatened diplomatic and commercial retaliation. Now, the Turkish foreign minister says the sanctions will be cancelled. Meanwhile, Armenian groups in France are outraged the law was found to violate the constitutional right to freedom of speech. A similar law concerning the Holocaust is still on the books. Armenians are also upset that Sarkozy’s center-right party now says it won’t follow through on his vow to draft a new law until after the upcoming presidential election.  Liam Moriarty, FSRN, Normandy, France.


Syrian rebels retreat from Homs as thousands of families face bombardment

In Syria, forces with the Free Syrian Army have withdrawn from Baba Amr in the central city of Homs and residents and aid workers are warning of a population vulnerable to lack of food, supplies and continued bombardment. In a statement, the Baba Amr brigade of the Free Syrian Army said that the situation was dire with “no food, no medicines, no water and no electricity.” The retreating forces also said communication was down in the area, making matters worse. Residents in the area have been under regular shelling for nearly four weeks now. A video posted online, showed people sitting in the street with pails collecting falling snow for water. The Local Coordination Committees, a group of local activists, said killings also took place today in Idlib, Jabatha and Hama and mass arrests took place in Damascus prompting what activists called “an exodus” of residents from the suburbs. The International Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent said that the regime of Bashar Al Assad pledged to allow access to the area starting Friday, but that the aid operation would be difficult. “It’s very difficult to know what’s happened in Baba Amr. We need to have our teams on the spot to assess the situation and respond to the needs. However, we know the situation has been deteriorating over the days. It’s been deteriorating by the hour and we know the security conditions are difficult. Not to mention that the weather is very cold and it’s been snowing so the operation that will take place hopefully tomorrow, will happen in a complex environment.” That’s Red Cross spokesperson, Carla Haddad. It’s not yet clear how many staff would be allowed to enter or under what conditions. The Red Cross has for weeks been requesting a temporary cease-fire in Homs and other areas of the country in order to provide much-needed supplies and medical treatment to residents. Rafif Joejate, spokesperson for Local Coordination Committees, told FSRN that thousands of families in the city are now vulnerable.

That’s Rafif Joejate, spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees speaking from Berlin. As the international community attempts to put an end to the bloodshed through resolutions and sanctions, some US lawmakers, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have suggested providing arms to the Syrian opposition. But Today, Jeffrey Feltman Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that this would not lead to an end to the violence. “There’s self defense going on inside Syria right now. We cannot criticize the right to self defense when people are facing the incredible brutality. But we would like to use the political tools that are at our disposal, that includes the Security Council in order to advance the tipping point. Because it’s not clear to us that arming people right now will either save lives or lead to the demise of the Assad regime.” Also today, the UN’s Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that condemns “widespread and systematic” violations of human rights by Syrian authorities. The text of the resolution noted the regime’s use of force against civilians, the killing and persecution of protesters, enforced disappearances and torture and sexual violence, including of children. Thirty seven countries voted in favor of the resolution – three voted against it: China, Cuba and Russia. The UN’s Special Envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, acknowledged on Wednesday that time was running out, but said dialogue was still the way to go. “There is a need for dialogue between all actors in Syria and that is what we would want and try and push as soon as possible to get the dialogue going. I know there are people who have other ideas that dialogue may not be the way to go and one should use other means but I think for the sake of the people, for the sake of the Syrian people who are caught in the middle a peaceful solution through dialogue and a speedy one is the way to go.” More than three-thousand people have been killed just in the Homs area, according to the UN. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also warned of the possible existence of chemical weapons in Syria. Ban expressed concern during a meeting with the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Wednesday.

Measure that would restrict health care for women narrowly defeated in Senate

Today is the first day of Women’s History Month, and in Washington, DC the Senate took up an issue that many women are closely watching. Lawmakers narrowly defeated a proposal that would have allowed any employer to refuse to offer any kind of health care coverage he or she disagrees with. Its supporters say it would have restored the religious liberty violated by the White House’s new mandate on contraception coverage. But women’s rights advocates—who today launched a national coalition to engage women voters—say it’s another attack from Republicans on reproductive health. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports from Capitol Hill.

Crackdown on Russian opposition intensifies ahead of presidential vote

Russians opposed to the return of Vladimir Putin as president of the Russian Federation are facing increasing pressure ahead of the election this Sunday. Election monitors from the country’s top watchdog group, Golos, said opposition figures have suffered intimidation and factory workers are being forced to vote under tight control at their work place, according to the Times of London. The Times also reports that police in Moscow detained a group of activists for several hours on Wednesday night. Protesters continue to call for an honest, open election, and many groups are already planning to challenge any irregularities following the results. FSRN’s Ekaterina Danilova reports.

Philippine communities in remote Luzon protest economic zone

In the Philippines, an international solidarity mission IS investigating  alleged human rights violations committed in the isolated municipality of Casiguran. There, the government and businesses have been developing in the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone, or APECO. The zone was created in 2007 to attract investment in the area, located on the island of Luzon. Locals claim there was no consultation from the beginning so they want the law which created APECO to be repealed and its budget put on hold. FSRN’s Madonna Virola reports from Aurora province, in north eastern Philippines.

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