October 23, 2012

  • As international talks stall, Romney, Obama omit climate change from debates
  • Residents in Panama protest privatization of canal zone as US trade deal nears
  • Big beverage companies fund effort to defeat California initiative on soda tax
  • After shooting of Pakistani teen, survivors describe fear, resolve at Swat school

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Human Rights Watch reports continued use of cluster bombs by Syrian troops

Human Rights Watch reports today that Syrian government troops continue to use drop cluster bombs; government officials deny the charge. Human Rights’ Watch arms director Steve Goose. “This denial is meaningless. We have identified through the videos and the testimony at least 46 cluster bombs have been used. Those 46 cluster bombs contain some 6000 individual bomblets that now have rained down on the Syrian population.” Goose notes that cluster bombs must be deployed from the air and the opposition doesn’t have an aerial force. One hundred and eleven states have either signed on to or ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty that bans such weapons; neither Syria nor the US are signatories. Fighting continues. Reports today include shelling in Damascus, children among the dead in an attack on a bakery in Aleppo, and cross border anti-aircraft fire damaging a health center in Turkey.

CIA waterboarding whistleblower pleads guilty to 1 charge; 4 others dropped in plea agreement

A former CIA intelligence officer who blew the whistle on the torture of a suspected al Qaeda member pleaded guilty today to one count of outing a secret agent. As part of a plea agreement, four other charges were dropped. John Kiriakou will spend two-and-a-half years in a minimum-security prison and pay a $250,000 fine.

Hundreds of Kurdish prisoners stage hunger strike

Hundreds of Kurdish prisoners have joined a hunger strike that began in mid-September, calling for improved conditions for the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. FSRN’s Jacob Resneck reports.

The Turkish Human Rights Association reports that as many 400 prisoners in 50 jails have joined the protest which began in mid-September. The inmates are serving sentences for links to the P-K-K, which is waging a guerrilla war against Turkey in its demand for language and cultural rights for the large Kurdish minority. The PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan is imprisoned on an island in the Sea of Marmara where he has been held largely incommunicado since his capture in 1999. The P-K-K is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union and continues to battle theTurkish army in deadly clashes. Its members shelter in remote mountain bases in southeast Turkey, Syria and northern Iraq – areas where ethnic Kurds are in the majority.  Turkey has a history of hunger strikes. A dozen inmates died in 1996 while protesting poor prison conditions.This week a statement signed by more than a hundred academics and writers warned that many more imprisoned youths could die if the government doesn’t accede to their demands. Jacob Resneck, Salaymaniya, Kurdish Autonomous Region, Iraq.

Florida to execute paranoid schizophrenic after stay unexpectedly lifted

Florida prison officials are preparing to execute a schizophrenic Florida death row inmate this evening, barring last minute action by the US Supreme Court. John Ferguson was granted a reprieve over the weekend pending a Friday hearing on his competency, but last night a split appeals panel unexpectedly lifted the temporary stay. Convicted of killing eight people in South Florida in the 1970s, Ferguson’s history of psychiatric diagnosis predates his crimes. Actively delusional, he believes he was jailed as part of a communist plot, is the Prince of God and will be resurrected as such. A south Florida judge found those beliefs in keeping with the Christian faith, and therefor ruled Ferguson competent. Ferguson is scheduled to die at 6 PM Eastern.

Land rights activist killed in Mexico, supporters blame government inaction

The double murder of an agrarian rights organizer and his wife in northern Mexico sparked an overnight sit-in protest in the state government palace of Chihuahua. Shannon Young reports.

Ismael Solorio and Manuela Solís were ambushed and shot dead Monday afternoon while traveling along a rural highway in the northern state of Chihuahua. Solorio was a local leader with El Barzón, a national movement of middle class farmers and rural landowners. He was an outspoken critic of a Canadian-owned mine carrying out exploratory work in his town’s communally-owned lands. The area is also the site of an intense conflict over scarce water resources.  A week prior to his murder, Solorio and members of his organization officially notified Chihuahua’s Secretary of State that he had been receiving death threats. Members of El Barzón and human rights activists held a sit-in at the Chihuahua state government palace last night, demanding the government take action in the regional conflict. Shannon Young, FSRN, Oaxaca.

Another Oregon city bans single use plastic bags

Last night Eugene, Oregon became the latest in a growing list of cities nationwide to ban single-use plastic bags at the checkout. FSRN’s Jes Burns has the story.

The new law is intended to encourage the use of reusable bags at grocery and other retail establishments by banning single-use plastic bags and charging at least five cents per paper bag. Councilors voted down an amendment that would have made the nickel fee optional. Eugene City Councilor Alan Zalenka. “Without the $ 0.05  fee, what we’ll see is a massive shift to paper bags. Just exactly what happened in Portland, when they didn’t put the 5 cent fee on they saw a 491% increase in the use of paper bags.” Eugene’s law will go into effect in six months with a possible 1-year extension for businesses that can prove the ban will cause undue hardship. Portland and Corvallis have both passed such bans. A statewide bag ban stalled in the legislature last year. Jes Burns, FSRN, Eugene.



As international talks stall, Romney, Obama omit climate change from debates

In last night’s final debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, the conversation veered from Middle East foreign policy to education to the upcoming threat of a budget sequester. But despite a campaign season marked by droughts, natural disasters, resource-driven conflicts and failed global carbon negotiations, both candidates were completely silent on climate change. Some environmental experts say the increasingly unstable climate will impact nearly every major issue the next president must tackle, including key decisions in US foreign policy. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.

Residents in Panama protest privatization of canal zone as US trade deal nears

In last night’s debate, Obama and Romney spent time on foreign trade with China, but the Republican nominee also cited another region. “The opportunities for us in Latin America, we have just not taken advantage of fully. As a matter of fact, Latin America’s economy is almost as big as the economy of China. We’re all focused on China, but Latin America is a huge opportunity for us.” Under President Obama, a controversial free trade deal with Colombia went into effect this year, despite continued killings of labor leaders and concerns about human rights abuses in the country. And next week, a trade deal with Panama will go into effect. Anti-corruption advocates have criticized Panama for providing tax havens for wealthy corporations and its policies have drawn protest from within the country. This week, residents of Colon are under a curfew after protesters hit the streets in response to the government’s plan to privatize land. A video posted on the Panama News site shows police in Colon, with weapons drawn, kicking and punching a man who lies on the ground. Shots can be heard in the distance. The response from police led to the death of at least one person, a nine-year-old child last Friday, according to Reuters. For more, we’re joined by Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. He joins us from Washington DC.

Big beverage companies fund effort to defeat California initiative on soda tax

In Richmond, California, a proposed penny-per-ounce fee on sodas and other sugary drinks is on November’s ballot. Big beverage companies are trying to defeat the effort after failing to stop a similar effort in New York, where Michael Bloomberg successfully championed a ban on the selling of sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. FSRN’s Sally Schilling reports.

After shooting of Pakistani teen, survivors describe fear, resolve at Swat school

The Pakistani teenager who was shot by militants while coming home from school on a bus continues to recover in a hospital in the United Kingdom, where doctors say they still have concerns, but her condition is stable. The Taliban said they targeted Malala Yousafzai because she was promoting secularism and western thinking in her support of girls’ education. People across Pakistan and the globe condemned the attack in the swat valley. FSRN went to the scene to talk to students and survivors. Jeannine Etter reads for FSRN reporter Gabe Mathews.

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