Newscast for Wednesday, January 2, 2013

  • Deal to avert fiscal cliff keeps lower tax rate for wealthy, endangers social programs
  • Scientists find rapid warming in West Antarctica, warn of sea level rise
  • Gazan farmers return to fields near border in tentative ceasefire
  • Returning to public view, Zapatistas call for indigenous rights, political change in Mexico

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60,000 dead in Syrian conflict

New numbers out from the UN indicate more than 60,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. The updated death toll is based on analysis of seven different lists, including those from government and rebel sources   UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky:

“It obviously provides a very solid amount of information and analysis.  As you try to look at what has happened so far.  And how to ensure accountability once the violence stops.”

Commission head Navi Pillay laid much of the blame for the loss of life on the Syrian government, saying it could have been avoided if officials – quote – “had chosen to take a different path than one of ruthless suppression of what were initially peaceful and legitimate protests by unarmed civilians.”  Pillay says both sides have committed war crimes during the conflict and that the international community has “fiddled at the edges while Syria burns.”

Central African Republic rebels agree to peace talks

Rebels in Central African Republic have agreed to peace talks and have halted their march toward the capital Bengui.  Reuters reports that the Seleka militia want to start talks in nearby Gabon.  Several regional African countries have sent troops to Central African Republic in an attempt to fortify government military forces.   Last month, the US and the UN pulled diplomatic personnel out of the country because of the deteriorating security situation.

Impeachment sets up showdown between Sri Lankan government and judiciary

The Sri Lankan government is garnering international criticism for its effort to oust the country’s first female Chief Justice.  The government’s move to impeach is being seen as a politically motivated threat to the independence of the judiciary. Some government officials said today they will boycott a court hearing challenging the impeachment scheduled for tomorrow.  FSRN’s Ponniah Manikavasagam reports:

The government moved to impeach the Chief Justice after she challenged a piece of legislation giving more power to the Ministry of Economic Development, which is run by the President’s brother.   After an investigation, a Parliamentary panel found Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake guilty of financial indiscretions.  But the UN says the procedure to remove the Chief Justice lacked transparency, clarity and respect for the fundamental guarantees of a fair trial.  Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said the case against Bandaranayake is part of a recent pattern of attacks against judges and lawyers, and an effort to interfere in their work. The Chief Justice has filed an Appeals Court complaint seeking to suppress the panel’s decision. The court ordered members of the legislative panel to be present at the hearing Thursday, but several have declined, setting the stage for a showdown between the Sri Lankan Legislature and the judiciary.  Ponniah Manikavasagam, FSRN, Sri Lanka.

Obama Administration issues rule to reduce time apart for immigrant families

A new rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security today will decrease the time some undocumented immigrants have to spend away from their families while seeking permission to remain in the US legally.  Currently undocumented individuals have to leave the US and go through a multi-step process in their home country in order to get a US visa. Under the new rule, which takes effect tomorrow, the undocumented spouse, children and/or parents of US citizens will still have to leave the US.  But before they go, they will be able to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver, which will reduce the time needed to process their visa request.

Storm hampers efforts to inspect grounded oil rig in Alaska

Extreme weather today in Alaska is hampering efforts by salvage crews to recover an oil drilling platform that ran aground on a small uninhabited island near Kodiak Island.  The Coast Guard says no oil is leaking, but crews have not been able to board the platform to assess the damage because of a major storm.  The Kulluk rig, owned by Shell, became grounded Monday and is has about 150-thousand gallons of diesel and oils on board.   Congressional critics and environmentalists say the incident proves that offshore drilling cannot be done safely in the extreme conditions of the Arctic.

US marks 150th Anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation

Not only did yesterday’s holiday mark the turn of the new year, January 1, 2013 also was the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. One hundred fifty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the slaves living in the Confederacy be freed. FSRN’s Melinda Tuhus went to a commemoration at the Connecticut capital and files this report.

The celebration featured music and speeches from state elected officials, who celebrated the progress toward equality, but emphasized the long road ahead. One African American leader cited recent advances in LGBT rights, including passage of same-sex marriage in Connecticut, as important victories. High school junior Kassidi Jones was one of four student winners of a poetry contest held in conjunction with the event.  “You see, I’ll tell you where freedom lives. It’s still not here where the color brown is looked down upon, where the oppression is subtle — white hoods turned invisible. And though Martin Luther and Rosa began paving the way, that does not mean we can put our shovels down. We cannot stop digging.” At the conclusion of the commemoration, the bell in the state capitol was rung by a descendant of an all-black Connecticut regiment that fought in the Civil War.  Melinda Tuhus, FSRN, Hartford.



Deal to avert fiscal cliff keeps lower tax rate for wealthy, endangers social programs

Though lawmakers missed their self-imposed New Year’s Eve deadline, both chambers of Congress passed a bill this week to address the tax side of the so-called fiscal cliff. The legislation raises taxes on families making more than $450,000 a year, and delays planned cuts to the military and domestic budgets for two months, among other provisions. But some progressive lawmakers and economists say the deal demands too little from the nation’s wealthiest, and puts programs for the poor, the sick and the elderly at risk in future negotiations.  On Capitol Hill, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more.

Scientists find rapid warming in West Antarctica, warn of sea level rise

Throughout 2012, scientists and environmentalists warned about increasing signs of a warming planet and the consequences of failing to take meaningful action on climate change. Now another report adds to the growing body of evidence examining ice melt and raises concerns about the rate of sea level rise. A study recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience draws on more than 50 years of temperature recording in the remote Byrd Station in West Antarctica and says the region is one of the fastest warming places on earth – warming nearly twice as much as previously thought.  For more we’re joined by Julien Nicolas, graduate research associate at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University and co-author of the study.

To access the study in Nature Geoscience:

Gazan farmers return to fields near border in tentative ceasefire

This week Israel allowed 20 trucks carrying building materials to enter Gaza, bringing much-needed supplies and gravel to an area still recovering from Israeli bombardment in November. Sunday’s truck delivery is part of ceasefire negotiations that ended November’s assault on the coastal strip. The agreement mandated that Gaza-based armed factions stop firing homemade rockets into nearby Israeli areas, and Israel ease some measures imposed on the Gaza Strip. Among them was allowing farmers to return to their  land  located near the border fence in northern and southeastern Gaza.  Farmers have cautiously begun to return. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more

Returning to public view, Zapatistas call for indigenous rights, political change in Mexico

January 1 marked the 1994 anniversary of the Zapatista armed uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. The movement opposes the North American Free Trade agreement and fights for indigenous rights. For the last year and a half, it’s stayed out of the public spotlight. But Zapatistas emerged last month with a series of coordinated and silent marches. The action captured the attention of Mexicans and the international community on the day that the Mayan long calendar was due to end. Following the demonstrations, the Zapatista national liberation army or EZLN issued three communiques that have provoked a wide ranging response, from commotion in the Mexican political sphere to reflection from intellectuals, activists and Mexican youth.  FSRN’s Tim Russo brings us more from Chiapas.

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