Newscast for Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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Israel poised to move slightly left after election

The final counts are still coming in, but the results of yesterday’s election in Israel show an unexpected shift towards the center. Although Benyamin Netayahu has already claimed victory, his coalition appears to have lost 11 seats. This means he will likely have to seek support from lawmakers to the left of his party in order to form a new government. FSRN’s Lena Odgaard reports.

Addressing the Israeli public just after midnight, Benyamin Netanyahu proclaimed his third term as Israel’s president. But his Likud-Yisrael Beytenu coalition received far fewer votes than predicted in public opinion polls – winning only 31 of 120 parliamentary seats. As of this morning, the right and center-left blocs had each won 60 seats according to Haaretz. This will make it difficult for Netanyahu to form a new government, which he must do within 6 weeks.

Among the biggest surprises in the election was the new centrist party, Yesh Atid, which won 19 seats, becoming the second largest party. The center-left Labor party came in third.

Coming out of this election significantly weakened, Netanyahu signaled a remarkable shift to the center in his public speech.  To ensure a strong coalition, he is expected to reach out to Yesh Atid.  The partly will likely ask for senior Cabinet posts and significant concessions, including drafting the Ultra-orthodox into the military, turning attention to the high cost of living and returning to peace talks with Palestinians.  Lena Odgaard, FSRN.

Islamists kill hunters in Nigeria

Suspected Islamist gunmen have killed 23 people in two separate incidents in Northern Nigeria. The attacks seem to target gamblers and hunters who sell meat forbidden under Islamic law. FSRN’s Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

The worst of the two attacks occurred in a market in the northeastern town of Damboa.  There gunmen shot dead 18 hunters selling bush meat from wild pig and monkey.  Islam forbids the consumption of such food.  In the second attack, in the city of Kano, gunmen on motor bikes killed five people playing a local board game, which is used for gambling.

Both attacks are believed to have been carried out by Boko Haram, a group that wants the imposition of strict Sharia law in Nigeria.  Boko Haram is responsible for a series of suicide bombings and assassinations targeting Christians, security agents and other people it considers enemies of Islam. The group’s violent activities have claimed more than 3000 lives in the last three years. Sam Olukoya FSRN, Lagos.

India to improve health care for victims of Bhopal gas leak

The state government of Madhya Pradesh in India is stepping up to provide better health care for the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster. The announcement comes as a new study finds extensive pollution outside the former-factory walls. FSRN’s Shuriah Niazi reports.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Bhopal are still dealing with the consequences of the massive industrial gas leak in 1984. The government of Madhya Pradesh has been providing medical and health facilities for victims at special gas relief hospitals. But now the state’s Gas Relief and Rehabilitation agency says it will upgrade those facilities and spend $2 million dollars to add nearly 500 new positions to the department.

Meanwhile, in its latest report on chemical contamination at the former-Union Carbide site, the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research found contamination of the grounds outside the abandoned factory is much greater than inside the facility. The report, presented to the Supreme Court, found high levels of lead in ground water samples collected from areas adjacent to the factory. The Court is overseeing the clean-up of the disaster site and will decide how to proceed with the pollution removal. Shuriah Niazi, FSRN, Bhopal.

House extends debt ceiling until spring

The US House has passed a three-month extension to the debt ceiling.  Congress is expected to tackle the budget in the meantime, promising more partisan battles.  Some Republicans refused to support the delay, continuing the push to tie the raising of the debt ceiling to cuts in government spending.

NIH to significantly cut back on medical testing on chimpanzees

The US government’s medical research agency has proposed an end to testing on most of its nearly 700 chimpanzees.  An advisory group to the National Institutes of Health recommends keeping 50 chimpanzees for continued research, but living conditions for the animals would be improved.  The rest would go to an animal sanctuary.  In addition, future studies would be vetted by a new Oversight Committee that would determine if there are viable alternatives to using chimpanzees in research. The NIH director will decide whether to accept the changes following a 60 day public comment period.


US lawmakers examine response to sexual assault at Texas Air Force base

Lawmakers in Washington, DC examined sexual assault in the military today. The hearing of the House Armed Services Committee focused on a pattern of sexual offenses at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.  Thirty-two instructors at the San Antonio facility have been investigated for sexual offense charges since 2009. Six of them have been convicted.

Some veteran survivors of sexual assault, including retired Technical Sergeant Jennifer Norris, called on Congress and military leaders to provide better protections and a better justice system for servicemembers.

Norris: When I joined, I was 24 years old, I was a small-town girl with an idyllic childhood. Soon, I was raped and assaulted by superiors. Two of the predators plead guilty to sexual assault. They were honorably discharged with full benefits. By not dealing with a culture that provides easy targets for predators, we are hurting our military and our society.

The hearing follows a recent Associated Press investigation that found nearly a third of all US military commanders fired over the last eight years were dismissed for sexual offenses. Though these incidents include everything from the possession of pornographic material to extramarital affairs, sexual harassment and rape were also prevalent.

Military officials at today’s hearing said they have made a number of changes in response to the accusations at Lackland, including mandatory reporting requirements, as well as the creation of special legal teams to represent victims and investigate sexual offense cases. But Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh said they still need to work on changing how they conduct investigations.

Welsh: The way we conduct an investigation, the way we advise the victim, the way we make them feel as they go through the follow up victim care in preparation for trial. We have to eliminate those things, and keep those victims engaged in finding, prosecuting, and removing the perpetrators. Because if we don’t, there will be additional victims.

The National Defense Authorization Act passed in December mandated a review of investigation procedures by the military in sexual offense cases. But retired Chief Master Sergeant Cindy McNally with Service Women’s Action Network says much more needs to be done.

McNally: “I don’t believe we can legislate leadership, but we can certainly have—hold our leaders responsible and legally liable for the welfare of their troops. That’s an absolute must.”

According to the Department of Defense, there were 19,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2011, and officials have acknowledged that many more go unreported.

Nebraska governor approves route for Keystone XL Pipeline, setting up clash over controversial project

The Governor of Nebraska approved a new proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline this week, despite opposition from indigenous people and landowners. The decision advances the controversial tar sands project, which now only needs approval from President Obama’s administration. The pipeline, which climate scientist James Hansen has called “game over for the planet,” is rallying environmental groups all over the US and Canada, and has inspired the Sierra Club to call for civil disobedience for the first time in the group’s 120-year history. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more.

Wisconsin tribal communities say mining legislation threatens land, water, tradition

In Madison, Wisconsin, people filled a contentious public hearing at the capitol today to express opposition to state legislation that would weaken environmental regulation and pave the way for a massive iron ore mine in the northwest of the state, near Lake Superior.

Supporters of the mine, to be operated by Gogebic Taconite mining company, say it would create much-needed jobs for the state. But critics say it could damage vital water resources and threaten tribal land in the area.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s review of legislative records, staff of Republican lawmakers worked alongside lobbyists with Gogebic Taconite in order to draft legislation in 2011, but it failed to become law then.

Today’s public hearing was in front of the state Senate and Assembly mining committees as lawmakers consider legislation this term.

Some of those who attended the hearing are from the Bad River Band of Chippewa Indians, one the communities near the site of the iron mine. For more, we go to Odanah, Wisconsin to speak with Cherie Pero, a member of the Bad River Band.

Residents along Senegal – Mali border cite concern as refugees increase

Since France began military intervention in Mali earlier this month, some 7,500 refugees fleeing the violence have crossed borders to nearby countries, according to the UN refugee agency.

UN spokesperson Adrian Edwards said refugees in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso face shortages of food and fuel.

“A lack of cereal is pushing breeders to either kill some of their animals as they have, or to try to sell them. Some refugees are traveling by private car or by truck, while others have arrived from Mali on foot or by donkey.”

People along the shared border with Senegal are also growing concerned about the effects of the fighting on their daily lives. FSRN’s Alpha Jallow went to town of Diboli, to find out how the ongoing crisis in the north is impacting the lives of ordinary people.

Bike advocates point to solution to Beijing’s pollution, congestion

In China, Beijing was once a ”bicycle kingdom” — with millions of cyclists weaving through the crowded city streets on two wheels. But as the capital has rapidly urbanized, more and more cars are appearing on the road, phasing out bikes as the main method of transportation.

Congestion, air pollution and health problems are already plaguing millions of Beijing residents. Combine that with increasing population growth and it’s a major urban headache.

A couple of bike enthusiasts are hoping to bring bike culture back to Beijing. FSRN’s Shuk-Wah Chung begins by hopping on her bike and taking us on a tour of an old Beijing neighborhood.

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