Newscast for Monday, February 18, 2013

  • Tens of thousands converge in Washington DC to call on Obama to reject Keystone XL Pipeline
  • Tucson residents criticize police traffic stops as part of immigration and deportation process
  • Armenians cite poverty, unemployment concerns amid presidential election
  • Human rights groups condemn killing of women in Papua New Guinea for sorcery

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Nationwide protests calling for substantive measures to stem Balochistan sectarian violence
Protests across central Pakistan continued today following an explosion  over the weekend at a vegetable market Quetta that killed nearly 90 Shia Muslims.  Rose Ketabchi reads for our reporter in Islamabad, Gabe Matthews.

89 people were killed Saturday, including women and children. Two hundred more were injured when two tons of explosives detonated in Quetta’s Hazara town, a residential area home to the Hazara community who belong to the Shia sect of Islam. The relatives of the dead are refusing to bury them, instead sitting with their bodies in the streets. They’re calling for Pakistan’s Army to take control of the city in Balochistan province and begin a  targeted operation against the group who claims responsibility for the attack, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Solidarity protests continued today in cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad where businessman Niaz Ali was among the protestors.

“Killing innocent Shia is inhuman and no religion permits killing innocent people. The government should stop the killing and should punish the culprits, even if the foreigners are involved or any local organization is involved.”

Last month, at least 90 people were killed in similar attacks. The same group claimed responsibility. After public outcry, national officials fired the local government and gave paramilitary forces police powers. Rose Ketabchi  reading for FSRN’s Gabe Matthews in Islamabad.

EU ministers discuss easing ban on arms sales to Syria; UN report alleges war crimes on all sides
Foreign ministers from European Union countries met today in Brussels. They discussed the possibility  of relaxing  the Syrian arms embargo so they could send weapons to forces fighting to oust President Bashar al Assad. Their say their goal  is to hasten an end to the violence.  But the UN is out with a new report today that finds  pro- and anti-government forces in Syria have become increasingly violent and reckless with human life, and that all engaged have violated the rights of children. UN Radio’s Nicki Chadwick has more.

The report details massacres committed by both government and anti-government forces. It shows that across Syria, murder, torture, rape, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts have been committed by government forces and affiliated militia, acts which may constitute crimes against humanity. The Commission also found that, as anti-government armed groups have gained control over territory, they have committed murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and hostage-taking, all of which may constitute war crimes. Carla del Ponte, a member of the Commission of Inquiry, says that the international community, and in particular the UN Security Council, must make sure that war crimes committed in Syria are referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. “It is incredible that the Security Council don’t take a decision in the deferral of justice, must be imminent, urgently, because crimes are continuing to be committed in Syria and the number of victims are increasing day to day so justice must be done.” The Commission has not been allowed to undertake investigations inside Syria but has based its report on interviews conducted outside the country. Next month, a confidential list of individuals and units believed to be responsible for crimes will be submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Nicki Chadwick, UN Radio, Geneva.

Ecuador’s voters reelect Correa by a landslide and give his party congressional control
Exit polls and a quick vote count showed a decisive victory for Ecuador’s incumbent President Rafael Correa. Results show that he beat his nearest challenger by more than 30 percent and his party  won the majority of Congress, giving them control for the next four years. Sofia Jarrin reports.

Under the banner of  the Citizens’ Revolution, Rafael Correa joins the ranks of the longest-standing presidencies in Ecuador. From the president’s Palace, Correa thanked his followers. “Now we truly have a political organized movement, with the ability to mobilize. We’ve seen it everywhere we go. Those militants, those union leaders, the coordinators of the citizenship revolutionary committees, in the neighborhoods, in the trenches, from which we have built this beautiful popular victory.” Correa said his new mandate will focus on social spending programs and key foreign investments with countries like China. Among his priorities are redistribution of land and passage of a law that would control media content. Sofia Jarrin, FSRN, Quito, Ecuador.

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez returns; both health and political future uncertain
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez returned to the country today after two months of cancer treatment in Cuba. He remains hospitalized. It’s unclear what the status of his health is.  Chavez was reelected in October, but his inauguration was delayed. Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that Chavez could begin his term without having actually taken the oath of office.

New York City bus drivers give up on strike; say they’ll try again under next mayor
And bus drivers in New York are getting ready to go back to work. Private school transportation will restart tomorrow and public school buses will ferry kids to class beginning Wednesday. Drivers ended their month-long strike despite not getting the job protections they sought. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 officials say they will try again under the city’s next mayor. Mayoral elections are due this year.


Tens of thousands converge in Washington DC to call on Obama to reject Keystone XL Pipeline
An estimated 40,000 people from across the US and Canada rallied in Washington this weekend to pressure President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and other forms of what they call extreme energy. Former White House environmental adviser Van Jones told the crowds on the National Mall what he would say to the President.

“President Obama, all the good that you have done, all the good you could imagine doing will be wiped out by floods, by fires, by superstorms if you fail to deal with this crisis that is a gun pointed at the head of future. History will judge you based on one decision alone. That decision is not in the hands of Congress. That decision is not in the hands of governors. The decision to let this pipeline come through America the most fateful decision you will make, Mr. President.”

The thousands of people from across the country then marched to the White House, chanting their own messages for the President.

But President Obama was not at home. He was playing golf in Florida with Tiger Woods and high-powered CEO Jim Crane—whose business interests include the fracking and pipeline company Western Gas Partners and Anadarko Petroleum, a massive corporation that invested in BP’s ill-fated Gulf Oil platform.

Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse told those gathered at the National Mall that they would have to work hard to beat those fossil fuel companies that have so much influence in politics.

“They’ve got the lobbyists. They’ve got the SuperPACs. They’ve made the campaign contributions. They’ve got this town in their pockets. They have the situation under control. And then you show up! And then we show up! And we change the game.”

Newly sworn in Secretary of State John Kerry promises a decision on the pipeline permit in the “near term.” FSRN’s Alice Ollstein spoke to several women who live along the proposed pipeline’s route and who vow to continue fighting its construction.

Tucson residents criticize police traffic stops as part of immigration and deportation process
Despite pledges from the Obama administration to change immigration enforcement to focus on those who’ve committed serious crimes, record numbers of people continue to be detained and deported – more than 400,000 last year. Often immigrants are pulled in the system after being stopped in their vehicles. New information released by the ACLU of North Carolina shows the role federal officials are playing in traffic stops. According to documents obtained under a FOIA request, researchers found that officials implemented a policy of traffic checkpoints throughout the Southeast to interrogate drivers about their immigration status and boost the number of deportations.

Across the country in Arizona, immigrants are also being stopped and detained.  Today, residents in Tucson are protesting the arrest of Rene Meza Huertha, a husband and father who was pulled over by Tucson police Sunday and taken into Border Patrol custody. A community organizer, Alcaráz Ochoa, was also taken into custody when he protested the arrest.

Community members in Tucson are now calling for the release of Meza Huertha and Ochoa and for an end to the practice of targeting immigrants at traffic stops.

For more, we’re joined by Alma Hernández from the group, Corazón de Tucson.

Tucson police confirmed to FSRN that Rene Mesa Huertha was arrested Sunday and charged with driving with a suspended license and turned over to Border Patrol custody. In response to criticisms of the department’s traffic stops, Sergeant Chris Widmer of the Tucson Police said that officers do not have discretion and are following the law as outlined under SB 1070.

Armenians cite poverty, unemployment concerns amid presidential election
In Armenia, voters went to the polls today to elect the next president. Incumbent Serzh Sargsyan faced a number of challengers, but the campaign has been marked by controversy. One candidate was shot and wounded last month, another has been on a hunger strike. And some candidates say they won’t even vote in today’s poll. The campaign has led to apathy by many voters who do not see the elections as a way to change social and economic conditions. FSRN’s MJ del Valle spoke to some of them and files this report.

Human rights groups condemn killing of women in Papua New Guinea for sorcery
Human rights groups continue to raise concerns about the torture and killing of women in Papua New Guinea who are accused of sorcery. Last week, police stopped a crowd from burning alive two elderly women. This followed the torture and killing of a 20-year old mother earlier this month in the same town. Kepari Leniata was burned alive in front of a crowd of people. The UN Human Rights agency says they’ve seen an increase in these types of killings as well as torture and rape. They say the accusations are often used to deprive women of land and property.  Cécile Pouilly is a spokesperson for UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay. She spoke to UN Radio’s Mamadou Alpha Diallo.

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