Newscast for Thursday, March 7, 2013

  • Fighting in Syria sends health care underground, putting residents at risk
  • UNICEF calls for halt to arrests, detention of youth by Israeli military
  • Journalist Greg Palast on the legacy of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and South America
  • Progressive economists, lawmakers urge protection of social programs from budget cuts
  • FSRN announces imminent closure as Board of Directors gives lay-off notices to staff

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UN issues sanctions as North Korea threatens nuclear attack against United States

The world is responding today to nuclear threats made against the United States by North Korea.  The White House responded today not giving the threat much weight.  Spokesperson Jay Carney:

“The United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack.”

The UN Security Council voted unanimously to expand sanctions and condemn nuclear tests conducted by North Korea in early February.

Obama signs Violence Against Women Act

Today President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act.  Speaking about the history of the legislation, he commended Vice President Joe Biden’s previous work on the issue helping women looking for support.

“Because this bill, they’ll continue to have access to all the services that Joe first helped establish 19 years ago: a national hotline, network of shelters, protection orders that carry across state lines.  And because of this bill, we’re also expanding housing assistance so that no woman has to choose between a violent home and no home at all.”

The bill met with resistance in Congress because of measures to expand legal protections to cover LGBT, immigrant and Native American communities.

Activists call on commission to halt natural gas pipeline in Mid-Atlantic states

Dozens of opponents of the natural gas drilling practice called hydraulic fracturing packed a meeting in Trenton, New Jersey on Wednesday.  Activists are pressuring the Delaware River Basin Commission to block a natural gas pipeline being built within its multi-state jurisdiction.  The pipeline, called the Northeast Upgrade, would transfer natural gas extracted from Marcellus Shale fracking operations. Earlier this month, more than 60 organizations submitted a formal petition to the Commission asking it to conduct an environmental review of the project.  But the Commission Chair announced at the meeting that no further appeals would be taken.  This incensed Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum, who confronted the commissioners.

Rossum: You have a petition before you submitted by 67 organizations, supported by 3000 citizens.  You have a hearing request with regards to the Northeast Upgrade Project before you today, which we expect you today to take action on…

Commissioner: This is a warning, please take your seat.

Rossum: … a failure to act is a decision not to act to protect our communities and our waterways from the ravages, devastation of pipelines.

The Delaware Riverkeeper is currently suing the state of Pennsylvania to halt the construction.

New York Assembly passes two-year fracking ban

In other fracking news, the New York State Assembly yesterday passed a two year moratorium on the drilling practice.  The vote comes as observers await the release of an environmental and health impact assessment by the state.  According to the AP, the bill is not expected to have enough support to pass the state Senate.

Prominent human rights advocate called for questioning in Zimbabwe

A prominent Zimbabwean human rights defender has been summoned to appear at the country’s largest police station to answer charges of operating an unregistered organization. Jestina Mukoko spent several months in jail after the troubled elections of 2008, during a larger government crackdown on activists and civil society groups.  FSRN’s Misheck Rusere is in Harare.

On Wednesday police summoned Jestina Mukoko in for questioning.  Mukoko is a former journalist and director of the human right monitoring group the Zimbabwe Peace Project, or ZPP.  Just a few weeks back police raided and searched the organization’s office in the suburbs of the capital. In 2008, Mukoko was abducted from her home, detained, and tortured by the state, actions confirmed and condemned by the Zimbabwean Supreme Court last summer.  Now with the first elections since 2008 expected to happen later this year, the government appears to be once again ratcheting up pressure on community leaders who have been critical of the political process.  Misheck Rusere, FSRN, Harare.

Police enforce Kashmir curfew after Indian police kill protester

Authorities placed large parts of Indian administered Kashmir under curfew and imposed other restrictions for the second day today, following the killing of a young man by the Indian army on Tuesday.  The region has been tense, experiencing frequent curfews and shutdowns since February 9th, when Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted for an attack on the Indian parliament, was executed in New Delhi. FSRN’s Shahnawaz Khan has more.

Twenty-three year old Tahir Ahmad Sofi was killed Tuesday when an Indian army unit opened fire on a small group of protestors in a northern Kashmir town.  After the dead of Tahir, authorities imposed curfews in major towns in the Kashmir Valley.  Still, groups of protestors clashed with police in many places. The Chief Minister of Indian administered Kashmir expressed grief over the recent killing, but said the Armed Forces Special Powers Act did not allow him to pursue justice.  Many Kashmiris are critical of the Chief Minister, saying he has not acted against any police forces responsible for protester deaths in recent years. Shahnawaz Khan, FSRN, Srinagar.



Fighting in Syria sends health care underground, putting residents at risk

In Syria, opposition forces that captured 21 UN troops near the Golan Heights said today that they would release them, but only after President Bashar al Assad’s military stopped airstrikes and left the area. According to Reuters, an official with the rebel group Martyrs of Yarmouk, made the statement following the capture of the 21 Filipino troops near the village of Jamla yesterday. The UN has condemned the capture and called for their immediate release. As fighting continues throughout Syria, medical staff with Doctors Without Borders said the lack of adequate health services makes the situation “catastrophic” for residents. Medical staff are being targeted and in some instances killed. Christopher Stokes, general director for Doctors without Borders in Belgium, said in a teleconference with reporters today that many of the sites that used to provide health services have been attacked and looted both by government forces and opposition groups. As a result, healthcare has had to go underground.

“We’ve seen a dentist perform a minor surgery, we’ve seen pharmacists provide healthcare. We’ve seen in one case blood transfusions that were not even tested, resulting in the death of the patient, so the patients are given the wrong blood type, so the most basic level of health care are not available in vast areas of the country.” Stokes said much of the capacity of Syria to produce vital medicines has also been destroyed. Audrey Landemann, MSF project coordinator in Syria, said that though most patients who reach their hospital in the north need surgeries due to shootings and explosions, basic care is also a great need.

“One diabetic patient can look for insulin in a lot of places, but will not find the insulin or if he finds insulin, it will cost him around 25 or 30 dollars for one vial of insulin. People with cancers get no treatments and don’t know where to go to get their treatment. People are coming also looking for baby milk or just for flour to do bread.”

Access to reliable information from within the country has also made international response slow, say activists. Dr. Mouna Ghanem works with the activist group Syrian Women Making Peace in Damascus. She told UN Radio that the international media has not been doing a good job in reporting the conflict accurately or neutrally.

“We know that lots of violence has been exercised by the regime and we know that there was a counter violence, but the international media they didn’t play the neutral role. On the contrary, they encouraged people to use violence, they promote the personalities who commit violence as the victors as the heroes, so I think this is not the right role of the media.”

Ghanem, who is on tour in the US with a group of women from the region, said that change must come from within the country and must include people from across the political spectrum.

UNICEF calls for halt to arrests, detention of youth by Israeli military

Israeli troops have arrested thousands of Palestinian children during the past decade — now the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, is calling for an immediate halt to practices they say violate international human rights law.This week some of those arrests continued in heavily militarized night raids in the West Bank. FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura has more.

Journalist Greg Palast on the legacy of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and South America

In Venezuela, a seven-day mourning period for President Hugo Chavez began today as tens of thousands filled the streets of the capital, Caracas. Many expressed passionate responses about the loss of Chavez, who led the country for nearly 15 years. Audio and translation from Al Jazeera. New details came out today on the cause of Chavez’ death. A presidential guard told AP that Chavez died of a massive heart attack Tuesday after a long fight against cancer. Despite a US-supported coup attempt to remove him from power, Chavez served multiple terms and became a powerful figure in South America, ushering in a slate of social programs and a check on foreign influence, most notably on Venezuela’s vast oil resources. For more, we’re joined by investigative journalist Greg Palast, who reported frequently on Hugo Chavez and Venezuela. His video report, The Assassination of Hugo Chavez, which aired on the BBC, explored the often contentious US relationship with the late President.

Progressive economists, lawmakers urge protection of social programs from budget cuts

The House of Representatives passed a bill this week to keep funding the government through September, averting a possible shutdown at the end of this month. But Democrats in the House and Senate are criticizing the measure, for keeping the deep budget cuts triggered last week, and for protecting the military’s budget at the expense of social programs. As President Obama holds more meetings with Republican lawmakers about a more sweeping budget plan, progressive economists and lawmakers are mobilizing to defend programs that support the most vulnerable people in the country. On Capitol Hill, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.

FSRN announces imminent closure as Board of Directors gives lay-off notices to staff

On Tuesday the board of directors of Free Speech Radio News announced that the show will go off the air on March 15th unless $35,000 is raised.  KGNU’s Maeve Conran reports.

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