Newscast for Thursday, May 9, 2013

  • Arkansas residents call on Obama Administration to reject Keystone XL Pipeline as community struggles to recover from Exxon spill
  • Lawmakers debate wide range of amendments to Senate immigration reform bill
  • Students and faculty at New York’s Cooper Union protest school plan to end free enrollment
  • Bahrain government seeks to further restrict protests as arrests, raids continue

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Zimbabwe’s House of Assembly approves new constitution

Lawmakers in Zimbabwe’s House of Assembly broke out into song today after approving the country’s new constitution. The document was overwhelmingly supported in a nationwide referendum in March, and today’s vote was considered the biggest legislative hurdle before it can take effect. FSRN’s Garikai Chaunza reports from the capital Harare.

Today’s passage came after lawmakers delayed voting earlier this week. All of the members of parliament present for the debate supported the document. House of Assembly Speaker Lovemore Moyo announced the results.

“The Number of affirmative votes recorded,156, is not less than two thirds of the total membership of the House.”

Legislators broke into songs and dance after the announcement.

The new Constitution is expected to win approval easily next week when it goes to the Senate. It will then be declared the supreme law of the country by President Robert Mugabe. Once this happens, Zimbabwe will be able to move forward with elections, which many hope will resolve tensions and political turmoil triggered by a contested Presidential runoff four years ago. Garikai Chaunza, FSRN, Harare.

Guinea Opposition cancels protest, gives mediation a chance

Planned opposition demonstrations in the West African country of Guinea were suspended today at the request of a visiting UN mediator.  UN Envoy Said Djinnit is in the country trying to resolve a months-long political crisis that has seen nearly two dozen members of the opposition killed in clashes with police. Opposition parties are angry because the government set an election date without consulting them.
FSRN’s Karim Kamara spoke to Ahamed Sheku Trawallay, a Parliamentary candidate running as part of the President’s ruling coalition.

Trawallay says as long as the UN Envoy bases his findings on the law and fact, he will have support.

“But for Mr. Said Djinnit to just take it out of hand, or what just people are saying – speculation – or that sort of thing, he would fail. And we are not wishing that for him.”

As it stands, elections are scheduled for June 30th.

Another factory burns in Bangladesh

Another garment factory in Bangladesh has burned, killing eight people. The factory had reportedly closed for the day when the fire broke out.  The death toll from the deadly building collapse late last month has now topped 900 people, and recovery efforts continued today. According to Reuters, the government says it shut down 18 factories for safety violations after the collapse.  Six of those were cleared to reopen today.

Quebec to investigate student strike of 2012

In Canada, the provincial government of Quebec announced Wednesday it will launch an investigation into events surrounding last year’s student strike, the largest in North American history. FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff has the story from Montreal.

In a statement released by Quebec’s Public Security Minister Wednesday, the government announced it would look into the 2012 demonstrations, disruptions, and police actions, which it says have left “scars” on Quebec society. During the student strike, dubbed the “Maple Spring,” there were more than 3500 arrests of students and protestors. The investigation announcement angered groups from different sides of the conflict. Since September, a coalition of 91 civil society organizations have been calling for a public inquiry into repression during the strike, but those groups are now criticizing the closed-door nature of this investigation. Jeremie Bedard-Wien is the spokesperson for the ASSE student union.

“This commission is an exercise in avoiding every single demand that was put forward by community groups. What this commission is actually about is rather to look at the Maple Spring as a whole, specifically trying to avoid repeating the rise of such social movements again.”

Police representatives have also raised concerns about the lack of transparency by the government. The investigation is due to be completed by December. Aaron Lakoff, FSRN, Montreal.

Anti-nuclear nun awaits sentencing after protest conviction

Three anti-nuclear activists asked a federal judge today to be released from prison while they await sentencing in a case that that shed light on security failures at a US nuclear facility. A federal jury convicted them Wednesday of damaging a national defense premises and damaging government property. The three, including 83-year old nun Megan Rice, broke into the government uranium enrichment facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee last July.  They were on the property for more than an hour, unnoticed, before turning themselves in to a security guard on site.  They committed minor vandalism while there. Sister Rice spoke to FSRN in March about the need for people to oppose power structures without fear.

“Any collapse in empire means the possibility of transformation and reform and renewal and listening and humility and all the things that are needed to work for promoting life.”

The three could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. A judge is expected rule on their request for release sometime next week.

Minnesota House takes up same-sex marriage

Today the Minnesota House of Representatives is debating a bill to allow same-sex marriage.  This comes just six months after voters in the state rejected a constitutional ban on the practice. Democrat Karen Clark, the sponsor of the bill and the longest-serving openly lesbian state lawmaker in the US, spoke on the House floor.

“I do think it’s become clear that most Minnesotans believe that marriage is a unique promise of love, commitment, responsibility and fidelity that two people share. That we believe in Minnesota of treating others the way we would wanna be treated, and that no of us would want to hold that it is illegal to marry the person we love.”

A similar bill will be considered by the Senate on Monday. The Minnesota governor has indicated he will sign the legislation.



Arkansas residents call on Obama Administration to reject Keystone XL Pipeline as community struggles to recover from Exxon spill

Many lawmakers in Washington are pushing the President and the State Department to approve TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump heavy tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. They have written letters, held press conferences, and are advancing a bill that would force approval of the project. Senate Republicans also blocked the confirmation today of the President’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency by boycotting a scheduled committee vote, just a few weeks after the agency released a report outlining the risks of the Keystone XL proposal. Several tar sands and conventional oil spills in the last weeks have prompted environmentalists and impacted communities to protest the construction of a new pipeline. Residents affected by the March spill in Mayflower, Arkansas are in D.C. this week to call on the Obama Administration to come see the damage it’s done to their area, which they hope will inspire officials to reject TransCanada’s permit. In Washington, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.

Lawmakers debate wide range of amendments to Senate immigration reform bill

Lawmakers continued work on immigration reform today. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would administer sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration system and potentially create a pathway to citizenship for some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Senators submitted approximately 300 amendments to the bill. Some of them would expand the rights afforded by the bill, such as allowing same sex couples to sponsor a partner for a visa, but others would discriminate against certain immigrants based on income, occupation and country of origin. As Senators debated, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform rallied outside the Capitol. FSRN contributor Anna Simonton reports.

Students and faculty at New York’s Cooper Union protest school plan to end free enrollment

In New York, students and faculty of Cooper Union continue a sit-in at the president’s office. They’re protesting the Board of Trustees recent decision to scrap a century-and-a-half-old policy of free enrollment at the university. FSRN’s Peter Rugh has more.

Bahrain government seeks to further restrict protests as arrests, raids continue

In Bahrain, the parliament is considering a measure that could impose further restrictions on demonstrations and rallies. The regulations would require organizers to submit a warranty check of more than $50,000 before carrying out the event and it would allow business owners or residents to block a protest. The Gulf state, a key US ally in the region, has severely restricted protest by the majority Shiite population during the past two years. Security forces have used sound bombs and tear gas and conducted detention and torture, according to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and local activists. Activists also say detentions and arrests continue. For more, we’re joined by Mohammed Al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. He’s in Manama.

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