Newscast for Wednesday, July 24, 2013

  • Congress debates measures to curb government spying and war powers as part of military spending bill
  • California prison strike enters third week as inmates continue calls to end long-term solitary confinement
  • Malaysians cite lack of transparency in protesting Transpacific Partnership trade deal
  • As UK moves to privatize Royal Mail, workers fight to protect public institution

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Natural gas drilling rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico

A rig drilling for natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire on Tuesday evening and continues to burn today.  The Walter Oil and Gas Corporation, the company that owns the well 55 miles off the coast of Louisiana, is working to get the situation under control. FSRN’s Caroline Lewis has more from New Orleans.

The 44-person crew aboard the rig was safely evacuated after they lost control of the off-shore drilling operation early Tuesday morning. Natural gas continues to flow from the burning rig but officials say no oil has been released. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement – or BSEE – reported a light sheen on the surrounding water Tuesday, but says that it has since dissipated.  BSEE reports the rig has begun to collapse on itself. The latest official photos show part of the platform hanging down into the water while a huge plume of fire rises from the deck.

The US Coast Guard created a safety zone around the platform and BSEE is launching an investigation into the cause of the incident, but has not yet released any information on the source of the blow-out. The broader environmental damage is unknown at this point. But officials say it will be far less detrimental than the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which raged for weeks and dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  Caroline Lewis, FSRN, New Orleans.


Edward Snowden’s hopes of leaving Russian airport dashed for now

Edward Snowden has been cleared by Russian Authorities to leave the Moscow airport. The former NSA Contractor has been staying in the airport’s international transit zone for several weeks, while waiting to hear responses on several asylum requests. News broke early today that Russia had accepted Snowden’s application for processing, which gives him legal protections to be in the country.  But according to international reports, the clearance papers had not arrived, and as of Wednesday evening – Russia time – the American was still at the airport.


Anti-government protests in Bulgaria turn violent

Protesters in Bulgaria blocked access to the Parliament building in Sofia last night. After about eight hours police moved in to escort out the lawmakers and journalists trapped inside. Clashes followed and 20 people are reported wounded. A string of demonstrations began in early June amid anger about the government’s choice for national security chief. That appointment was withdrawn, but protesters have used the momentum to push for a new government. This morning the Bulgarian president told The Wall Street Journal he was ready to call for elections if the current government resigns.


African Union election observers land in Zimbabwe

The head of the African Union arrived in Zimbabwe today, a week before national elections. The AU is playing a major role in monitoring the July 31st polls. Human rights groups and opposition parties say the current electoral process is already flawed. FSRN’s Garikai Chaunza reports from the Harare airport.

The arrival of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma followed the deployment of 70 African Union election observers last month.  Election violence in 2008 led to a political crisis in Zimbabwe, and the A-U played a role in mediating the fall-out.  Now Zuma says the Union wants to ensure this round of elections is fair.

“We are here to talk to a number of people around the elections – the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, candidates – just to see how things are before the actual Election Day.”

On Tuesday the Electoral Commission announced it had accredited nearly 7500 observers, but only about 600 of those were internationally based.  The Commission also said it intends to ask the Zimbabwe high court to allow 26-thousand security personnel who failed to vote in early elections to cast their ballots on Election Day.  Garikai Chaunza FSRN Harare.


Europe’s butterfly numbers in decline

A new report from the European Union’s environmental research agency shows key butterfly species have dramatically declined over the past two decades.  The study blames intensified agriculture and failure to preserve natural grassland habitat.  From France, FSRN’s Liam Moriarty has more.

The report from the European Environment Agency found populations of grassland butterflies have fallen to nearly half their 1990 levels.  Agency chief Hans Bruyninckx says the finding is alarming.

“When they are in decline, it’s pretty much an indicator for the fact that biodiversity in this type of grasslands is in decline, especially at the level of insects.”

The study blames the trend of replacing natural, biologically-diverse grasslands with crop monocultures that make extensive use of chemical pesticides. It also points to policies that favor large farms, forcing smaller farmers off their land. Abandoned fields eventually turn into scrub and woodlands, habitats unsuitable for most butterflies. Bruyninckx says his agency will monitor to see if the voluntary “green farming” elements of the soon-to-be-approved EU agriculture policy have the desired effect of increasing biodiversity in Europe’s human-dominated landscapes.  If not, he says, mandatory measures may become necessary.  Liam Moriarty, FSRN, Normandy, France.


Congress debates measures to curb government spying and war powers as part of military spending bill

Debate continued in Congress today on a more than $500 billion military spending bill. Lawmakers considered many controversial measures, including amendments to defund the NSA’s domestic spying programs, transfer some detainees from Guantanamo Bay, combat a culture of sexual assault in the armed forces, and undo the 2001 law used to justify the so-called global war on terrorism. On Capitol Hill, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.


California prison strike enters third week as inmates continue calls to end long-term solitary confinement

California’s prison hunger strike enters its third week in the latest wave of protests against solitary confinement, inadequate nutrition and programs and the state’s controversial gang debriefing policy. When the strike began earlier this month, an estimated 30,000 inmates in more than 20 prisons participated. Some prisoners described retaliation measures against them. The numbers have dwindled to about 1,000, according to prison officials. FSRN’s Christina Aanestad has more.


Malaysians cite lack of transparency in protesting Transpacific Partnership trade deal

In Malaysia today, government representatives are wrapping up the latest round of talks on a comprehensive trade deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The massive trade pact includes a dozen nations, including the US, and would affect labor rules, intellectual property rights, food safety, access to medicine in poor countries, and a host of other issues. This week, Japan joined the talks. Watchdog groups say Japan’s entry could mean an increased demand in fracked natural gas from the US.

The secretive talks in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, have drawn intense criticism. Over the weekend, police arrested 14 protesters near the Sutera Harbour Resort. For more, we’re joined by Nizam Mahshar, with the Malay Economic Action Council and coordinator with the Malaysian Action Committee on the TPPA. He joins us from Kuala Lumpur.


As UK moves to privatize Royal Mail, workers fight to protect public institution

The British government has announced a plan to privatize the iconic royal mail that was created five centuries ago and became a model for postal systems across the world. Supporters say the move is necessary in order to protect mail delivery. But opponents, including postal workers, are concerned that privatization will lead to an emphasis on profits, while quality of services and jobs suffers. From Liverpool, FSRN’s Francis Ngwa reports.

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