Newscast for Wednesday, July 31, 2013

  • Lawmakers question Obama Administration on spying after release of secret NSA order
  • Sentencing phase begins in Bradley Manning trial after conviction on espionage charges
  • In Oaxaca, a bid to restart mine opens old wounds
  • As activists flex new freedoms in Myanmar, government and business interests still maintain powerful hold on society

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Voters turned away from polls in Zimbabwe

Voters are going to the polls today in Zimbabwe, in the first national election since 2008 when violence triggered a political crisis in the southern African country.  The Presidential election once again pits long-time ruler Robert Mugabe against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.  Voting irregularities are already emerging.  FSRN’s Garikai Chaunza reports.

Hundreds of voters were turned away after finding their names were left off the voter rolls.  Most of the affected registered during an extended voter registration period.  The aspiring voters were denied access to the polls, even though they were carrying voter registration papers bearing their identity numbers and their assigned polling location.  The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been running notices on radio and in newspapers saying workers would accept the registration papers at the polls.  FSRN visited a number of polling stations in Harare and witnessed several people being turned way. MDC-T party secretary Nelson Chamisa told reporters the voter roll problem is cause for concern.

“Those are the issues we have raised with ZEC and we have deployed our teams to raise them with them hoping that they will be rectified.”

Election Commission Chair Rita Makarau says they have corrected the problem and ordered polling officers throughout the country to allow the affected to vote at any polling station.  Vote counts begin this evening.  Yesterday Robert Mugabe said he would step aside if the polls favored Morgan Tsvangirai.  The government has deployed security forces in several areas to stem any potential violence.  Garikai Chaunza, FSRN, Harare.

Civilian casualties on the rise in Afghanistan

The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is up 23% in the first half of this year.  The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan finds nearly 4000 civilian have died.  UN Radio’s Gerry Adams has more on the latest report.

It said the main factors driving the spike were the increased use of improvised explosive devices, IEDs, by anti-government elements, particularly in areas populated or frequented by civilians. The report also noted increased civilian casualties due to targeted killings and attacks against civilian government workers, as well as fighting between Afghan armed forces and anti-government elements, and high level threats and intimidation.

Deaths of women and children rose 38% in that same time period.

Judge hears Lynne Stewart compassionate release request

Supporters of human rights attorney Lynne Stewart rallied in New York City today in support of her bid for compassionate release from federal prison.  Stewart is serving a ten year sentence stemming from her defense of Omar Abdel-Rahman.  She was convicted of providing material support to terrorists for passing messages on her client’s behalf.  Stewart is currently suffering from breast cancer.  Her previous release request had been turned down, but now her lawyer says the judge will reconsider because Stewart has less than 18 months to live.  The hearing is scheduled for this afternoon.

New Yorkers push for fair Sandy recovery

In other news from New York, coastal communities that were impacted when superstorm Sandy struck last autumn converged on Lower Manhattan today, demanding a refocusing of recovery efforts.  FSRN’s Peter Rugh has more.

Many who rallied Wednesday afternoon lost their homes or jobs to the storm.  They say disaster-dollars have been slow to arrive and federal and local governments aren’t doing enough. Emmaia Gelman is Policy director for the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, a coalition of labor, community and environmental groups.  She says Sandy compounded already-existing housing and employment crises that she hopes recovery efforts will address.

“There will be billions and billions of dollars invested in the city, in the recovery.  The federal money will probably something around $15 billion and the city anticipated more than $20 billion in its strategic initiative for recovery and resilience.  And it’s really critical that that money not go to rebuilding the same conditions that existed before the storm.”

Demonstrator demands include affordable housing and the sustainable rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed by the storm.  As the New York mayoral race intensifies, storm victims want the next mayor will heed their calls for a just reconstruction.  Peter Rugh, FSRN, New York.

Federal court says no warrant to access cell phone location data

And finally, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans says law enforcement does not need to obtain a warrant to access location data from cell phones.  Two of the court’s three judges ruled Tuesday this information belongs to the phone company, not the phone’s user, and therefore police don’t have to prove probable cause of a crime to track someone.  The ACLU, which is litigating the case, argues this legal justification is flawed because it was established before the widespread use of electronic communications.


Lawmakers question Obama Administration on spying after release of secret NSA order

New revelations about the breadth of the National Security Agency’s mass spying programs came to light today. In addition to collecting data about Americans’ phone records, the NSA collects information from emails and web searches without individual warrants. Senators convened this morning to question government officials about these spying programs, and demanded more transparency and more oversight. On Capitol Hill, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more.

Sentencing phase begins in Bradley Manning trial after conviction on espionage charges

Today, the sentencing phase of the trial against Army Private Bradley Manning began at Fort Meade. Manning was convicted Tuesday of 20 of the 22 charges he faced, including charges under the Espionage Act.  For more on the details of the convictions and what’s next, we’re joined by Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

In Oaxaca, a bid to restart mine opens old wounds

Foreign investment in Mexico’s mining sector has expanded dramatically over the past decade and it’s raising tensions in some local communities. The most contentious conflicts have arisen in indigenous communities where residents say the government failed to inform and consult local populations before handing out 50-year mining permits to foreign investors. In Oaxaca, one permit would re-open a mine which local communities fought to close down. FSRN’s Shannon Young reports.

As activists flex new freedoms in Myanmar, government and business interests still maintain powerful hold on society

Myanmar, the southeast Asian country also known as Burma, is transitioning toward democracy after a half century of harsh military rule, and it’s an open question exactly  how civil society groups will engage in the new political landscape. Activists say while they now have more freedom to fight land grabs and other injustices, they also face a lack of resources and powerful business interests as their activism becomes bolder. In the second half of our two-part series on Myanmar’s transition, FSRN’s Mike Ives has more from Yangon.

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