Archive for 2013 Spring
This week on War News Radio, negotiations over the United States drone program, an Indo-China border agreement, pirates, and more.
Luke Arnone: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Luke Arnone.
Ashley Hong: And I’m Ashley Hong. The controversy surrounding United States drone strikes continued this week as Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif urged President Barack Obama to end the drone program. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said, quote, “we regard such strikes as a violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.” The release of Central Intelligence Agency documents that reveal the complicity of the Pakistani government in drone strikes, however, cast doubt on the sincerity of Pakistan’s requests.
The leaked documents suggest that Pakistan has secretly supported and even requested certain attacks. The reports come in the wake of allegations by human rights groups that the United States has downplayed the number of civilians killed in drone strikes and violated international laws regarding civilian casualties. The United States has admitted to killing citizens, though White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied the illegality of the attacks, stating, quote, “U.S. counterterrorism actions are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective.”
Arnone: The United States has recently encountered opposition from a number of its allies–including France, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia–over the way it has handled the Syrian civil war and the nuclear negotiations in Iran. According to anonymous sources, Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud of Saudi Arabia has warned of a, quote, “major shift” or “scaling back” in Saudi interactions with the US. These changes in the Saudi-US relationship have already begun to take shape. Saudi Arabia turned down a seat on the United Nations Security Council this week, citing the Council’s failure to protect Syrian civilians and to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. US Secretary of State John Kerry has worked to reduce tensions with Saudi Arabia and other key allies, with varying degrees of success.
Hong: United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for seven hours this week to discuss Middle Eastern diplomacy. The exchange primarily centered on Iran’s nuclear program, though Kerry and Netanyahu were unable to agree on how best to compromise with Iran. While Netanyahu called on the US to renew its economic sanctions against Iran and encourage the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, Kerry resisted. He affirmed the willingness of the US to allow the continuation of Iran’s civilian nuclear program on the condition that Iran comply with international nuclear standards. The United States, along with China; France; Germany; Russia; and the United Kingdom, have attempted to negotiate with Iran, and discussions about the parameters for Iran’s nuclear program will continue next month. In addition to their conversation about Iran, Kerry and Netanyahu discussed further US involvement in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
Arnone: India and China negotiated a deal this week to ease tensions surrounding a disputed border between the two nations. Though China has long claimed ownership of over 35,000 square miles of territory in the eastern Himalayas, India has maintained that China unlawfully occupies almost 15,000 miles of its land in the west. This border disagreement has sparked violence in the past; following a brief war in 1962, the two countries often clashed over alleged border violations by the Chinese army. Strained Indo-Chinese relations came to a head after the Chinese army set up camp in the Ladakh region in April of this year. Both nations, however, are optimistic that the agreement’s mandated communication between soldiers at overlapping borders will preclude future conflict. The border pact was one of nine agreements signed at the meeting between the two countries.
Hong: Police in Greece conducted a raid for drugs and weapons on the Farsala Roma community earlier this week. They became suspicious when they saw a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl named Maria in the care of darker-skinned parents. Officers took Maria into custody and arrested the parents. DNA tests verified that there was no biological relation between Maria and her supposed parents. This story follows a similar instance of a Roma child taken into custody outside of Dublin, Ireland after police were not persuaded by the birth certificate and passport the family presented. Unlike in the Greek case, DNA tests confirmed that the girl was, in fact, living with her biological parents.
Arnone: Human rights groups have cited these incidents as examples of the mistreatment of Roma communities across Europe. The head of the European Roma Rights Centre expressed concerns that the coverage of child trafficking cases could stir old prejudices and stated, quote, “It’s true the Roma are a vulnerable group because of extreme poverty, low income, and low levels of education. But it’s not related to cultural factors or to do with the Roma community, let’s say, getting involved in trafficking.” Europe’s total Roma population is thought to be as high as 10-12 million, making the Roma community the largest ethnic minority group in Europe.
Hong: The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization came to a security agreement earlier this week to keep limited troops in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in late 2014. The NATO coalition currently has 86,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, most of whom are Americans. While the vast majority of these individuals will return to their home countries at the end of 2014, the agreement authorized limited military forces to stay past that deadline to train and advise Afghan forces in fighting the Taliban insurgency. Afghan leaders have yet to approve the measure, though both Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have expressed optimism that a bilateral security deal will be signed in the coming months.
Arnone: Two United States mariners were kidnapped this week after pirates boarded their ship off the coast of southern Nigeria. Though the captain and chief engineer of the offshore supply vessel were taken captive, the remaining 11 crew members were left unharmed. The pirates have yet to articulate any ransom demands publicly. Though a representative of the Nigerian navy claimed that the US navy has begun a search-and-rescue mission, a spokesperson for the Pentagon stated that no orders have been issued to intervene in the, quote “maritime criminal act.” Though piracy dwindled in West Africa following the negotiation of an amnesty deal in 2009, attacks on oil servicing vessels in the region have skyrocketed in recent months.
Hong: North Korea announced this week that it would release six South Koreans detained for illegal entry into the country. A letter by the North Korean Red Cross articulated plans for the detainees to return to South Korea through the demilitarized border village of Panmunjom in the next week. South Korea has publicized few details about the identities of the detainees, though sources speculated that four of the men have been detained in North Korea since 2010. Relations between the two countries have been historically fraught; South Korea has alleged that over 500 of its citizens have been unjustly kidnapped and detained since the end of the Korean War. The South Korean Unification Ministry, however, expressed hope that the liberation of the South Koreans represented the first step in conciliation between the two countries and praised the, quote, “humanitarian measure” taken by North Korea.
Arnone: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Nora Bailin, Caroline Batten, Amy DiPierro, Ashley Hong, Allison Hrabar, Collin Smith, Will Sullivan, Aaron True, Tyler Welsh, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Luke Arnone .
Hong: And I’m Ashley Hong. Until next time, thanks for listening.
This week on War News Radio, an update on the United Nations resolution on Syria, an attack on a mall in Kenya, an earthquake in Pakistan, and more.
Sara Morell: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Sara Morell.
Joelle Hageboutros: And I’m Joelle Hageboutros. This week, the five major members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — accepted a resolution requiring Syria to give up its chemical weapons. Officials said, quote, “The text will not threaten the use of force for a failure to comply.” This resolution was not composed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which would have allowed the Security Council to enforce the resolution with economic sanctions or military force.
The final draft of the resolution also did not hold Syria accountable for the chemical weapons attack in August. At the same time, diplomats said, quote, “the final draft does express the Security Council’s ‘strong conviction’ that those found responsible for chemical weapons use in the Syrian conflict should be held accountable.” The final version of the resolution will be examined by the full 15-member Security Council later on in the week.
Morell: Thirteen Syrian rebel groups, including the prominent Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusrah Front, formed an alliance earlier this week. In a statement released by the group, the recently united forces expressed their shared opposition to the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, which was responsible for electing interim president Ahmad Saleh Touma. The alliance has yet to make clear its stance toward another prominent Western-supported organization: the Supreme Military Council. Led by General Salim Idriss, the council has historically received mixed support from rebel factions. While the groups receiving weapons and aid from the Council have backed its policies, others have criticized the Council’s ties to the United States. Western news agencies have expressed concern that the formation of the alliance complicates United States influence in the region.
Hageboutros: In the wake of his decision not to intervene directly in the Syrian civil war, United States President Barack Obama gave a speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly outlining America’s position in the international sphere. In the speech, he affirmed America’s intent to defend key policies in the region, including counterterrorism efforts and actions to secure the flow of fossil fuels. However, he also emphasized that America would not pursue military action in affairs unrelated to its core interests, citing past failures at such efforts and specifically refuting the notion of an American “empire.”
Barack Obama: The United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion.
Hageboutros: For the near future, Obama identified the Iranian nuclear program and a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the two issues on which American foreign policy in the Middle East will be primarily focused.
Morell: In his second major speech this week at the United Nations, Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani showed his willingness to negotiate over the Iranian nuclear dispute. Speaking to the General Assembly, he said that Iran has, quote “nothing to hide” and called for “mutual respect” from Washington. Rouhani underlined that Iran has no interest in gaining nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. In a speech at a special conference about disarmament, Rouhani also supported the elimination of nuclear weapons in general, and suggested that Israel sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in order to foster greater peace in the Middle East. United States Secretary of State John Kerry, however, remains skeptical of Rouhani’s speech and told reporters that he would withhold his opinion until assured of Iran’s sincerity.
Hageboutros: Earlier this week, a group of militants began an almost-four day siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya that killed 67 people and left 175 wounded. Using military-grade weapons potentially stockpiled in the mall prior to the attack, the terrorist assailants allegedly separated hostages by religion and allowed only Muslims to leave unharmed. Al-Shabab, the extremist Islamic group that claimed responsibility for the attack, said that 137 hostages were killed, but these figures have yet to be confirmed. Once the fighting came to an end, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of mourning for the victims.
Morell: However, conflict continued in Kenya even after the mall siege drew to a close. Approximately five people were killed in two other attacks by militants potentially linked to Al-Shabab near the Somali border later in the week. As the violence persists, agencies from Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States have entered Kenya to aid in investigations of the mall attack, and an international arrest warrant has been issued for Samantha Lewthwaite, a presumed suspect.
Hageboutros: Iraq experienced another string of violent incidents this week in which dozens of people across the country were killed. The bloodiest attack occurred outside of a local council building in the northern town of Hawija, where numerous car bombings and a firefight left 13 dead and 21 injured. Sectarian violence also plagued Baghdad, as gunmen broke into the house of an Iraqi public servant and killed him, along with his wife, mother-in-law, and three children. In addition, explosive devices were detonated in Baghdad and Mosul, killing eight and wounding dozens more. In another attack in Taji, militants ambushed off-duty soldiers, leaving two dead and three injured.
Morell: Two suicide bombers killed more than 80 people in a historic church in Peshawar, Pakistan this week. More than 600 people were said to be inside the church at the time of the bombings. The Pakistani wing of the Taliban, known as Jundullah, claimed responsibility for the bombings. They pledged to continue attacking non-Muslim groups until the United States stops using drones to target Taliban leaders. Following the attack, Christian individuals staged protests across Peshawar to demand greater government protection for minority groups. Christians make up a very small minority in Pakistan and often live in extreme poverty. Many in the community cite a long history of discrimination, but they highlight the recent church attack as an especially organized assault on their religious group.
Hageboutros: Pakistan was also hit by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake near the southwestern province of Balochistan earlier this week. At least 357 people have died and hundreds more have been injured. Relief groups expect that the death toll will continue to rise. Aid efforts in the sparsely populated and impoverished territory, however, have been disrupted by attacks on rescue teams by insurgents in the area, along with poor infrastructure and lack of medical supplies. The tremor was the largest and deadliest to strike Pakistan since a 2005 earthquake in Kashmir killed over 74,000 people.
Morell: A peaceful protest in Athens turned violent as protesters attacked riot police with fire bombs, rocks, and bottles. In response, the police released tear gas and stun grenades on the crowds. The protest was held in front of the headquarters of the political party, Golden Dawn following the murder of the anti-Fascist singer, Pavlos Fyssas, by a Golden Dawn supporter. Golden Dawn is a far-right party that has risen in popularity as a result of Greece’s financial crisis. Reports of police inaction during Fyssas’s murder have forced the Greek Prime Minister to look into the alleged links between the police and Golden Dawn. Greece’s Supreme Court and anti-terrorist squad have been ordered to investigate Golden Dawn’s activities, including this incident, as well as clashes with members of Greece’s Communist Party.
Hageboutros: At least 29 people were killed in Sudan this week during protests over fuel subsidy cuts. After the government announced that it would nearly double the price of gasoline in an attempt to raise government revenue, protesters took to the streets of central Khartoum and Wad Madani to speak out against the sudden policy shift. As initially peaceful protests turned violent, demonstrators began to destroy gas stations, cars, and buildings, and the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowds of rioters. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir justified the hike in fuel prices as a necessary step toward economic recovery, but protesters have argued that the austerity measure will disproportionately impact impoverished populations.
Morell: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Nora Bailin, Amy DiPierro, Nehmat Kaur, Sabrina Merold, Dylan Okabe-Jawdat, Jerry Qin, Sadie Rittman, Collin Smith, Nithya Swaminathan, Tyler Welsh, and Chloe Wittenberg.
Hageboutros: Until next time, thanks for listening.
This week on War News Radio, an update on the United Nations report on Syria, an anti-terrorism raid in China, freed political prisoners in Iran, and more.
WILL SULLIVAN: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Will Sullivan.
ALLISON HRABAR: And I’m Allison Hrabar. The United Nations released a report this week on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, confirming that large-scale attacks have harmed many civilians, including children. The report also verified that the nerve gas Sarin was used in the Ghouta area of Damascus. While the report itself refrained from blaming either side for the attacks, several news agencies have interpreted the information in the report as undeniable proof implicating the Syrian military in these attacks. Russia has criticized the report as “one-sided” and the information in it as “insufficient.” Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad said in an interview that he had not read the UN report but added that he welcomes the return of UN investigators to Syria for a follow-up on its findings.
WILL SULLIVAN: This past week, a series of car bombs in Shi’ite neighborhoods of Baghdad claimed 35 lives. Several news agencies have blamed Sunni groups and consider the violence yet another example of escalating sectarian conflict. This most recent attack was preceded by two others earlier in the week: a suicide bomb detonation at a funeral, which killed more than 20 people, and a bombing at a Sunni mosque, which killed at least 30. Causes of the significant surge in violence include spillover from Syria and an April incident in which the Iraqi army raided a Sunni protest camp. These incidents coincided with the release of United Nations figures that bring the year’s death toll to over 5,000
ALLISON HRABAR: Amanullah Aman, a top election official in Afghanistan, was shot by two gunmen on a motorcycle as he walked to his office this week. Shortly after the attack, the Taliban accepted responsibility on Twitter. Several news agencies have speculated that the attack was intended to derail the upcoming Afghan elections, towards which the Taliban have voiced strong opposition. The Independent Election Commission opened the registration process for presidential candidates this week, and the elections are set for April 5th of next year.
WILL SULLIVAN: Iranian authorities unexpectedly freed eleven political prisoners this week, including prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. The release comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani prepares to attend the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Iranian political analysts have said the release is a notable step in Rouhani’s efforts to rebuild diplomatic ties with the United States. In addition to Sotoudeh, several journalists, former ministers, and members of reformist political parties were also released. Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, however, remains imprisoned on charges of espionage, though American officials have called for his release.
ALLISON HRABAR: An anti-terrorism raid killed at least 12 people and injured at least 20 in the Xinjiang region of China last month. Reports say that a group of Uighur men was making explosives at a facility near the town of Jigdejay, at the edge of the Gobi Desert. Authorities were tipped off about the group when a rocket launcher exploded accidentally. Dozens of armed security personnel then descended on the site. Thanks to an information blackout, the events of August 23 have only now been brought to light by local authorities, who came forward to speak to Radio Free Asia this week. The police have still refused to comment. The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority in China. Pronounced tensions exist between them and the Chinese government, and unrest and violence between the groups are not unusual. Uighur activists cite a history of discrimination by the Chinese government and continuing oppression.
WILL SULLIVAN: Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked documents concerning controversial United States surveillance programs last June, has been nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The Sakharov prize is awarded by the European Parliament to honor, quote, “exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.” This nomination comes six weeks after Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia, a move that was condemned by US President Barack Obama and other American political leaders. Though Snowden remains a largely divisive figure, his nomination signals that some in the international community look positively on his exposure of US surveillance policies.
ALLISON HRABAR: Twelve people were killed and approximately eight others were injured after a gunman opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard earlier this week. After a prolonged face-off with police, the alleged shooter, Aaron Alexis, was killed. In the aftermath of the attack, news agencies have focused much of their investigation on the “erratic behavior” of Alexis preceding the shooting. A Newport Rhode Island police report showed that Alexis reported hearing voices through “the walls, floor and ceiling” of the Navy base he was working at six weeks ago. Alexis said that these voices used a “microwave machine” to send vibrations through the ceiling and into his body and worried that the voices posed a serious threat to his well-being. Alexis also had a longstanding history of legal problems. He was arrested for recklessly discharging a firearm while enlisted in the Navy, and had a pre-enlistment arrest on a similar firearms charge. However, he successfully passed a required background check to purchase the weapons and ammunition he later used in the shooting.
WILL SULLIVAN: Violent protests broke out in several major Greek cities this week in response to the stabbing of hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas in the Keratsini District of Athens. After his death, 5,000 anti-fascist protesters took to the streets of Athens, and 6,000 gathered in Thessaloniki, Greece’s 2nd largest city. 41 people were detained in Keratsini and 36 more in Thessaloniki. The police have arrested a suspect, who confessed to murdering Fyssas and admitted to being a member of the far-right fascist party Golden Dawn. Leaders of the Golden Dawn party, however, denied any involvement in the murder.
ALLISON HRABAR: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.org. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Caroline Batten, Maggie Christ, Amy DiPierro, Nehmat Kaur, Jerry Qin, Rachel Sassella, Aaron True, Tyler Welsh, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Allison Hrabar. Until next time, thanks for listening.
By Sara Morell
The military-led government that replaced President Muhammad Morsi in Egypt has announced plans to hold parliamentary elections within the next six months, but in the meantime, the country will have to clear substantial hurtles to reach that aspiration. Here are three roadblocks to a democratic Egypt.
This spring, War News Radio brought you along with us everywhere from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia, to Baghdad ten years after the 2003 invasion, to the water-starved regions of Syria and Yemen. Along the way, we’ve explained the many stakeholders in the conflict in Mali, checked in with Bahrain’s “forgotten revolution”, and even launched a new satirical commentary segment we call Filibusted.
After some fond goodbyes in May, we’ve closed shop for the summer. We’ll be back in September with our usual mix of in-depth reporting and news analysis – plus a few new features. Until then, here’s a round-up of everything we’ve produced since January to tide you over.
Lebanon’s Movement to Reclaim its Past and its Missing Citizens
War News Radio Explainer: Mali
Swarthmore Stand Hosts White House Call-In
Foreign Policy and Promises in 2013 State of the Union
The Forgotten Revolution
The Best of #dronevalentines
One Billion Rising: Campaign Seeks to End Gender-Based Violence
UN Fails to Pass Arms Trade Treaty
Update: WNR Reporter Receives First Place in Region 1, Mark of Excellence Awards
Today, for the first time, President Obama acknowledged and rigorously defended drone strikes targeting militants in Yemen and other parts of the world.
At least to my ears, the speech is a clear response to critics who say drone strikes are an unconstitutional use of executive power and a violation of human rights. Earlier this spring, I met some of those critics at a protest on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Here’s the piece I produced for our April show about whether robotics researchers who receive defense grants from the government should share the blame for drone strikes.