October 3, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 40

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“Maybe we’ll have one or two executions each year, just to prove that we still can.”

— Activist Stephen Elliot on new challenges to capital punishment nationwide (see “Crime & Punishment,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
Kurdish vote puts pressure on Arabs
Bhutto promises nuclear access
Refugees take a risky route to Yemen

*Energy*
A nuclear “renaissance”

*Crime & Punishment*
The death sentence on trial?

*World*
Russia and the Muslims


TOP STORIES

* Kurdish Vote Puts Pressure on Arabs

Kurdish officials are beginning the process of sending Arab residents of Kurdistan back to their cities of origin ahead of a referendum on whether to absorb Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Regional Government area.

Some Arabs, who were originally placed in Kirkuk by Saddam Hussein to counter the political influence of ethnic Kurds, fear they will be forced to leave their comparatively peaceful region. Kurdish officials fear the Arabs will vote to keep Kirkuk inside Iraq. Some even report being detained by police until they agreed to leave; the Kurdish government is offering families $16,000 if they do so voluntarily.

Accounts of how many Arabs the government has relocated differ. One Kurdish official tells the Los Angeles Times that at least 58,000 Arabs have already left the region. The Christian Science Monitor reports that 9,450 Arab families are preparing to leave voluntarily, while a different Kurdish official say the number is closer to 1,000 families.

Sources:

“Security may trump ethnicity in Kirkuk”
Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2007

“Iraqi Arab families ready to leave Kirkuk-minister”
Reuters, September 27, 2007

* Bhutto Promises Nuclear Access

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said that if she were to return to power, she would permit the United Nations to interview the nuclear weapons expert AQ Khan, but not the United States or other Western powers.

Khan, who was pardoned in 2004 by President Pervez Musharraf for passing nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea, has “lived under virtual house arrest” since then, reports Agence France-Press.

Bhutto, who plans to return from exile to Pakistan on October 18, is jockeying for power amid growing dissatisfaction with Musharraf. According to Reuters, negotiations with Musharraf have “stalled,” and could lead to mass resignations by her political allies ahead of contested elections there.

Source:

“Bhutto would give UN access to nuclear expert AQ Khan”
Agence France-Presse, September 26, 2007

“Pakistan’s Bhutto says talks with Musharraf stalled”
Reuters, October 3, 2007

* Refugees: A Risky Route to Yemen

Thousands of Somali and Ethiopian refugees attempting to flee to Yemen are risking their lives in covert smuggling voyages across the dangerous Gulf of Aden, reports ADNKronos. Of the 4,741 people who crossed in September alone, 89 were killed and 154 are missing and presumed dead.

Many refugees are killed by asphyxiation below board or drown when smugglers throw them into the water before reaching shore. Refugees say the smugglers also beat them with pipes, while the Yemeni coast guard opens fire when they see the boat approaching.

The United Nations has committed to building a new refugee camp on the Yemeni coast, and will train the coast guards and immigration officials on refugee law, humanitarian law and rescue at sea.

Source:

“Somalia: Deadly exodus to Yemen gains momentum, U.N. reports”
ADN Kronos, September 28, 2007


ENERGY

* A Nuclear “Renaissance”

Although it is a long way from becoming a reality, pundits are already predicting a “nuclear renaissance” in America for the first time in 30 years, even as plans for new plants take shape around the world.

A New Jersey company has filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to built two nuclear power plants in Texas, and the NRC expects to receive applications to build 28 more reactors in the next 15 months, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The traditional arguments against nuclear energy — that it is dangerous, costly, offers terrorist attack targets and creates radioactive waste — have not changed.

What has changed is the fact that the U.S. government is offering to guarantee investors against loan defaults, and the potential of nuclear power as an energy source with low greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the history of nuclear power plants in the U.S. — many of which were never built, at huge cost overruns, after the Three Mile Island meltdown — many experts predict taxpayers will have to pay up when companies default on their loans.

The industry already benefits from $9 billion a year in subsidies.

The British government is also keen to add nuclear power plants to the region’s energy portfolio, and is holding public “consultations” to see how citizens are responding to the idea, according to the Telegraph

(Greenpeace and other groups have boycotted, calling the process a “sham.”)

It’s not clear how soon any plants could be built — the earliest estimate is 2020 — considering the expense and the fact that most of the engineering and construction know-how lies not in Britain, but in France.

France, the world’s nuclear energy leader, is also poised to sign a contract to build a new plant in China, where plans are afoot to build 88 new nuclear plants, reports the Telegraph.

France also has nuclear ambitions in Canada, reports CanWest News Service.

French nuclear giant Areva would like to locate a power plant in Whitecourt, Alberta, whose mayor welcomed the idea.

Now all the company needs for its proposed $6.2 billion is a buyer for the energy.

Sources:

“EDF of France to help build Chinese nuclear plant”
Times of India, September 23, 2007

“French nuclear firm courting Alberta town”
CanWest News Service, September 25, 2007

“Decision day looms for Britain’s nuclear future”
Telegraph (U.K.), September 27, 2007

“Nuclear power surge coming”
Christian Science Monitor, September 28, 2007


CRIME & PUNISHMENT

* The Death Sentence on Trial?

Support for capital punishment may be on the wane, as the Supreme Court ponders a Kentucky case that pivots on the question of whether lethal injections constitute “cruel and unusual punishment,” reports the Globe & Mail in Toronto.

In Texas, at least one inmate’s execution has been put on pending a decision in the case, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Lawyers there are predicting that judges will begin placing a moratorium on all executions until the case is heard this winter.

But Texas Governor Rick Perry wants the scheduled executions to move forward unabated.

Legal observers say the Supreme Court’s decision will have no bearing on whether the death penalty is humane or not.

Instead, it will focus on the chemicals used in lethal injection and whether there is a more painless way to kill a convict.

If there is, states would simply have to change their methods, though this would require the passage of new, state-level legislation — an uncertain prospect.

In spite of Gov. Perry’s inclinations, the number of executions performed in the U.S. has dropped to 53 in 2006, compared with 98 in 1999; the Globe & Mail reports that some states have imposed formal moratoriums on the death penalty, though ten have performed executions so far this year.

Opponents of the practice say it’s only a matter of time before the capital punishment ceases completely.

That would be a relief to the convicts on death row in Georgia.

A two-year investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reveals that the standard for prosecuting a killer in that state is entirely arbitrary and likely to be swayed by a victim’s race.

Of the 1,315 murder cases from 1995 through 2004 that could have merited the death penalty, prosecutors sought death only one-fourth of the time.

Many cases with nearly identical circumstances had completely different outcomes, and in some cases a lesser crime received the death penalty than a more heinous act.

The newspaper showed that the state’s district attorneys were more than twice as likely to seek the death penalty when the victim was white.

Sometimes, the decision to seek the death penalty is based on instinct more than anything.

“You know it when you see it,” one district attorney said.

Sources:

“Drip by drip, U.S. support for execution wanes”
Globe and Mail (Canada), September 28, 2007

“Death still arbitrary”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 21, 2007

“Texas executions probably on hold until next year”
Houston Chronicle, September 29, 2007


WORLD

* Russia and the Muslims

A series of unprovoked attacks on native Russian families living in Ingushetia, a Muslim Republic in Southern Russia, have brought hundreds of Russian security forces into the area and increased the level of carnage in recent days.

Accusations abound as to who is responsible for the killings.

Some believe the assailants are boyeviki, or Muslim rebels based in the mountains, who want to gain power in the region.

Others think the killings are organized by opponents of President Murad Zyazikov as a way to get him out of office.

For its part, the opposition points out that the killings make it easy for Zyazikov to argue that he needs to stay in office.

Everyone agrees, however, that the “brutality” of Moscow’s security forces, which have been torturing and killing alleged militants with impunity, has made things worse.

Meanwhile, in nearby Dagestan last week, attackers killed a Russian imam after he spoke out against Islamic extremism.

Rigid Muslim practices are gaining favor in neighboring Chechnya, where newly-installed President Ramzan Kadyrov has declared that female civil servants must wear headscarves to work or lose their jobs.

A Reuters news story said that Kadyrov’s positions make many Russian officials uncomfortable, but that Putin is likely to keep him in office as a reward for stamping out the separatist insurgency.

Sources:

“Wave of killings fuels fear of a second Chechnya”
Observer (U.K.), September 30, 2007

“Imam killed in Russia after speaking out against Islamic militants”
Canadian Press, September 29, 2007

“Russia’s Chechnya imposes Islamic dress code”
Reuters, September 12, 2007


Editors: Julia Scott, Josh Wilson

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