Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:32:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Russian Law Corners Drug Users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-law-corners-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:54:40 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133685 As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees. OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been […]

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An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees.

OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been available in Ukraine for almost a decade.

But Russian law forbids its provision, and Russian government officials have said they intend to close OST services in the region by the end of this month."We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die."

Organisations working to provide services to drug users on the peninsula say this has put the future health of more than 800 people receiving OST in the region in doubt.

They say that distances to the nearest facilities in Ukraine offering the treatment mean it would be impossible for drug users to access OST services without leaving Crimea permanently.

Without this lifeline treatment, they warn, many users will turn back to dangerous drug habits, reverting to crime or prostitution to support their addiction, and sharing contaminated needles.

Anton Basenko, a member of the All Ukrainian Association of OST Participants, told IPS: “Many of these people, just like me, have HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic diseases complementing their drug dependence. Stopping substitution therapy for the majority of them is the same as denying them oxygen to breathe. They are being thrown back to crime and despair.”

Drug users in Crimea who spoke to IPS said they were dreading their futures without OST.

One 32-year-old drug user from Sevastopol, a mother of one who gave her name only as Ludmila, told IPS: “I am hoping to start a full-time job in a few weeks but this will be impossible for me if I cannot receive OST. My husband, who also receives OST, currently has a job but he will lose it if he stops getting his treatment. Ending these programmes will be a disaster for this whole family.”

Another, who gave his name only as Vitaliy, told IPS he had been helped by the OST he had been receiving for the last four years. He said he did not want to leave his home in Sevastopol but was afraid of what might happen to him if he did not.

The 27-year-old said: “I don’t want to go but at the same time I don’t want to return to injection drug use.”

A 37-year-old man who asked to be called ‘Yevgeny Kovalenko’ (not his real name), who has been receiving OST in Simferopol since 2008, said he faced a stark choice.

He told IPS: “I am scared, my friends are scared. We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die. And that is not me just being dramatic or using a figure of speech, I will literally die.  So will many others.”

Groups such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine say some drug users have already left Crimea to ensure they can continue to access OST. The Alliance is preparing for hundreds to arrive in Kiev looking for help when the programmes close in Crimea.

But while those who make it to Kiev will be able to get help, those that cannot, or choose not to leave their homes in Crimea, will be left to deal with their addiction in a region where local authorities will be enforcing repressive Russian policies on drugs.

Under Russian legislation, minor drug offences are punished severely with, for example, convictions for possession of even the smallest amounts of heroin – including residue in a syringe. Such offences carry lengthy jail sentences.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics, which UNAIDS and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Ukraine, which also has a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic, has recently reduced the rate of new HIV infections – a success put down to the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.

It is unclear at the moment what effect Crimea becoming part of Russia will have on the provision of harm reduction services other than the OST programmes.

Ukrainian groups working with drug users say there are more than 14,000 people in Crimea who access such services, and that any threat to their provision could have devastating consequences for their health and create a serious public health threat in Crimea.

Meanwhile, drug users in Kiev are calling on the Ukrainian Ministry of Health to act.

They say that, even if they cannot persuade authorities in Crimea to allow the extension of OST programmes at least until January next year, when all legislation in the peninsula should be brought fully into line with that of the rest of Russia, the ministry should be setting up facilities for OST programmes in other parts of Ukraine.

Basenko told IPS: “Practical steps need to be taken to organise the accommodation of these refugees, these patients from Crimea, so they can continue their treatment in Ukraine.

“Drugs available in Ukraine must be redistributed and additional OST facilities need to be set up to meet the needs of these patients.”

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CEOs at Big U.S. Companies Paid 331 Times Average Worker http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ceos-big-u-s-companies-paid-331-times-average-worker/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ceos-big-u-s-companies-paid-331-times-average-worker http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ceos-big-u-s-companies-paid-331-times-average-worker/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 00:03:37 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133702 In new data certain to fuel the growing public debate over economic inequality, a survey released Tuesday by the biggest U.S. trade-union federation found that the CEOs of top U.S. corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average U.S. worker in 2013. According to the AFL-CIO’s 2014 Executive PayWatch database, U.S. CEOs of […]

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Fast food workers protest for higher wages in New York City, July 2013. Credit: Annette Bernhardt/cc by 2.0

Fast food workers protest for higher wages in New York City, July 2013. Credit: Annette Bernhardt/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

In new data certain to fuel the growing public debate over economic inequality, a survey released Tuesday by the biggest U.S. trade-union federation found that the CEOs of top U.S. corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average U.S. worker in 2013.

According to the AFL-CIO’s 2014 Executive PayWatch database, U.S. CEOs of 350 companies made an average of 11.7 million dollars last year compared to the average worker who earned 35,293 dollars.Of all Western countries, income inequality is greatest in the United States, according to a variety of measures.

The same CEOs averaged an income 774 times greater than U.S. workers who earned the federal hourly minimum wage of 7.25 dollars in 2013, or just over 15,000 dollars a year, according to the database.

A separate survey of the top 100 U.S. corporations released by the New York Times Sunday found that the media compensation of CEOs of those companies last year was yet higher — 13.9 million dollars.

That survey, the Equilar 100 CEO Pay Study, found that those CEOs took home a combined 1.5 billion dollars in 2013, slightly higher than their haul the previous year. As in past years, the biggest earner was Lawrence Ellison, CEO of Oracle, who landed 78.4 million dollars in a combination of cash, stocks, and options.

The two surveys, both released as tens of millions of people filed their annual tax returns, are certain to add to the growing public debate about rising income and wealth inequality.

It is a theme that came to the fore during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement and that President Barack Obama has described as the “defining challenge of our time” as the 2014 mid-term election campaign gets underway. He has sought to address it by, among other measures, seeking an increase the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and expanding overtime pay for federal workers.

Obama’s focus on inequality — and the dangers it poses — has gained some important intellectual and even theological backing in recent months.

In a major revision of its traditional neo-liberal orthodoxy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last month released a study raising the alarm about the impact of negative impacts of inequality on both economic growth and political stability, with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warning that it created “an economy of exclusion, and a wasteland of discarded potential” and threatens “the precious fabric that holds our society together.”

Pope Francis has also spoken repeatedly – including in a private meeting with Obama at the Vatican last month – about the dangers posed by economic inequality, while the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, published in January, identified severe income disparity as the biggest risk to global stability over the next decade.

Meanwhile, an epic new study by French economist Thomas Piketty, ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century,’ that compares today’s levels of inequality to those of the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, is gaining favourable reviews in virtually every mainstream publication.

Piketty, whose work is based on data from dozens of Western countries dating back two centuries and argues that radical redistribution measures, including a “global tax on capital,” are needed to reverse current trends toward greater inequality, is speaking to standing-room-only audiences in think tanks here this week.

In addition, the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month lifting the aggregate limits that wealthy individuals can contribute to political campaigns and parties has added to fears that, in the words of a number of civic organisations, the U.S. political system is moving increasingly towards a “plutocracy”.

Of all Western countries, income inequality is greatest in the United States, according to a variety of measures. In his book, Pikkety shows that inequality of both wealth and income in the U.S. exceeds that of Europe in 1900.

The 331:1 ratio between the income of the 350 corporate CEOs in the Pay Watch survey and average workers is generally consistent with the pay gap that has prevailed over the past decade.

That ratio contrasts dramatically with the average that prevailed after World War II. In 1950, for example, the differential between the top corporate earners and the average workers was only around 20:1. As recently as 1980 – just before the Reagan administration began implementing its “magic of the marketplace” economic policies – the ratio had climbed only to 42:1, according to Sarah Anderson, a veteran compensation watcher at the Institute for Policy Studies here.

“I don’t think that anyone, except maybe Larry Ellison, would claim that today’s managers are somehow an evolved form of homo sapiens compared to their predecessors 30 or 60 years ago,” said Bart Naylor, Financial Policy Advocate at Public Citizen, a civic accountability group.

“Those who built the pharmaceutical industry and the hi-tech industry …were fine senior executives, and they didn’t drain the economy the way today’s senior executives insist on doing,” he told IPS. “The machinery of awarding senior executive pay is clearly broken.”

What is particularly galling to unions and their allies is that many top companies argue that they can’t afford to raise wages at the same time that they are earning higher profits per employee than they did five years ago. While the average worker earned 35,293 dollars last year, the S&P’s 500 Index companies earned an average of 41,249 dollars in profits per employee – a 38 percent increase.

“Pay Watch calls attention to the insane level of compensation for CEOs, while the workers who create those corporate profits struggle for enough money to take care of the basics,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“Consider that the retirement benefits of the CEO of Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, has benefits of over 232 million dollars in his company retirement fund, all of which is tax deferred,” said Anderson. “It’s quite obscene when you know it’s a corporation that relies on very low-paid labour.”

Congress is currently considering several measures to address the issue, although most of them are opposed by Republicans who enjoy a majority in the House of Representatives.

Nonetheless, a tax package introduced by the Republican chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee would close one large loophole that permits CEOs to deduct so-called “performance pay” – what they earn when they achieve certain benchmarks set by their board of directors – from their taxes.

“It’s pretty outrageous when the CEOs of some of the biggest companies of the National Restaurant Association are essentially getting heavily subsidised when so many of their workers are relying on public assistance and fighting for an increase in the minimum wage,” Anderson told IPS.

In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to formally adopt a long-pending rule that would require publicly held corporations to disclose how the pay received by their CEO compares to that of their employees, including full-times, part-time, temporary, seasonal and non-U.S. staff.

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Court Upholds Most of U.S. “Conflict Minerals” Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 21:14:21 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133691 The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa. The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by […]

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National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa.

The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by the end of May. The statute, known as Section 1502 and covering what are referred to as “conflict minerals”, became law in 2010, but the details of its actual implementation have remained up in the air ever since.The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States.” -- Holly Dranginis

“There are very encouraging aspects of this ruling, and the bottom line is that the rule hasn’t been overturned and now companies will need to move forward,” Corinna Gilfillan, head of the Washington office of Global Witness, a watchdog group that supports Section 1502, told IPS.

“The heart of this statute is companies carrying out due diligence on their supply chains so they can figure out whether their minerals are coming from conflict areas. Due diligence is a process – first knowing the supply chain and then taking action to address any problems. This ruling has upheld the due diligence and reporting aspects.”

The U.S. Congress hoped Section 1502 would help quell the violence that has wracked Africa’s Great Lakes region, particularly in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for the past decade and a half. Findings by the United Nations, rights groups and others have warned that rebels in these areas have funded their operations in part by mining and selling any of five minerals that have become particularly sought after by the international electronics industry.

The rule has come under attack by U.S. business groups who say the requirements would be onerous and infringe on their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, by forcing them to label their products “conflict free”. But agreeing with previous rulings, a three-judge bench on Monday dismissed most of these concerns.

The dismissal included business concerns that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had not adequately analysed costs and benefits of the regulation.

“The rule’s benefits would occur half-a-world away in the midst of an opaque conflict about which little reliable information exists, and concern a subject about which the [SEC] has no particular expertise,” the court stated in its decision.

“Even if one could estimate how many lives are saved or rapes prevented as a direct result of the final rule, doing so would be pointless because the costs of the rule – measured in dollars – would create an apples-to-bricks comparison.”

Compelled speech

Yet the court also offered a split decision in favour of the manufacturers on the free speech concern, allowing both proponents and critics of Section 1502 to claim victory.

U.S. law allows for certain “compelled” public disclosures, but generally only if those are recitations of straight fact. However, the court found the issue of conflict minerals to be far more complex.

“[I]t is far from clear that the description at issue – whether a product is ‘conflict free’ – is factual and nonideological. Products and minerals do not fight conflicts,” the court stated.

“The label ‘conflict free’ is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups … By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech.”

It is unclear whether the SEC will appeal this part of the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court (the agency says it’s reviewing the ruling). For now, the decision undermines a key strategy for groups hoping to use a labelling requirement to shame companies into compliance, though related information will still be publicly available.

The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States,” Holly Dranginis, a policy associate with the Enough Project, an advocacy group here, said Monday.

“The court’s proposal that a conflict-free determination is ideological is unfounded and undercuts the power of society’s growing awareness that global markets and security in fragile states are in fact linked.”

Meanwhile, a separate case before the same court could soon undermine the free speech finding. A smaller bench has already ruled in favour of requiring meat producers to include “country of origin” information on their products, and the case is now slated to be heard by the full court in mid-May.

A dissenting opinion in the conflict minerals ruling noted that the meat-labelling decision could have a significant impact on Monday’s ruling.

6,000 reports

The complexities of implementing Section 1502 remain highly problematic in central Africa, and some are warning that the law could soon collapse under its own weight. Yet others say the regulation is already having a noticeable impact, with the Enough Project suggesting that “over two-thirds of tin, tantalum and tungsten mines [are] now free of armed groups.”

Monday’s ruling should now allow the U.S. side of the statute’s implementation to proceed. This means that around 6,000 U.S. companies will need to file reports with the SEC, and post them to company websites, by the end of May.

The lawsuit against Section 1502 was brought by three of the United States’ largest business lobbies, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. In a joint statement sent to IPS, the three lauded the decision.

“[W]e are pleased with the D.C. Circuit’s decision … finding the statute and regulation are unconstitutional,” the groups stated. “We understand the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and abhor the violence in that country, but this rule was not the appropriate way to address this problem.”

Yet other businesses are already complying with the spirit of Section 1502. Perhaps the most significant of these companies, Intel, is actually a member of NAM.

In January, the company pledged to remove all conflict minerals from its microprocessors. It says it now has no plans to change course.

“Regardless of this decision, we will continue to do our part to achieve conflict-free supply chains and to report publicly on these efforts,” Lisa Malloy, an Intel spokesperson, told IPS.

“The challenge of responsible minerals sourcing requires a comprehensive solution that involves government agencies in the U.S. and internationally, non-profit groups and industry. We urge all partners to continue the momentum towards a solution.”

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Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:41:12 +0000 Adriane Lochner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133688 “I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals. But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his […]

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Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

By Adriane Lochner
BISHKEK, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

“I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals.

But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his travel agency told him “swimming” was part of the package.Activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health.

In Nukus, the sleepy regional capital of western Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan region, local tour operators say the number of sightseers is growing each year. Many come to this remote part of the Central Asian country to see the famous Savitsky art collection. There are excursions to ancient fortresses and historic Khiva, once an important stop on the Silk Road.

But the Aral Sea – one of the world’s most infamous, man-made ecological disasters – is probably the top attraction.

“Last year almost 300 foreigners went on camping trips to the coastline, and numbers are increasing,” says Tazabay Uteuliev, a local fixer who arranges transport for several Uzbek travel agencies.

Spring and autumn are most popular, but this year he even had a group in January. “More and more people seem to like it extreme,” Uteuliev tells EurasiaNet.org. The tourists are usually adventurous, not looking for a trip to the beach, but to see the famous lake before the last of the water is gone, he adds.

Bendz, the Swede, claims a special interest in unusual places. On a previous trip to Ukraine he visited Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear accident. As he runs toward the shore, his feet sink in mud. The other two tourists and their driver follow him with their eyes.

The driver explains that over the course of only one year, the coastline has receded about 50 metres. The former seabed is still damp and covered with clams.

“You don’t even have to swim,” Bendz shouts, giddily floating on the water. In 2007, one estimate put the Aral’s salinity at 10 percent. As the sea continues shrinking, salt content is believed to have risen to about 15 or 16 percent, or half the concentration in the famously salty Dead Sea.

For local activists, the swell of foreign interest offers a chance to educate, as well as entertain.

In a hotel in Nukus, a group of Swiss tourists listens to a seminar about the history of the Aral catastrophe as part of their tour programme. The lecturer asks EurasiaNet.org not to print his name because he is implicitly criticising Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government.

He has a legitimate fear: activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health. In 2012, one activist said she was beaten and threatened with forced psychiatric care.

During his presentation, the speaker shows satellite images and videos of fishing boats from the time when the fish-packed Aral Sea was one of largest lakes in the world. He describes the consequences of the water loss for locals: extremely hot summers, freezing winters, dust storms and lung diseases.

“Only the government can do something about it,” the activist says, describing wasteful irrigation upstream on the Amu-Darya River.

In his opinion, poor government management of water resources is the main cause of the environmental problems. Only about 10 percent of the water diverted from the river makes it to the fields, he says. The rest evaporates or leaks out of aging irrigation canals.

“People should [be required to] pay for the water, then they would save it,” he says.

Uzbekistan’s centralised agricultural plan aims to produce three million tonnes of cotton annually. To meet this target, officials require farmers to grow the water-intensive plant and press-gang residents to help with the harvest each autumn.

Environmentalists are also concerned that powerful international interests have little reason to save the Aral: Energy companies from China, Russia, Uzbekistan and elsewhere are drilling in the former seabed for natural gas. The tour group drives past their rigs the next morning, across a salt desert, to visit Muynak.

A generation ago, this former fishing village was a port at the southern end of the sea. Now it is about 100 kilometres from the water’s edge. Ships once anchored offshore are now popular tourist attractions, rusting, leaning over into the desert sand. Local children play on the graffiti-covered wrecks.

Only a few hundred kilometres to the north, on the Kazakhstani side, there is hope for the Aral Sea. There, a dike built with assistance from the World Bank in 2005 catches water from the Syr-Darya River, helping bring a tiny portion of the lake back and spawning a renewed fishing industry.

But the Kazakh side does not attract as many visitors, says a representative at Tashkent-based OrexCA, a travel agency specialising in Central Asia.

The agent says she receives occasional inquiries but no bookings to visit the lake in Kazakhstan. She thinks visitors are discouraged by the higher prices and also because Kazakhstani officials have removed so-called ghost ships, selling them for scrap. Instead she touts OrexCA’s “shrinking Aral Sea tour” on the Uzbek side.

The package includes visits to historical sites and, according to the agency’s website, is “designed for admirers of extreme tourism, adventurers and fans of exotic photography.”

Editor’s note:  Adriane Lochner is a Bishkek-based writer. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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OP-ED: Egyptian-Saudi Coalition in Defence of Autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:28:37 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133684 The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism. The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab […]

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By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism.

The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have designated a “terrorist” organisation and are vowed to dismantle.It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

The two new partners and the UAE also loathe Qatar for hosting and funding Al-Jazeera satellite TV. The continued incarceration of the Al-Jazeera journalists and dozens of other journalists on trumped up charges is no coincidence.

The court case is symptomatic of the current Saudi-Egyptian relationship in their counter-revolution against the 2011 pro-democracy upheavals that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his fellow autocrats in Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya.

The pro-autocracy partnership between the Egyptian military junta and the Saudi ruling family goes beyond their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and the perceived threat of terrorism. It emanates from the autocrats’ visceral opposition to democracy and human rights, including minority and women’s rights.

What should be most critical to them as they contemplate the future of their coalition of counter-revolutionaries, however, is the growing Western conviction that dictators can no longer provide stability.

The Egyptian Field Marshall and the Saudi potentate also abhor the key demands of the Arab uprisings and reject their peoples’ calls for freedom, dignity, justice, and genuine economic and political reform.

They are equally terrified of the coming end of the authoritarian paradigm, which could bring about their demise or at least force them to share power with their people. The Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies, especially Bahrain and the UAE, are willing to trample on their people’s rights in order to safeguard family tribal rule.

The Saudi-Egyptian partnership is also directed at the Obama administration primarily because of Washington’s diplomatic engagement with Iran.

According to media and Human Rights Watch reports, at least 15,000 secular and Islamist activists are currently being held in Egyptian prisons, without having been charged or convicted. This number includes hundreds of MB leaders and activists and thousands of its supporters.

Many of them, including teenagers, have also been tortured and abused physically and psychologically. These mass arrests and summary trials and convictions of Islamists and liberals alike belie the Saudi-Egyptian claim that theirs is a campaign against terrorism.

A brief history of Egyptian-Saudi relations

Egyptian-Saudi relations in the past 60 years have been erratic, depending on leadership, ideology, and regional and world events. During the Nasser era in the 1950s and ‘60s, relations were very tense because of Saudi fears of Nasser’s Arab nationalist ideology.

The Saudis saw Nasser a nationalist firebrand arousing Arab masses against colonialism and Arab monarchies. He supported national liberation movements and wars of independence against the French in North Africa and the British in the Arab littoral of the Persian Gulf.

The Saudi monarchy viewed Nasser’s call for Arab unity “from the roaring ocean to the rebellious Gulf” as a threat to their survival and declared a war on “secular” Arab nationalism and “atheist” Communism.

They perceived Nasser’s war in Yemen against the tribal monarchy as an existential threat at their door and began to fund and arm the royalists in Yemen against the Egyptian military campaign.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the two opposite poles of the “Arab cold war” during the 1950s and ‘60s. Nasser represented emerging Arab republicanism while Saudi Arabia epitomised traditional monarchies. Nasser turned to the Soviet Union; Saudi Arabia turned to the United States.

In the late 1960s, Saudi Arabia declared the proselytisation of its brand of Islam as a cardinal principle of its foreign policy for the purpose of fighting Arab nationalism and Communism.

It’s ironic that Saudi Arabia is currently supporting and funding the military junta in Egypt at a time when the military-turned-civilian presidential shoe-in Sisi is resurrecting the Nasserist brand of politics.

In the next three to five years, the most intriguing analytic question will be whether this partnership would endure and how long the post-2011 generation of Arabs would tolerate a coalition of secular autocracy and a religious theocracy.

Saudi Arabia supported Egyptian President Sadat’s war against Israel in 1973 but broke with him later in that decade after he visited Jerusalem and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

By the early 1980s, however, the two countries re-established close relations because of their common interest in supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and in pushing for the Saudi-articulated Arab Peace Initiative.

The Saudi King viewed President Hosni Mubarak warmly and was dismayed by his fall. He was particularly incensed by Washington’s seeming precipitous abandonment of Mubarak in January 2011.

The Saudi monarchy applauded General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s removal of President Muhammad Morsi and pumped billions of dollars into the Egyptian treasury. They also indicated they would make up any deficit in case U.S. aid to Egypt is halted.

The Saudis have endorsed Sisi’s decision to run for president of Egypt and adopted similar harsh policies against the Muslim Brotherhood and all political dissent. Several factors seem to push Saudi Arabia closer to Egypt.

The Saudis are concerned about their growing loss of influence and prestige in the region, especially their failure in thwarting the interim nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Their policy in Syria is in shambles.

Initially, they encouraged jihadists to go to Syria to fight the Assad regime, but now they cannot control the pro-Al-Qaeda radical Salafi jihadists fighting the Damascus tyrant.

The Saudis also failed in transforming the Gulf Cooperation Council into a more unified structure. Other than Bahrain, almost every other state has balked at the Saudi suggestion, viewing it a power grab.

In an absurd form of retaliation against Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from that country. The Saudis are engaged in tribal vendettas against their fellow tribal ruling families, which is out of place in a 21st century globalised and well-connected world.

The oil wealth and the regime’s inspired religious fatwas by establishment clerics have a diminishing impact on the younger generation connected to the global new social media.

Despite the heavy-handed crackdown, protests, demonstrations, and confrontations with the security forces are a daily occurrence in Egypt. It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

It won’t be long before Western governments conclude that autocracy is bad for their moral sensibilities, destructive for business, and threatening for their presence in the region. The Saudi-Egyptian coalition of autocrats will soon be in the crosshairs.

In order to endure, such a coalition must be based on respect for their peoples, a genuine commitment to human rights, and a serious effort to address the “deficits” of liberty, education, and women’s rights that have afflicted Arab society for decades.

Emile Nakhleh, a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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Is Puerto Rico Going the Way of Greece and Detroit? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:28:42 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133680 Puerto Rican society has been shaken to its foundations by the announcement in February by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s credit rating agencies that they had downgraded the island’s creditworthiness to junk status. “The problems that confront the commonwealth are many years in the making, and include years of deficit financing, pension underfunding, and budgetary […]

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Electric utility workers of the UTIER labour union protest for safer workplace conditions. UTIER spearheads the fight against privatisation and against the Puerto Rico government's unpopular emergency economic measures. Courtesy of Photo Jam

Electric utility workers of the UTIER labour union protest for safer workplace conditions. UTIER spearheads the fight against privatisation and against the Puerto Rico government's unpopular emergency economic measures. Courtesy of Photo Jam

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Puerto Rican society has been shaken to its foundations by the announcement in February by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s credit rating agencies that they had downgraded the island’s creditworthiness to junk status.

“The problems that confront the commonwealth are many years in the making, and include years of deficit financing, pension underfunding, and budgetary imbalance, along with seven years of economic recession,” said Moody’s."Working people are faced with three choices: they can migrate, resign themselves to poverty, or go out to the street to organise and struggle for justice." -- Luis Pedraza-Leduc

Located in the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico has been a Commonwealth of the United States since 1952.

Moody’s added that the island’s worsening economic situation has “now put the commonwealth in a position where its debt load and fixed costs are high, its liquidity is narrow, and its market access has become constrained.”

In order to meet its debt obligations, the PR legislature has considered enacting fiscal measures that are strongly opposed by labour unions, including dipping into the public school teachers’ retirement fund. Law 160, the retirement “reform”, was approved by both House and Senate earlier this year.

Unions have headed to court to challenge the law. On Apr. 11, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled some key provisions were unconstitutional because they breached teachers’ contracts.

Schoolteachers’ unions declared the ruling a triumph, although the court upheld other parts of the law that adversely affect Christmas bonuses, summer pay and medical benefits.

The current fiscal crisis is the result of the commonwealth economic model’s failure, according to union official Luis Pedraza-Leduc.

“Our economic model, based on providing cheap labour to the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries and light manufacturing, has exhausted itself,” said Pedraza-Leduc, who runs the UTIER utility workers union’s Solidarity Programme (PROSOL) and is spokesperson of the Coordinadora Sindical, a coalition of over a dozen unions.

“In recent decades there has been a worldwide trend towards reducing state involvement in the economy to a minimum,” he told IPS.

“Things that were considered basic services provided by the state are now turned into commodities as private enterprise moves in to fill those spaces. Rather than reducing these essential services, the government went into debt.”

According to a chart provided by the office of PR Governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla, the commonwealth’s public debt reached 10 billion dollars in 1987, when the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) ruled, and passed the 20-billion-dollar mark in 1998 under governor Pedro Rossello, of the New Progressive Party.

Under PDP governor Sila M. Calderon (2001-2004) the debt went over 30 billion dollars. And at the end of his 2009-2012 mandate, NPP governor Luis Fortuño left the country with more than 60 billion in debt. Garcia-Padilla belongs to the PDP.

Pedraza-Leduc recalls that successive governors undertook neoliberal measures that made matters even worse.

“Governor Rossello privatised the health sector, the phone company and the water utility. Governor Acevedo-Vila [of the PDP, 2004-2007] imposed a sales tax on retail sales [known as IVU],” he said.

Governor Fortuño laid off over 30,000 public sector workers, and introduced “public-private partnerships”, which were decried by labour unions as thinly disguised privatisation schemes. Upon beginning his mandate in early 2013, Garcia-Padilla privatised the San Juan international airport and is considering new taxes.

The Puerto Rico Constitution obligates the government to honour its debts.

“In order to pay bondholders, the government could close down schools, reduce the number of Urban Train daily trips, scale down 911 emergency phone services, and freeze the hiring of employees”, warned Pedraza-Leduc. “They are considering reducing Christmas bonuses and sick leave days.”

According to University Puerto Rico economist Martha Quiñones, “We are having here the same crisis as Greece and Detroit, but here it is broader because of our colonial situation.

“We had an economic model based on bringing foreign corporations and enticing them with cheap labour and tax incentives,” she told IPS, calling this the “exogenous” model, which is based on bringing investment from outside.

“It did not work. Not enough jobs were created, and the unemployed do not pay taxes. Locally owned businesses ended up picking up the tax burden that foreign investors were exempted from, which caused many of them to close. Local and foreign businesses were not competing in conditions of equality.”

Quiñones said that the model’s death knell was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other similar trade deals that the U.S. has struck, which made even cheaper labour available in other parts of the world.

Successive Puerto Rico governments made up for these failures by requesting help from the U.S. government in the form of food stamps and unemployment benefits, and other forms of social assistance. Another way was by issuing bonds, which led to long-term debt and the current debacle.

As an alternative, Quiñones advocates an “endogenous” economic model, which strengthens local capabilities rather than looking abroad for deliverance. “The government must support locally owned businesses,” she said. “Those are the businesses that create jobs at home and pay taxes.

“The government must also collect the IVU sales tax, which most retailers simply pocketed. A progressive tax reform is needed, plus rich tax evaders must be brought to justice. Start by investigating businesses that take only cash, and individuals who are taking second mortgages. Those are pretty obvious red flags.”

She also advocates that the health system be changed to single payer, “which would be more efficient than the current inefficient and unsustainable health system we have now.

“Working people are faced with three choices: they can migrate, resign themselves to poverty, or go out to the street to organise and struggle for justice,” said Pedraza-Leduc.

But he admits that the prospects for all-out popular struggle are uncertain at best. “The lack of class consciousness complicates the outlook. Maybe we are not prepared for a confrontation,” he said.

To him, the way out of the impasse lies in education. “I propose an educational project, a Union School [Escuela Sindical] that can transcend the unions and branch out into broader issues and thus further the political struggle.

“And we need a new model for our country, we need to speak concretely about justice and a fair distribution of wealth.”

He also called for a reexamination of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. “Under our current status we are not allowed to sign trade agreements with other countries. We could be associating ourselves with other countries, and also get cheaper oil from Venezuela. But under our current status we cannot.”

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Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-fuels-child-labour-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:35:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133665 Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer. Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s […]

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Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
KANKER, India, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer.

Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. She puts on her school uniform to fetch water because it is one of the few pieces of clothing she has.“Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders." -- child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer

Her native village Dhurbeda falls in Abujhmad, a forest area in Narayanpur district that is reportedly one of the largest hideouts of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which leads a violent rebellion against the state in some parts of the country.

Nine months ago, a distant relative from state capital Raipur visited Sumari’s parents, who were worried that she might be asked to join the Maoists some day. The relative, whom Sumari calls “Budhan aunt”, took her away, promising to send her to a city school.

Instead, she sent Sumari to Bhainsasur, about 180 km from Raipur. Now the girl toils for more than 14 hours a day in the house of the aunt’s brother, cooking, washing, fetching water and sometimes also looking after cattle.

Sumari is one of thousands of children trafficked out of Chhattisgarh every year. According to a 2013 study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), more than 3,000 children are trafficked from the state each year.

The report focuses on the northern districts that are deemed less affected by the conflict. Districts such as Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Kanker and Narayanpur, which are considered the hotbed of the Maoist movement, are not included in the report.

The reason is an acute shortage of data, says a government official at the department of rural development who doesn’t wish to be named for fear of punitive action. The official tells IPS that researchers and surveyors stay away from the remote districts.

“In April 2010, Maoists killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada. Since then, the conflict has reached such a level that few actually dare to visit districts like Dantewada, Sukma or Narayanpur. If you don’t go into the field, how will you collect information and data.”

Bhan Sahu, founder of Jurmil Morcha, the state’s only all-tribal women’s organisation that fights forced displacement of forest tribal communities, believes the absence of data is actually helping the traffickers.

“Every time a massacre or an encounter takes place between the Maoists and the security forces, many families flee their villages. Traffickers target these families, pay them some money and offer to take care of their children.

“But the government doesn’t want to admit either the migration or the trafficking. So the traffickers are not under any pressure,” Sahu tells IPS. She has reported several cases of trafficking for CG-Net Swara, a community newswire.

Jyoti Dugga, 11, who plays hula-hoop with iron rings to entertain tourists on the beaches of Goa in western India, also hails from Chhattisgarh. Her elder brother had been jailed for alleged links with Maoists. Her parents were worried that she too might be arrested. Three years ago they agreed to send her away with a neighbour called Ramesh Gota, addressed by Jyoti as “uncle”.

“Uncle said he had many contacts and could give me work, so my parents sent me with him,” says Jyoti, who also massages tourists’ feet. She shares a small room with three other children, all of whom are from Chhattisgarh and look malnourished.

Earlier this month, 20 children who were being forced to work in a circus in Goa were rescued by the police. But Gota, Jyoti’s employer, seems too clever to be caught – he keeps moving the children from one beach to another.

The government denies such trafficking and exploitation of children.

Ram Niwas, assistant director-general in the Chhattisgarh police department, claims that human trafficking has “gone down considerably” since anti-human trafficking units were sanctioned. “The process of identifying such districts is under way and they would be prioritised,” he tells IPS.

The UNODC report says Chhattisgarh’s performance in implementing child protection schemes is inadequate. “The district child protection units are not in existence, and the child welfare committees are not working to their proper strength,” says the report.

According to the report, the state is not serious in taking back children who have been trafficked out.

Child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state agrees. She heads the organisation Tharuni, which rescues trafficked children in collaboration with the state government. According to Raghuveer, 65 girls have been rescued in the past two years. Most were from Chhattisgarh’s conflict-hit districts.

“Girls as young as seven and eight are brought out of their home by men,” Raghuveer tells IPS. “Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders. When the men are in danger of being caught, they vanish, abandoning the girls.”

The government has a National Child Labour Policy (NCLP) for rehabilitation of children forced into labour. Rescued children in the 9-14 age group are enrolled at NCLP special training centres where they are provided food, healthcare and education, says Kodikunnil Suresh, national minister of state for labour and employment told parliament in February. “Currently there are 300,000 children covered by the scheme,” he said.

This IPS correspondent met nine-year-old Mary Suvarna at an NCLP centre in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. She was rescued a year ago from the city railway station. Mary says she lived in a forest village called Badekeklar. It’s unlikely she will ever return home.

She has a dream. “I want to be a police officer.”

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Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:56:45 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133673 On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope. When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But […]

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On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

By Joanna Lillis
ASTANA, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope.

When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has set himself up as the defender of Russians everywhere, and used that rationale to annex Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the slogan seems more pertinent than ever – at least to Kazakhstani leaders in Astana.

Ever since the Soviet collapse in 1991, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration has stressed the promotion of tolerance and inter-ethnic harmony. For the most part, Nazarbayev has succeeded in keeping the country tranquil, enabling the economy to attain an unrivaled level of growth in Central Asia.

But now, the ripple-effect created by the Ukraine crisis threatens to test the loyalties of Kazakhstan’s ethnically diverse populace, in particular the substantial ethnic Russian minority, which is concentrated in northern regions of the country.

Given recent developments, boosting patriotism has rocketed up Nazarbayev’s political agenda. Highlighting the high level of concern in Astana, officials introduced amendments in early April to punish public calls for separatism with long jail terms.

Separatist sentiment in the industrial northeast created a headache for Nazarbayev in the 1990s – and Oskemen was once a hotbed of intrigue, with 13 pro-Russian conspirators jailed over a separatist plot in 2000. In this city, known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk, 67 percent of inhabitants are Russian, triple the national ratio.“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here. It’s seen as an opportunity.” -- Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University

Separatist moods ebbed as Kazakhstan consolidated its nationhood – but the scenarios playing out in Ukraine are enough to cause Nazarbayev a full-blown migraine. Russia’s justification of its annexation of Crimea on the grounds of protecting Russian speakers makes Astana jittery. In Kazakhstan, 22 percent of the population is ethnic Russian, with far higher ratios living along the sprawling 7,000-kilometre border with Russia.

Inflammatory statements by Russian nationalists about claims on northern Kazakhstan have added fuel to the fire, sparking an unusual diplomatic spat between close allies Moscow and Astana. On Apr. 11, following a sharp rebuke from Kazakhstan, Moscow disassociated itself from the pronouncements – but did not explicitly deny having designs on Kazakhstan’s territory.

Astana may be up in arms, but Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community views the nationalist outbursts across the border with equanimity.

“On the immutability of borders … talking about some actions being eternal is simply somewhat incorrect,” says Viktor Sharonov, a gruff Cossack ataman (leader), choosing his words carefully. “Then what call would the Scottish have to hold a referendum on separating from Great Britain?”

Sharonov was speaking on Apr. 8 at a meeting of Oskemen-based Russian community groups attended by EurasiaNet.org, where community leaders championed the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine and denounced what they perceive as Western meddling in Russia’s backyard.

“I personally, and our Cossacks, see this as the desire of Western countries … to totally do the dirty on Russia once again,” Sharonov said heatedly.

“Unfortunately real fascists, ultranationalists… have come to power in Kyiv,” obliging Moscow to intervene to defend Russian speakers’ rights, said Oleg Navozov, chairman of the LAD Slavic movement.

On one hand, the prevailing view among Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community, as articulated by Navozov, echoes Astana’s official line: Nazarbayev has called the government in Kyiv “neo-fascists” and railed against Ukraine’s “discrimination against minority rights,” winning him plaudits from these community leaders.

“Nazarbayev supported Russia in those actions aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic minorities in Ukraine and protecting its national interests,” said Nikolay Plakhotin of LAD approvingly.

On the other hand, Russian intervention in Ukraine leaves many in Kazakhstan wondering: What if Moscow decides Russian speakers here need protection?

This scenario is overwhelmingly rejected in Oskemen, where Russian speakers interviewed by EurasiaNet.org said without exception that Nazarbayev’s inclusive ethnic and linguistic policies rule it out.

“The situation in Kazakhstan is completely different to Ukraine,” Vadim Obukhov, deputy head of the Russian Cultural Centre, said. “We don’t have any confrontation between Kazakhs and Russians.”

As Nazarbayev juggles competing agendas, promoting the interests of the majority Kazakhs while protecting minority rights, “this balance is being maintained very competently,” said newspaper publisher Yevgeniy Cherkashin.

Nazarbayev’s pro-Kremlin stance in the Ukraine crisis is playing well in the Russian-speaking community in the north, although elsewhere critics vehemently attack it as a betrayal of national interests.

“In the consciousness of many Russians the northern part of Kazakhstan is Russian territory,” Almaty-based analyst Aydos Sarym told EurasiaNet.org, hence “as many Kazakhs understand it, this [official pro-Moscow] position is mistaken.”

In Oskemen some ethnic Kazakhs do “fear” a Russian land grab, albeit at some hazy point in the future, Kenzhebay, a middle-aged Oskemen resident who declined to give his surname, told EurasiaNet.org. Many also believe that close partnership with Russia offers Kazakhstan its best protection: Astana can best safeguard its sovereignty by acting as a friend to Moscow rather than foe.

Russians questioned on Oskemen’s city streets viewed the idea of Moscow encroaching on Kazakhstan as preposterous. “I don’t think Russia’s going to grab a piece of Kazakhstan – what would it want to do that for?” puzzled engineer Viktor Chernyshev.

“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here,” explains Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University. “It’s seen as an opportunity.”

From Oskemen, the Russian city of Novosibirsk is closer than Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, and locals flock over the border into Siberia to work and study – helped by Kazakhstan’s membership of the Russia-led Customs Union.

This free trade zone is to be transformed next month into the Eurasian Economic Union, amid vociferous opposition from Kazakh nationalists and liberals who fear Russian domination. But in northeastern Kazakhstan backing for the union is rock solid.

Vladimir Putin makes no secret of his nostalgia for the Soviet Union, or his vision of the union as a political vehicle promoting Russia-dominated post-Soviet integration; and some in Oskemen seem to share his dream.

The union represents “a return – perhaps not entirely, but nevertheless largely – to what existed in the Soviet Union,” suggested Navozov.

These words may be music to Putin’s ears, but perhaps not to Nazarbayev’s: he is suspicious of any political element to integration and has pledged not to cede “an iota” of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.

While looking to Russia for political and economic reference points, Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community is strongly loyal to Nazarbayev, seeing him not only as guarantor of minority rights but also as guarantor of political and social stability.

Ukraine-style unrest is impossible here, said Leonid Kartashev, president of the Russian National Cultural Centre, since “in Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev is legitimately elected, and in Kazakhstan there is a legitimate government.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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Valparaíso Blaze Highlights the City’s Poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:05:46 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133670 The blaze that tore through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso revealed the dark side of one of the most important tourist destinations in this South American country, which hides in its hills high levels of poverty and inequality. The fire that broke out Saturday Apr. 12 and was still smouldering two days later claimed […]

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The bleak landscape left behind on La Cruz hill, one of the hardest-hit by the blaze that started on Saturday Apr. 12 in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. Credit: Pablo Unzueta/IPS

The bleak landscape left behind on La Cruz hill, one of the hardest-hit by the blaze that started on Saturday Apr. 12 in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. Credit: Pablo Unzueta/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALPARAÍSO, Chile , Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The blaze that tore through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso revealed the dark side of one of the most important tourist destinations in this South American country, which hides in its hills high levels of poverty and inequality.

The fire that broke out Saturday Apr. 12 and was still smouldering two days later claimed at least 12 lives, completely destroyed 2,000 homes, and forced the evacuation of 10,000 people.

The flames covered at least six of the 42 hills that surround this city of 250,000 people, which is built in the form of a natural amphitheatre facing the Pacific ocean.

Jorge Llanos, 60, lived on the Cerro El Litre, one of the hills lining the city. Early Saturday he set out for his job at the market at Quilpué, near central Valparaíso, where he has a vegetable stand.

“I was coming back home on the bus when I saw the inferno. I got off and from the street I looked up at the hill: ‘My house!’ I shouted. When I got there, it was too late,” he told IPS.

Since the night of the fire, Llanos has been staying at a school that is operating as a shelter.

On Monday, he climbed the hill to look at his house. “There’s nothing there…I lost everything,” he said, sobbing.

Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, is built on a bay surrounded by hills and mountains where most of the city’s inhabitants are concentrated. It is this South American country’s second-largest port.

The hills, which start to rise just one kilometre from the coast, are densely populated with brightly coloured wooden houses. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared the city a World Heritage Site.

Valparaíso is also a cultural centre in Chile. Nobel Literature laureate Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) built one of his three houses there, and it is the site of the National Council of Culture and the Arts.

It has also been the seat of Congress since the return to democracy after the 1973-1990 dictatorship, when the old legislature in Santiago was replaced by the new building in Valparaíso, to decentralise the branches of government.

But 22 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to a national average of 14 percent.

Valparaíso is also one of the areas in Chile with the largest number of families living in slums.

According to the Fundación Un Techo Para Chile (A Roof for Chile Foundation), Valparaíso is the city with the most slums in Chile, and the region of Valparaíso is home to one-third of all families living in shantytowns.

In terms of inequality, this city also holds the record: while the average monthly income of the poorest 10 percent of the population is just 270 dollars, the monthly income of the wealthiest 10 percent averages 7,200 dollars.

“The enormous blaze that has affected this city has brought to light the terrible vulnerability of the families living in slums, who were hit the hardest,” the director of Un Techo Para Chile – Valparaíso, Alejandro Muñoz, told IPS.

The fire, which spread from forested areas at the top of the hills down into poor neighbourhoods of mainly wooden houses, “completely destroyed four slums,” he said.

This was the worst fire ever in a Chilean city in terms of the area affected – some 900 hectares – but not with respect to the number of victims.

In 1953, for example, 50 people were killed in a fire, and in 1960 a blaze destroyed the flat part of the city.

Muñoz pointed out that Valparaíso is a World Heritage Site, and Viña del Mar, a nearby coastal resort, is known as the “garden city”. But “a harsh and sometimes difficult to understand reality hides behind the hills of both cities – that of slum-dwelling families,” he said.

Lorena Carraja and her 80-year-old parents have been staying since Saturday at an improvised shelter set up on a tennis court. In the cold, bleak camp, she described the moment when the flames reached her home.

“It was a veritable inferno; we were completely surrounded by fire which in one second spread from one side to the other, with strong winds that carried the flames from hill to hill. It was horrible, terrifying, I had never seen anything so huge in my whole life, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” she told IPS.

But in the end, Carraja, 50, didn’t lose her home, although she did lose many of her belongings. “It doesn’t matter, everything can be replaced; thank God we’re alive,” she said.

Then she sighed and described, with a catch in her voice, how she heard “people screaming, children crying, while people were fainting.”

Cities in Chile were built with little urban planning, experts say. And families seeking a chance at a better life have flocked to the outer edges of large cities like Valparaíso.

But “the central and local governments have not taken an interest in the arrival of marginal populations to the cities, and there hasn’t been systematic concern in this country for the people who come to the cities,” Leonardo Piña, an anthropologist at the Alberto Hurtado University, told IPS.

“Valparaíso is no exception,” he said.

Piña added that the houses on the hills around the city “were built one on top of the other, and while it is exotic and seen as extraordinarily beautiful, to the point that it was named a World Heritage Site, that hasn’t meant that the concern has gone any farther than just giving it that label.

“The disaster has shown how bad the neglect is,” the anthropologist said.

The UNESCO declaration drew heavy flows of investment to Valparaíso from the Inter-American Development Bank, and the implementation of an ambitious Programme for Urban Recovery and Development generated high expectations among the people in this port city.

However, the 73 million dollars invested in the programme between 2006 and 2012 failed to make a dent in the poverty and marginalisation.

Piña said the main thing missing were policies that would effectively bring basic services to the poor, in order to make it possible for them to have a decent standard of living.

A long, intense drought, high winds, and unusually high Southern Hemisphere autumn temperatures came together to make it “the perfect fire,” said the regional governor of Valparaíso, Ricardo Bravo.

Experts agree that what is needed now is relief for the victims of the tragedy.

But later what will be required is political will to reduce the poverty in the “crazy port,” as Neruda referred to the city in his poem “Ode to Valparaíso”, written in the watchtower of La Sebastiana, his house built like a ship. The city, he wrote, would soon forget its tears, to “return to building up your houses, painting your doors green, your windows yellow.”

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Yakama Nation Tells DOE to Clean Up Nuclear Waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:21:39 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133655 The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.” He tells IPS “they looked around and […]

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At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
YAKAMA NATION, Washington State, U.S. , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.”

He tells IPS “they looked around and saw me. I said, ‘We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so we will be here then.’ That was when they knew they’d have a fight on their hands.”“Helen Caldicott told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die." -- Yakama Elder Russell Jim

With his long braids, the 78-year-old director of the Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Programme (ERWM) for the Yakama tribes cuts a striking figure, sitting calmly in his office located on the arid lands of his sovereign nation.

The Yakama Reservation in southeast Washington has 1.2 million acres with 10,000 federally recognised tribal members and an estimated 12,000 feral horses roaming the desert steppe. Down from the 12 million acres ceded by force to the U.S. government in 1855, it is just 20 miles west from the Hanford nuclear site.

Though the nuclear arms race ended in 1989, radioactive waste is the legacy of the various sites of the former Manhattan Project spread across the U.S.

While the Yakama have successfully protected their sacred fishing grounds from becoming a repository for nuclear waste from other project sites by invoking the treaty of 1855 which promises access to their “usual and accustomed places,” Hanford is far from clean, though the DOE promised to restore the land.

“The DOE is trying to reclassify the waste as ‘low activity.’ They are trying to leave it here and bury it in shallow pits. Scientists are saying that it needs to be buried deep under the ground,” Jim explains.

Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge watchdog group tells IPS “it is a battle for Washington State and the tribes to get the feds to keep their promise to remove the waste. There are 42 miles of trenches that are 15 feet wide and 20 feet deep full of boxes, crates and vials of waste in unlined trenches.”

There are a further 177 underground tanks of radioactive waste and six are leaking. Waste is supposed to be moved within 24 hours from leak detection or whenever is “practicable” but the contractors say there is not enough space.

Three whistleblowers working on the cleanup raised concerns and were fired. Closely followed by a local news station, it is an issue that is largely neglected by mainstream media and the Yakama’s fight seems all but ignored.

“We used to have a media person on staff but the DOE says there is no need as ‘everything is going fine,” says Russell Jim. His department lost 80 percent of its funding in 2012 after cutbacks. His tribe doesn’t fund ERWM, the DOE does. “The DOE crapped it up, so they should pay for it.”

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

But everything is not fine. With radioactive groundwater plumes making their way toward the river, the Yakama and watchdog groups says it is an emergency. Some plumes are just 400 yards from the river where the tribe accesses Hanford Reach monument, according to treaty rights.

Hanford Reach nature reserve, a buffer zone for the site, is the Columbia’s largest spawning grounds for wild fall Chinook salmon

Washington State reports highly toxic radioactive contamination from uranium, strontium 90 and chromium in the ground water has already entered the Columbia River.

“There are about 150 groundwater ‘upwellings’ in the gravel of the Columbia River coming from Hanford that young salmon swim around,” explains Russell Jim.

“Helen Caldicott [founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility] told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die,” he adds.

Callie Ridolfi, environmental consultant to the Yakama, tells IPS their diet of 150 to 519 grammes of fish a day, nearly double regional tribal averages and far greater than the mainstream population, puts them at greater risk, with as much as a one in 50 chance of getting cancer from eating resident fish.

Migratory fish like salmon that live in the ocean most of their lives are less affected, unlike resident fish.

According to a 2002 EPA study on fish contaminants, resident sturgeon and white fish from Hanford Reach had some of the highest levels of PCBs.

Last year, Washington and Oregon states released an advisory for the 150-mile heavily dammed stretch of the Columbia from Bonneville to McNary Dam to limit eating resident fish to once a week due to PCB toxins.

Fisheries manager at Mike Matylewich at Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), says, “Lubricants containing PCBs were used for years, particularly in transformers, at hydroelectric dams because of the ability to withstand high temperatures.

“The ability to withstand high temperatures contributes to their persistence in the environment as a legacy contaminant,” he tells IPS.

While the advisory does not include the Hanford Reach, the longest undammed stretch of the Columbia, Russell Jim doubts it’s safe.

“The DOE tells congress the river corridor is clean. It’s not clean but they are afraid of damages being filed against them.” A cancer survivor, Jim’s tribe received no compensation for damages from radioactive releases from 1944 to 1971 into the Columbia as high as 6,300,000 curies of Neptunium-239.

Steven G. Gilbert, a toxicologist with Physicians for Social Responsbility, tells IPS there is a lack transparency and data on the Hanford cleanup. “It is a huge problem,” he says, adding that contaminated groundwater at Hanford still interacts with the Columbia River, based on water levels.

Though eight of the nine nuclear reactors next to the river were decommissioned, the 1,175-megawatt Energy Northwest Energy power plant is still functioning

“Many people don’t know there is a live nuclear reactor on the Columbia. It’s the same style as Fukushima,” Gilbert explains.

In the middle of the fight are the tribes, which are sovereign nations. Russell Jim says they are often erroneously described as “stakeholders” when they are separate governments.

“We were the only tribe to take on the nuclear issue and testify at the 1980 Senate subcommittee. In 1982 we immediately filed for affected tribe status. The Umatilla and the Nez Perce tribes later joined.”

Yucca Mountain was earmarked by congress as a nuclear storage repository for Hanford and other sites’ waste but the plan was struck down by the president. Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone in the region filed for affected status.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was slated to take waste from Hanford but after a fire in February, the site is taking no more waste. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has expressed concern about the lack of storage options.

The U.S. has the largest stockpile of spent nuclear fuel globally – five times that of Russia.

“The best material to store waste in is granite and the northeast U.S. has a lot of granite. An ideal site was just 30 miles from the capital, but that is out,” says Russell Jim with a wry smile, considering its proximity to the White House.

He does not plan to give up. “We are the only people here who can’t pick up and move on.”

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Emerging Nations Opt for Arms Spending Over Development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:02:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133658 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has relentlessly advocated drastic cuts in global military spending in favour of sustainable development, will be sorely disappointed by the latest findings in a report released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The decline in arms spending in the West, says SIPRI, has been offset by a rise […]

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The U.N.'s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, says it is governments' responsibility to inform the public about military expenditures - and to justify them. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

The U.N.'s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, says it is governments' responsibility to inform the public about military expenditures - and to justify them. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has relentlessly advocated drastic cuts in global military spending in favour of sustainable development, will be sorely disappointed by the latest findings in a report released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The decline in arms spending in the West, says SIPRI, has been offset by a rise in military expenditures by emerging non-Western and developing nations who are, ironically, the strongest candidates for development aid."Four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined." -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Asked whether there are any future prospects of reversing this trend, Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure Programme, told IPS, “At present, there is little or no prospect of a large-scale transfer of resources from military spending to spending on human and economic development.”

Of the top 15 military spenders in 2013, eight were non-Western nations: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea, Brazil, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The Western countries in the top 15 were the United States, France, UK, Germany, Italy and Australia, plus Japan. Canada, a former high spender, dropped out of the list in 2013.

The increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries continues unabated, said Perlo-Freeman.

“While in some cases it is the natural result of economic growth or a response to genuine security needs, in other cases it represents a squandering of natural resource revenues, the dominance of autocratic regimes, or emerging regional arms races,” he added.

World military expenditure totalled 1.75 trillion dollars in 2013, a fall of 1.9 percent in real terms since 2012, according to SIPRI.

The fall in the global total comes from decreases in Western countries, led by the United States.

But military spending in the rest of the world increased by 1.8 percent.

Bemoaning the rise in arms spending, the secretary-general said last year the world spends more on the military in one month than it does on development all year.

“And four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined,” he noted.

The bottom line: the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded, said Ban. Bloated military budgets, he said, promote proliferation, derail arms control, doom disarmament and detract from social and economic development.

Last week, a U.N. expert came out strongly against rising arms expenditures on the occasion of the Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

The U.N.’s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, called upon all governments “to proactively inform the public about military expenditures and to justify them.

“Every democracy must involve civil society in the process of establishing budgets, and all sectors of society must be consulted to determine what the real priorities of the population are,” he said in a statement released here.

Lobbies, including military contractors and other representatives of the military-industrial complex, must not be allowed to hijack these priorities to the detriment of the population’s real needs, he added.

According to SIPRI, the fall in U.S. spending in 2013, by 7.8 percent, is the result of the end of the war in Iraq, the beginning of the drawdown from Afghanistan, and the effects of automatic budget cuts passed by the U.S. Congress in 2011.

Meanwhile, austerity policies continued to determine trends in Western and Central Europe and in other Western countries.

Perlo-Freeman told IPS the worst conflict in the world today, in Syria, which has killed over 150,000 people, is still less severe than the worst conflicts of even 15 years ago, such as the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which led to the deaths of millions.

There are certainly tensions in many parts of the world, most notably between Russia and Ukraine at the moment, but inter-state armed conflict is still extremely rare, he added.

“I think the increases in military spending in many parts of the world can rather be traced to a continuing belief in the centrality of military power to conceptions of national security and national greatness,” he said.

He said the United States has set a very clear example in this regard, most especially under the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009), but even now the notion that U.S. global military supremacy is a national necessity is effectively unchallenged in the political mainstream.

Other major powers, especially Russia and China, do not view this U.S. dominance in their neighbourhoods with equanimity, or accept their subordinate position in the system.

While neither can challenge the U.S.’s global role, each has been seeking to increase their own military power sufficiently to be able to exert regional influence and not be subject to U.S. dominance, he noted.

This pattern is repeated at lower levels, amongst middle powers such as India.

“Even in much more peaceful regions, Brazil, which has always sought a higher status in the international system, regards having a strong, modern military as an essential part of this,” Perlo-Freeman said.

However, Brazil’s spending has leveled off in recent years, as its economy has not been as strong as in the past and as it has other pressing social priorities that compete with military spending.

There are other important factors as well – one is simply economic growth, which tends to lift military spending along with other areas of spending, said Perlo-Freeman.

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Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Mabvuto Banda interviews Malawian President JOYCE BANDA

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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

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World Cuts Back Military Spending, But Not Asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:00:39 +0000 John Feffer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133643 For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less. Last year, Asia saw a 3.6 percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released […]

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USS Ronald Reagan and other ships from RIMPAC 2010 transit the Pacific. The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. Credit: U.S. Navy photo

USS Ronald Reagan and other ships from RIMPAC 2010 transit the Pacific. The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. Credit: U.S. Navy photo

By John Feffer
WASHINGTON, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less.

Last year, Asia saw a 3.6 percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The region — which includes East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Oceania — posted topping off a 62 percent increase over the last decade.To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001 but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

In 2012, for the first time Asia outpaced Europe in its military spending. That year, the world’s top five importers of armaments all came from Asia: India, China, Pakistan, South Korea, and (incredibly) the city-state of Singapore.

China is responsible for the lion’s share of the increases in East Asia, having increased its spending by 170 percent over the last decade. It has also announced a 12.2 percent increase for 2014.

But China is not the only driver of regional military spending. South Asia – specifically the confrontation between India and Pakistan – is responsible for a large chunk of the military spending in the region. Rival territorial claims over tiny islands  – and the vast resources that lie beneath and around them — in both Northeast and Southeast Asia are pushing the claimants to boost their maritime capabilities.

Even Japan, which has traditionally kept its military spending to under one percent of GDP, is getting into the act. Tokyo has promised of a 2.8 percent increase in 2014-15.

The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. The Barack Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot” is designed to reboot the U.S. security presence in this strategically critical part of the world.

To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001 but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

As U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan were expected to shoulder more of the security burden in the region while the United States pursued national security objects in the Middle East and Central Asia.

China, meanwhile, pursued a “peaceful rise” that also involved an attempt to acquire a military strength comparable to its economic strength. At the same time, China more vigorously advanced its claims in the South China Sea even as other parties to the conflict put forward their counter claims.

The Pacific pivot has been billed as a way to halt the relative decline of U.S. influence in Asia. So far, however, this highly touted “rebalancing” has largely been a shifting around of U.S. forces in the region.

The fulcrum of the pivot is Okinawa, where the United States and Japan have been negotiating for nearly two decades to close an outdated Marine Air Force base in Okinawa and transfer those Marines to existing, expanding, and proposed facilities elsewhere.

Aside from this complex operation, a few Littoral Combat Ships have gone to Singapore. The Pentagon has proposed putting slightly more of its overall fleet in the Pacific (a 60-40 split compared to the current 50-50). And Washington has welcomed closer coordination with partners like the Philippines and Vietnam.

Instead of a significant upgrade to U.S. capabilities in the region, the pivot is largely a signal to Washington’s allies that the partnerships remain strong and a warning to Washington’s adversaries that, even if U.S. military spending is on a slight downward tilt, the Pentagon possesses more than enough firepower to deter their power projection.

This signaling function of the pivot dovetails with another facet of U.S. security policy: arms exports. The growth of the Pentagon over the last 10 years has been accompanied by a growth in U.S. military exports, which more than doubled during the period 2002 to 2012 from 8.3 to 18.8 billion dollars.

The modest reduction in Pentagon spending will not necessarily lead to a corresponding decline in exports. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, as was the case during the last Pentagon slowdown in the 1990s. The Obama administration has pushed through a streamlining of the licensing process in order to facilitate an increase in military exports – in part to compensate U.S. arms manufacturers for a decline in orders from the Pentagon.

Asia and Oceania represent the primary target for U.S. military exports, absorbing nearly half of all shipments. Of that number, East Asia represents approximately one-quarter (South Asia accounts for nearly half).

The biggest-ticket item is the F-35 fighter jet, which Washington has already sold to Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Long-range missile defence systems have been sold to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Overall between 2009 and 2013, Australia and South Korea have been the top U.S. clients. With its projected increase in military spending, Japan will also likely rise much higher on the list.

The more advanced weaponry U.S. allies purchase, the more they are locked into future acquisitions. The United States emphasises “interoperability” among its allies. Not only are purchasers dependent on the United States for spare parts and upgrades, but they must consider the overall system of command and control (which is now C5I — Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat systems and Intelligence).

Although a French fighter jet or a Russian naval vessel might be a cheaper option in a competitive bid, the purchasing country must also consider how the item integrates with the rest of its hardware and software.

The United States has argued that its overwhelming military presence in the region and lack of interest in territorial gain have dampened conflict in Asia. But the security environment has changed dramatically since the United States first presented itself as a guarantor of regional stability.

Japan no longer abides by a strict interpretation of its “peace constitution.” North Korea has developed nuclear weapons. China has dramatically increased its capabilities. South Korea has created its own indigenous military manufacturing sector and greatly expanded its exports. Territorial disputes in the South China, Yellow, and East China Seas have sharpened. The only flashpoint that has become more peaceful in the last few years has been the Taiwan Strait.

The continued increase in military spending by countries in East Asia and the massive influx of arms into the region are both symptoms and drivers of conflict. Until and unless the region restrains its appetite for military upgrades, the risk of clashes and even all-out war will remain high.

In such an increasingly volatile environment, regional security agreements – on North Korea’s nuclear programme, the several territorial disputes, or new technological threats like cyberwarfare – will be even more difficult to achieve.

Most importantly, because of these budget priorities, the region will have fewer resources and less political will to address other pressing threats, such as climate change, which cannot be defeated with fighter jets or the latest generation of battle ship.

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Taliban Screens a New Silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-back-scene http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:57:43 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133628 Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.” The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to […]

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After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 13 2014 (IPS)

Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.”

The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer of the influence of the Taliban, and of just normal living. Music and cinema have been emerging as the language of a challenge to the Taliban, as surely as the Taliban have attacked music.The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer for the influence of the Taliban.

“The past five years have been very difficult for musicians because of Taliban militants. Now we are heaving a sigh of relief as acts of terror have gone down,” singer Gul Pana told IPS earlier this year. But the Taliban have hit back.

On Feb. 11, Taliban militants hurled two grenades at Shama Cinema in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of Pakistan, killing 15 people. The attack came soon after five people were killed at the Picture House cinema hall in another terror attack on Feb. 2.

“Such incidents are very depressing for people who seek a few moments of leisure after a hard day’s work,” Wali said. “We have no internet, TV or other entertainment facilities at home, so we would go to cinema halls for some happiness.”

Opposition to movies, music and dance has always been a part of the Taliban agenda. They killed Wazir Khan Afridi, a veteran singer who recorded 50 albums, on Feb. 26. Afridi had been kidnapped three times before, but was freed on those occasions on condition he quit singing.

“The Taliban have set fire to over 500 CD and music shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to frighten people and force them to wind up businesses that are against their brand of Islam,” Ghulam Nabi, who seeks to promote culture in the region, told IPS.

The Taliban have many bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have been targeting music shops and musicians, and believe that music is un-Islamic.

In January 2009, militants had slit the throat of dancer Shabana Begum in Swat, one of the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and hung her body from an electricity pole. The incident forced other artistes to stay at home or leave the city. Thousands of dancers and musicians fled Swat from 2007 to 2009 when the area was under Taliban rule.

Peshawar used to have 21 cinema houses, each with a capacity of around 200, before the advent of militancy. The city is now left with just 11 movie theatres. Cinema halls are also being closed down in neighbouring Mardan district.

Jehangir Jani, 54, a well-known Pashto film actor, is perturbed. “It is highly condemnable that the Taliban are depriving people of entertainment. I am sure the insurgents will not be able to shut down cinema houses for very long as people cannot live without movies,” he told IPS.

Jani, who is a household name in Pashtun areas, has had to go to Afghanistan many times to film. “In Afghanistan, films are being produced for CDs. Pashtuns have traditionally been film buffs.”

Films in the Pashto language, widely spoken in Afghanistan, are popular in some Pakistani areas as well. “They are watched by people from FATA as well as Afghanistan,” said cine-goer Zahirzada Khan.

Cinema houses are a cheap source of entertainment, he said. “The closure of cinema halls after back-to-back bombings is very upsetting.”

Kashif Shah, manager of a Peshawar cinema hall, said hall owners received letters earlier this year asking them to stop the “shameful trade” of screening movies. “The Taliban warned that they would make an example of us,” Shah said. His hall is now shut.

Shah said the Taliban’s campaign would end up isolating them. “Even their well-wishers have turned against them.”

But the terror threat persists. Police say they don’t have enough personnel to guard cinema halls, and have directed cinema theatres to make their own security arrangements.

“We have told movie hall owners to install cameras and metal detectors at the gates,” senior superintendent of police Najibullah Khan told IPS. “We don’t have enough personnel, but we are ready to train private security guards to prevent such incidents.”

The police have arrested 15-year-old Hasan Khan, who was paid 80 dollars by the Taliban to hurl grenades at the Shama Cinema.

For the time being, Peshawar is going without films.

Jehanzeb Ali, a 35-year-old mechanic from Mardan, told IPS that he used to watch a film every Sunday. “We used to visit Peshawar, watch films and eat out. Now I haven’t seen a movie for a month.”

The cultural challenge to the Taliban had made tentative but isolated advances in recent years. “In the last few years, I have sung more than a dozen songs against the Taliban,” award-wining singer Khyal Muhammad told IPS in 2011. “I got threatening messages on the mobile phone,” he said. “But I will continue to sing because it gives me strength.”

For some time after 2010 it did appear that music and cinema were on a winning track – despite repeated attacks on musicians and music stores. Cinema houses that were closed down began to reopen.

But all along, those in the business have struggled to keep music playing and the show going. “The endless series of bomb attacks on CD and music shops has become the order of the day, but we are undeterred,” Sher Dil Khan, president of the CD and Music Shops Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan, told IPS in 2011. “We will continue to produce new dramas and songs.”

The big encouragement came with the elections in 2013 when cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party won the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the resumption of open sales of music, and the occasional theatre performance, music returned in full swing – in many if not all areas. Now, silence has advanced again.

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Iraqi Sunnis Seek a Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-sunnis-seek-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 09:33:34 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133624 Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30. Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil […]

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Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan , Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30.

Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq April 8 to set up a new party, Karama (Dignity).Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a project “in the long-term”.

The Sunni Arabs came from several western towns of Iraq, where fighting and unrest have not yet ended, 11 years after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled.

No bloc is expected to get a majority but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the favourite to lead. Shia Arabs are split between the prime minister’s State of Law party, the Sadrist Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Karama candidate Afifa Agus al-Jumaili says a third consecutive term for Maliki would be “disastrous” for all Iraqis.

“The Sunni provinces of Iraq have turned into a combat zone between tribal militias, Al-Qaeda and Maliki’s Shias,” Jumaili tells IPS. She sees Karama as the “only chance for Sunni Iraqis of all walks of life to get back their rights and dignity.”

Karama is among 276 political entities approved by the Independent High Electoral Commission to contest the election. It’s among several parties looking to win over supporters of the now fragmented secular and Sunni Iraqiya coalition. That coalition won the last elections but was ousted by a Shia coalition, that brought Maliki to power.

The Sunni population is variously estimated to be 20 to 40 percent of Iraq’s population of 32 million. Sunnis have been complaining of increasing marginalisation by the predominantly Shia political leaders.

“The sad irony of all this is that we are forced to gather in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq because an event like this is simply not feasible in Arab Iraq,” says Jumaili.

Despite their initial opposition to a federal model for the country, Iraqi Sunnis have increasingly been demanding an autonomous region similar to that for the Kurds.

Jumaili is originally from Hawija town 230 km north of Baghdad. Apr. 23 will mark a year since Iraqi special forces killed 51 protesters in this town. At least 215 more were killed in violence that followed.

In its World Report 2014, Human Rights Watch says security forces “responded to peaceful protests with threats, violence, and arrests, using lethal force on demonstrators who had been gathering largely peacefully for five months.” It spoke of “arbitrary and often massive arrests.”

Following the killings, anti-government protests picked up new momentum, particularly in mid-December after several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, the highest-ranking Sunni Arab in the cabinet, were arrested on suspicion of engaging in terrorism.

Sunnis are functionally excluded from government. The few who participate are coopted by Maliki.

The protests for rights and over the deaths has dragged the west of the country into unprecedented chaos since the peak of sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008.

Among the most prominent protesters is Ghanim Alabed, a resident of Mosul town about 400 km northwest of Baghdad.

“Mosul has become a real nightmare over the last year,” Alabed, who has joined Karama, tells IPS. “Car bombs, kidnappings, killing of tribal leaders or simply ordinary civilians are sadly common currency among us, yet again.”

Alabed says most attacks are carried out by “either the army or Shia militias.” He says local journalists are increasingly being targeted. At least 50 journalists have been killed in Mosul alone since 2003.

The U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Iraq the “worst nation” in its 2013 Impunity Index of unsolved journalist murders.

“I cannot set foot in Mosul, Baghdad or any other Arab part of Iraq because I know they will kill me straightaway,” says Alabed, who moved to Erbil with his family a few months ago.

His face is familiar to almost every Iraqi, and not just for his public appearances at many demonstrations. Cartoons portraying him as a terrorist leader have been shown on a government-funded TV channel.

“Americans had labelled all Sunni insurgents ‘Al-Qaeda’ and, today, Maliki still sticks to that line,” says Alabed. “But the truth is that most of us hate Al-Qaeda because we know that they are backed by Iran. Their sole aim is to destroy our society and prevent us from sharing power.”

The proof, he says, is that Islamic extremists hardly ever target Shias in his hometown.

The death toll is increasing by the day. Mera Faris Hassan, a tribal leader from Samarra, 130 km northwest of Baghdad, is mourning the death last week of Sheikh Juma al-Samarrai in his hometown.

Hassan tells IPS a curfew is in force in Samarra. He condemns constant attacks from both the government and unidentified groups.

“Through Karama we will struggle to get rid of policies meant only to justify repression against our people,” says Hassan. “We deserve to get back our legitimate rights as Iraqis.”

The emergency situation extends to virtually every Sunni area in Iraq. But Fallujah, 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, could well be facing the worst of the unrest.

Karama candidate Mohamed Jassim speaks of a mass exodus of civilians from Fallujah to Baghdad and Erbil. The situation in Fallujah, he says, is a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Every main road is blocked and the only way in and out is through secondary roads, and often on foot. The outskirts of the city are under the control of armed gangs but it’s difficult to know whether they are Al-Qaeda fighters or tribal militias because most are masked and carry no emblems.

“The biggest threat, though, comes from the constant bombings by the Iraqi air force,” the 44-year-old candidate tells IPS.

Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a “long-term” project. At this nascent stage and under the difficult circumstances it is hard to gauge whether Karama can emerge as a Sunni political force to contend with.

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Government, Opposition in Televised Group Therapy in Venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:22:26 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133623 Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests. The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested […]

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By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests.

The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested – with 100 still behind bars – and 70 reports of torture.

Foreign ministers Luiz Figueiredo of Brazil, María Ángela Holguín of Colombia, and Ricardo Patiño of Ecuador, and the Vatican apostolic nuncio to Venezuela Aldo Giordano, brokered the six-hour talks hosted by President Nicolás Maduro Thursday night.

The president issued a call “to acknowledge each other and reject the pressure from those who want to impose extreme ways, of violence.” He also called on his adversaries “not for a pact or negotiations, but for a willingness for peace. We want a model of coexistence, of tolerance.”

The leaders of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD – Roundtable of Democratic Unity), a multicolour coalition of opposition parties ranking from the right wing to former leftist guerrillas, met with Maduro and his closest associates in the Miraflores presidential palace.

The main political instigators of the protests, including the jailed Leopoldo López, boycotted the talks.

The university students who started the protests in the capital and dozens of cities around the country did not take part in the meeting. Their main leader, Juan Requesens of the Central University in Caracas, warned that “we will continue our peaceful protests, because there are many reasons to protest.”

“The uncertainty and scepticism surrounding this first meeting will continue while people wait for the government, above all, to send out concrete signals of change in its measures and policies,” Carlos Romero, a graduate studies professor of political science, told IPS.

The protests broke out on Feb. 4 in the southwest city of San Cristóbal and spread to Caracas on Feb. 12, driven by university students who complained about crime on their campus.

The demonstrations grew as the hardline opposition began to demand an end to Maduro’s government, and marches and roadblocks often turned into violent clashes with the military and police and government supporters.

The protests, in which mainly middle-class demonstrators are backing the students, are happening against a backdrop of economic difficulties such as a nearly 60 percent annual inflation rate, scarcity of some food and other basic items, and long, exhausting queues of people waiting to buy products sold under a rationing system.

The high crime rates – more than 24,000 homicides were committed in 2013 – and the poor functioning of services like electricity, water and public hospitals, especially outside of Caracas, are also fuelling the protests.

On Thursday Apr. 10, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a preliminary report that Venezuela has the second-highest murder rate in the world, with 53.7 homicides per 100,000 population.

Maduro, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and leaders of the armed forces say they managed to block a plan backed by Washington to subvert the constitutional order and overthrow the government, with the help of the protests.

The president won the Apr. 14, 2013 elections after Hugo Chávez, who governed the country since 1999, died of cancer on Mar. 5.

Like a snowball effect, the initial reasons for the protests gave way to others, such as the demand that the deaths of people killed – mainly shot – at the roadblocks be investigated, that those responsible for human rights violations be held to account, and that the detainees be released.

The people still in jail include López and two opposition mayors, from San Cristóbal and from a city in the central state of Carabobo, who the Supreme Court removed from office in what was described by some as a summary trial. They were sentenced to a year in prison for ignoring orders to remove the roadblocks set up by protesters in their municipalities.

The release and restitution of the mayors was another demand set forth by the opposition in the meeting that ended in the early hours of Friday morning.

The opposition is also demanding that armed irregular civilian groups de disarmed.

In the talks, the government and MUD leaders outlined their conflicting visions of the country, the economy and democracy, with each side sounding a litany of complaints about the conduct of the other over the past 15 years.

“The prospects for reaching an agreement on the underlying questions are still remote, because of the conflicting visions, at the end of a first meeting which seemed more like group therapy than a dialogue or negotiations,” political science professor José Vicente Carrasquero commented to IPS.

The foreign minister of Ecuador, Patiño, said that “despite the difficulties, the meeting was positive; a catharsis was necessary; they needed to meet face to face.”

MUD coordinator Ramón Aveledo, a Christian Democratic politician, proposed dates for further talks, starting with a meeting between the government and the students.

MUD called again for respect for the 1999 constitution, the separation of powers, measures against crime, and an amnesty law.

The opposition’s proposed amnesty would involve the release of those in prison for the current protests and others serving lengthy terms for involvement in the violent demonstrations that led to a short-lived coup that toppled Chávez for 48 hours. Thursday was the 12th anniversary of the coup.

Maduro designated a government commission to evaluate the issues and the next meetings. One of the members, Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, said “the president has the mandate of the people and can’t just do what MUD wants.”

The governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, the leader of the moderate opposition who was Maduro’s rival in last year’s elections, also took part in the debate. “Things have to change, or this will burst,” he said at the end of his address in the meeting.

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The Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme That Wasn’t http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:07:26 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133622 When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme. The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai […]

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By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme.

The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”The text of the indictment ...was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the pubic record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons programme since 2003.

Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim.

The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”

The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.

But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.

The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.

Further revealing its political nature of indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear programme: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.

Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed Dec. 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.

And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”

The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.

But the order required allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.

The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.

The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge programme posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when than was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons”.

The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.

That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear programme began with the Bill Clinton administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment programme.

Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear programme is weak at best.

The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.

The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one”. In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”

The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”

That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”

On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.

Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.

The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.

It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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“Sanitation for All” a Rapidly Receding Goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:10:32 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133616 World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate. The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could […]

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An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate.

The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be the world’s largest ever to take place on the issue."Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine." -- Darren Saywell

Water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, constitute a key development metric, yet sanitation in particular has seen some of the poorest improvements in recent years.

Participants at Friday’s summit included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake as well as dozens of government ministers and civil society leaders.

“Today 2.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene,” the World Bank’s Kim said Friday. “This results in 400 million missed school days, and girls and women are more likely to drop out because they lack toilets in schools or are at risk of assault.”

Kim said that this worldwide lack of access results in some 260 billion dollars in annual economic losses – costs that are significant on a country-to-country basis.

In Niger, Kim said, these losses account for around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. In India the figure is even higher – around 6.4 percent of GDP.

Friday’s summit was convened by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s mandate is to protect the rights of children and make sure they achieve their full potential. WASH is critical to what we hope for children to achieve, as well as to their health,” Sanjay Wijesekera, associate director of programmes for UNICEF, told IPS.

“Every day, 1400 children die from diarrhoea due to poor WASH. In addition, 165 million children suffer from stunted growth, and WASH is a contributory factor because clean water is needed to absorb nutrients properly.”

Over 40 countries came to the meeting to share their commitments to improving WASH.

“Many countries have already shown that progress can be made,” Wijesekera said. “Ethiopia, for example, halved those without access to water from 92 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2012, and equitably across the country.”

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Good investment

Indeed, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water halved the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. Yet the goal to improve access to quality sanitation facilities was one of the worst performing MDGs.

In order to get sanitation on track, a global partnership was created called Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), made up of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners.

“Sanitation as a subject is a complicated process … You have different providers and actors involved at the delivery of the service,” Darren Saywell, the SWA vice-chair, told IPS.

“NGOs are good with convening communities and community action plans. The private sector is needed to respond and provide supply of goods when demand is created. Government needs to help regulate and move the different leaders in the creation of markets.”

In addition, sanitation and hygiene are not topics that can gain easy political traction.

“It is not seen as something to garner much political support,” Saywell says. “Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine.”

Saywell says that an important part of SWA’s work is to demonstrate that investing in WASH is a good economic return.

“Every dollar invested in sanitation brings a return of roughly five dollars,” he says. “That’s sexy!”

Sustainable investments

Friday’s summit covered three main issues: discussing the WASH agenda for post-2015 (when the current MDGs expire), tackling inequality in WASH, and determining how these actions will be sustainable.

“We would like the sector to the set the course for achieving universal access by 2030,” Henry Northover, the global head of policy at WaterAid, a key NGO participant, told IPS.

Although the meeting did not set the post-2015 global development goals for WASH, it was meant to call public attention to the importance of these related goals and ways of achieving them.

“Donors and developing country governments need to stop seeing sanitation as an outcome of development, but rather as an indispensable driver of poverty reduction,” Northover said.

WaterAid recently published a report on inequality in WASH access, Bridging the Divide. The study looks at the imbalances in aid targeting and notes that, for instance, Jordan receives 850 dollars per person per year for WASH while Madagascar, which has considerably worse conditions, receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year.

The report says this imbalance in aid targeting is due to “geographical or strategic interests, historical links with former colonies, and domestic policy reasons”. Northover added to this list, noting that “donors are reluctant to invest in fragile states.”

“In India, despite spectacular levels of growth over the past 10 years, we have seen barely any progress in the poorest areas in terms of gaining access to sanitation,” he continued. “Regarding inequality, we are talking both in terms of wealth and gender: the task falls to women and girls to fetch water, they cannot publicly defecate, and have security risks.”

Others see funding allocation as only an initial step.

“Shift the money to the poorer countries, and then, so what?” John Sauer, of the non-profit Water for People, asked IPS. “The challenge is then the capacity to spend that money and absorb it into district governments, the ones with the legal purview to make sure the water and sanitation issues get addressed.”

Friday’s meeting also shared plans on how to use existing resources better, once investments are made.

“If there is one water pump, it will break down pretty quickly,” WaterAid’s Northover said. “This often requires some level of institutional capability for financial management.”

Countries also described their commitments to make sanitation sustainable. The Dutch government, for instance, introduced a clause in some of its WASH agreements that any related foreign assistance must function for at least a decade. East Asian countries like Vietnam and Mongolia are creating investment packages that also help to rehabilitate and maintain existing WASH systems.

“This is probably one of the biggest meetings on WASH possibly ever, and what we mustn’t forget is that the 40 or 50 countries coming are making a commitment to do very tangible things that are measurable, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS. “That bodes well for achieving longer-term goals of achieving universal access and equality.”

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Brazil’s FIFA World Cup Preparations Claim Lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazils-fifa-world-cup-preparations-claim-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-fifa-world-cup-preparations-claim-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazils-fifa-world-cup-preparations-claim-lives/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 18:43:30 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133611 The pressure to complete 12 football stadiums in Brazil in time for the FIFA World Cup in June has meant long, exhausting workdays of up to 18 hours, which has increased the risk of accidents and deaths. Nine workers have already died on the work sites – seven in accidents and two from heart attacks. […]

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The Andrade Gutierrez construction company is responsible for the works at the Arena da Amazônia stadium in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus, where four workers have died. Credit: Glauber Queiroz – Portal da Copa, Gobierno de Brasil

The Andrade Gutierrez construction company is responsible for the works at the Arena da Amazônia stadium in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus, where four workers have died. Credit: Glauber Queiroz – Portal da Copa, Gobierno de Brasil

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 11 2014 (IPS)

The pressure to complete 12 football stadiums in Brazil in time for the FIFA World Cup in June has meant long, exhausting workdays of up to 18 hours, which has increased the risk of accidents and deaths.

Nine workers have already died on the work sites – seven in accidents and two from heart attacks.

The last fatal accident happened on Mar. 29 at the Arena Corinthians in the southern city of São Paulo, when 23-year-old Fábio Hamilton da Cruz fell to his death from scaffolding, eight metres up.

More deaths

Poor working conditions have also claimed lives in sports installations that are not on the official FIFA list.

On Apr. 15, 2013, a portion of the stands in the Arena Palestra stadium of the Palmeiras club in the city of São Paulo collapsed, killing Carlos de Jesus, a 34-year-old worker, and injuring another.

And Araci da Silva Bernardes, 40, was killed by an electric shock while installing a lighting panel in the Arena do Grêmio stadium in the southern city of Porto Alegre on Jan. 23, 2013.

His death led to a partial suspension of the works by the justice authorities, who required proof from the company that it had corrected the safety violations.

But on Monday Apr. 7, the Labour Ministry authorised a resumption of the work, because the stadium has to be ready for the World Cup opening match on Jun. 12.

On Feb. 7, Portuguese worker Antônio José Pita Martins, 55, died after being struck on the head while dismantling a crane in the Arena da Amazônia stadium in the northern city of Manaus.

Marcleudo de Melo Ferreira, 22, was killed at the same construction site at 4 AM on Dec. 14 after falling from a height of 35 metres when a rope broke.

That same day, 49-year-old José Antônio da Silva Nascimento died of a heart attack while working on the site’s convention centre. The family complained about the harsh working conditions and the long workdays “from Sunday to Sunday”.

Another worker, Raimundo Nonato Lima da Costa, 49, had died from severe head injuries after falling from a height of five metres at the Arena da Amazônia construction site on Mar. 28, 2013.

In São Paulo, two workers – 42-year-old Fábio Luiz Pereira and 44-year-old Ronaldo Oliveira dos Santos – were killed when a crane collapsed Nov. 27, 2013 at the Corinthians club stadium, better known as “Itaquerão”.

And Abel de Oliveira, 55, died of heart failure on Jul. 19, 2012 while working at the Minas Arena, popularly known as “Mineirão”, in the south-central Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.

The first fatal accident in the preparations for the FIFA World Cup happened on Jun. 11, 2012, when 21-year-old José Afonso de Oliveira Rodrigues fell from a height of 30 metres at the Brasilia National Stadium.

FIFA-World-Cup-2014-Death-Toll

Click on the image to enlarge.

“The government puts pressure on the companies, and they take it out on the workers, who are paying with their lives,” Antônio de Souza Ramalho, president of the Sintracon-SP civil construction workers union of São Paulo and a state legislator for the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, told IPS.

“It was irresponsible to delay the works and then, with the deadline looming, kill workers with exhausting workdays of up to 18 hours,” he said.

“The sins of the World Cup are going to have repercussions for years. We can’t accept accidents, they are criminal,” he said.More than 60 workers died in the construction works for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, according to the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI). By contrast, no one was killed in the preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

According to the trade unionist, workers had already warned of the danger of a collapse of the crane that killed two labourers in São Paulo.

At the Corinthians stadium construction site, a quarry was hastily filled to hold a crane, instead of building a solid cement base, Ramalho said.

“The workers themselves and the safety engineers warned that it was unsafe. We know it was done hastily, because making a cement base takes 60 days, and would have cost more money. They preferred to improvise,” he said.

The results of the investigation into the deaths have not yet been made public.

In December, the Labour Ministry and Odebrecht, the contractor, signed an agreement stipulating that crane workers cannot do overtime or work at night.

And under the agreement, the workday for the rest of the workers must be seven and a half hours, with a one hour lunch break, and they can only work two hours overtime per day.

But according to Ramalho, the agreement is not being respected. “I filed a complaint for the police to investigate. But we have very little legal protection,” he said.

One of the biggest irregularities at the São Paulo work sites are contracts where the worker is paid for a specific job within a designated timeframe. “By paying for a completed task, labour laws that include the cost of social benefits are evaded. Everyone knows this, but there’s no way to prove it,” Ramalho complained.

The president of the Sinduscon-AM civil construction workers union in the northern state of Amazonas, Eduardo Lopes, told IPS that “risk is inherent in construction, but the race to complete projects quickly generates greater danger, without a doubt.”

However, “in the two fatal accidents [on the Arena da Amazônia] work site, the men were using safety equipment,” he said. “The problem was carelessness by the workers who failed to respect safety norms and went into restricted areas.”

What is clear is that when deadlines approach and time starts running out, prevention is pushed to the backburner, admitted mechanical engineer and workplace safety expert Jaques Sherique with the Rio de Janeiro engineering council.

In the remodelling of the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, completed in April 2013, no one was killed, but several were injured, mainly due to inadequate disposal of materials, cuts from mishandling materials, and lengthy working days, including working nights.

“The work ends and the worker gets sick afterwards. When the stadium is shining and ready, the workers end up overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out,” Sherique said.

Civil construction is the industry that generates the most jobs in Brazil: 3.12 million new jobs in 2013. But it is also the area where the number of work-related accidents is growing the most: from 55,000 in 2010 to 62,000 in 2012 – a 12 percent increase, according to the Labour Ministry.

In São Paulo, the number of workplace accidents in the construction industry rose fivefold in the last two years: from 1,386 in 2012 to 7,133 in 2013, according to statistics compiled by Sintracon-SP.

More than 60 workers died in the construction works for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, according to the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI).

By contrast, no one was killed in the preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“Workers are often glad when they have accidents because they are sent home to rest. And those who refuse to rest will develop injuries and ailments later on,” said Sherique.

He said it is strange but the labour-related ailments that are gaining ground in the construction industry are mental and psychological problems.

“It is a perverse and under-registered problem,” the invisible base of the “iceberg” of workplace safety, he said.

But this does not worry industry, especially in the construction of sports infrastructure, which involves an intense pace of work, heavy pressure and tight deadlines.

Under Brazilian law, workers exposed to unsafe, hazardous or unsanitary conditions must receive extra compensation amounting to six percent of their wages.

“This isn’t reasonable or right, but most of the time these health problems aren’t even reported,” said Sherique.

In 2011, the Superior Labour Court launched a national programme for the prevention of workplace accidents. But “it hasn’t provided concrete results,” the expert said.

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Tajikistan’s Government Distances Itself from Labour Migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 13:13:58 +0000 an EurasiaNet correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133608 Labour migrants make up Tajikistan’s economic lifeline, but that’s a fact the Central Asian country’s leadership doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge. Migrants contribute the equivalent of 48 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP, according to the World Bank, making the impoverished country the most remittance-dependent in the world. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce […]

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Central Asian migrants, including many from Tajikistan, gather in Moscow to pray during the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Fitr, in early August 2013. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Central Asian migrants, including many from Tajikistan, gather in Moscow to pray during the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Fitr, in early August 2013. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By an EurasiaNet correspondent
DUSHANBE, Apr 11 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Labour migrants make up Tajikistan’s economic lifeline, but that’s a fact the Central Asian country’s leadership doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge.

Migrants contribute the equivalent of 48 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP, according to the World Bank, making the impoverished country the most remittance-dependent in the world. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia.“Why don’t we replace the billboards featuring photos of the president with pictures of the people who feed us every day?” -- Olga Tutubalina

The migrant-labour role in the economy is having trouble fitting in with the image of Tajikistan that President Imomali Rakhmon’s administration wants to project to the outside world. Rakhmon has spent huge sums on mega-projects in the capital Dushanbe partly in an effort to distance the country from its reputation as Central Asia’s poorest state.

The government also doesn’t look kindly upon those who would like to honor labour migrants. The most recent such initiative began in February, when Tajik blogger and journalist Isfandiyor Zarafshoni started a petition calling for the construction of a monument to migrant workers.

“Every city in Tajikistan has a monument to Ismoil Somoni, founder of the Tajik state. Many cities and regional centers still have monuments of Vladimir Lenin. Some cities and regions have monuments of [medieval poets] Rudaki and Ferdowsi. But why don’t we have the most necessary and most important monument, to the Labour Migrant?” Zarafshoni told EurasiaNet.org.

“They leave behind their families and children, parents and dreams. With their hard work, they build the Tajikistan in which we live today. They are often treated badly, insulted and humiliated, go unpaid, are beaten and even killed,” Zarafshoni continued.

In 2013, 942 Tajik guest workers returned to Tajikistan from Russia in coffins.

The government has not formally commented on the latest initiative, but officials tell EurasiaNet.org the idea is a non-starter. “I don’t see a need for a monument,” said Suhrob Sharipov, an MP for Rakhmon’s People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan.

This isn’t the first time recently that the Tajik government has appeared uneasy acknowledging the country’s economic reliance on migrants. Last July, the National Bank stopped publishing remittance data, arguing it could be “politicized.” The change has done little to hide the information, as data is still available from transfer points in Russia.

Critics say the government is trying to bury its head in the sand. On April 1, the Asian Development Bank said Tajikistan’s robust 7.4 percent growth in 2013 was “supported mainly by remittances,” and warned the economy is slowing as the government does too little to attract private investment.

The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly said Tajikistan’s dependence on migrant transfers leaves it vulnerable to external shocks and has encouraged the government to focus on local job creation.

In 2011, Olga Tutubalina, editor of Dushanbe’s Asia Plus newspaper, also proposed a monument to migrants. Back then she wrote an open letter to the government, noting that Tajikistan’s population survives because of the labour migrants working in Russia and Kazakhstan.

“Why don’t we replace the billboards featuring photos of the president with pictures of the people who feed us every day?” Tutubalina told EurasiaNet.org.

A spokesman for Rakhmon’s party says monuments are installed for heroes. Migrants, he argues, go abroad to enhance their personal lives. Therefore, they’re not heroes.

“There are 200 million migrants worldwide, but none of their countries have installed a monument to them,” People’s Democratic Party spokesman Usmon Solih told EurasiaNet.org.

His claim is not exactly accurate: Mexico, for example, boasts monuments to its citizens who have gone to the United States to better their lives and the lives of their families back home. Meanwhile, Istanbul has a monument to the unnamed and overlooked porter, outside the famous Grand Bazaar.

Building a monument would “acknowledge that labour migrants play an important role in the internal politics of Tajikistan,” said Shokirdjon Hakimov, deputy chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

Authorities will not permit a monument because their own “ineffective economic policy” has forced migrants to leave the country, which is embarrassing. The National Bank’s decision to stop publishing remittance data was “a political decision,” added Hakimov.

Sharipov, the MP close to Rakhmon, insists the government is not embarrassed. He dismissed the idea the country is financially dependent on migrants and rejected accusations the National Bank’s decision to withhold data was political.

But outside of those in government, few in Dushanbe’s chattering classes seem to buy official explanations. Any acknowledgement of labour migrants’ significance, said political scientist Saimiddin Dustov, “would mean admitting the impotence and the irrelevance of the government’s economic programmes.”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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