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JFP 5/9: Palestinians demand UN action on prisoners; POW dad demands prisoner swap
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 9 May 2012 - 7:08pm
Just Foreign Policy News, May 9, 2012
Palestinians demand UN action on prisoners; POW dad demands prisoner swap
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Action: More than 1600 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike. Where is the State Department?
Ten have been hospitalized; at least two have been characterized as "near death." The prisoners are protesting "administrative detention" - detention without charge - solitary confinement, and denial of family visits. Urge the State Department to speak up to save the lives of the hunger strikers and to protest the detention of Palestinians without charge or trial.
Against War and Austerity, Hollande Is Right and Obama Should Agree
Newly elected French President François Hollande is coming to the White House next week to meet with President Obama ahead of the G8 and NATO summits. Press reports suggest that Obama will try to talk Hollande out of keeping his campaign promise to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan. Instead, Obama should agree with Hollande on a plan to expedite the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, as the majority of Americans - including the majority of Republicans - want.
Urge John Brennan to Tell the Whole Truth about drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan
John Brennan didn't tell the whole truth about the drone strikes. He didn't admit that the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen against people who are not known to be on any list of "suspected terrorists," without knowing who would be killed.
Urge John Brennan to tell the whole truth about drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan by signing our petition.
Tom Hayden: Don't Return to a Grim Chapter of Our History
In a forum at the New York Times, JFP board member Tom Hayden argues against sending U.S. troops to Honduras in the name of the drug war.
Michigan Peace Teams seeking volunteers
MPT is currently seeking team members for their Summer 2012 Team. Team members must have a strong interest in nonviolent direct action and the conflict in Palestine and Israel, be willing to learn, as well as be aware or become aware of the challenges and risks of working in a war zone.
1) Support for the war in Afghanistan has reached a new low, with only 27 percent of Americans saying they back the effort, AP reports. 66 percent opposed the war, with 40 percent saying they were "strongly" opposed. People who identified themselves as Republicans backed the war at 37 percent, down from 58 percent a year ago. Among Democrats, support dropped from 30 percent last year to 19 percent.
2) Dozens of Palestinians blocked UN offices in the West Bank on Wednesday to demand action over hunger striking prisoners, prompting UN chief Ban Ki-Moon to call on Israel to stop the detainees' condition worsening, AFP reports. The demonstrators, who stopped UN employees from entering the building in Ramallah, waved banners reading: "UNjust" and "UNfair."
3) HASC Ranking Member Adam Smith planned to offer an amendment to remove sections of the NDAA that aim to prevent the U.S. from accelerating the transition of security and governance to the Afghan people, according to the HASC Democrats' website. Smith planned to offer substitute language calling for U.S. forces to be drawn down.
4) In an op-ed published in the New York Times, John Vinocur suggests that France's new president Hollande is likely to be closer to the U.S. position of compromise in negotiations with Iran, rather than to the previous French position of "reject[ing] any possible deviation from the Security Council's demands of suspension of all Iranian uranium enrichment" and that "there could be no concessions in bargaining with Tehran." [Clearly, Vinocur is horrified by this possible development, but anyone who wants to see real diplomacy should welcome it - JFP.]
5) The parents of the only American soldier held as a prisoner of war in the Afghan war are pressing for progress in negotiations to swap their son for Taliban prisoners at Gitmo, the New York Times reports. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's father, Robert Bergdahl, said he was speaking out in frustration over the lack of progress in the negotiations, which he believes are moribund because the Obama administration is under pressure from Republicans in Congress in an election year not to negotiate with terrorists. Administration officials have themselves been frustrated by the reaction by some lawmakers in Congress over the negotiations with the Taliban, the NYT says. Now that Berghdal's parents have broken their silence, it could free up the administration to discuss the case publicly, allowing officials to reframe the debate in Washington about releasing the prisoners.
6) The parents of POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is believed to be in Pakistan, are worried he could be harmed by ongoing U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, the Washington Post reports. "Bowe's been under the drone program the entire time," Bob Bergdahl said. "It scares ... us."
7) Among the thousands of protesters who will march and rally in Chicago during the NATO Summit will be dozens of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who say NATO's military policies are a failure, NBC Chicago reports. They said they intend to return their medals in protest when their Sunday march reaches McCormick Place.
8) The Red Cross and EU expressed concern about several Palestinian prisoners in the advanced stages of a hunger strike, urging Israel to provide them with medical treatment and family visits, AFP reports. The head of a Red Cross delegation in Israel issued an "urgent request" that Israel reverse a ban on family visits for prisoners on hunger strike. The EU reiterated its opposition to Israel's use of administrative detention. "Detainees have the right to be informed of the reasons for their detention and be subject to a fair trial without undue delay," the EU said.
9) Britain is seeking to persuade fellow EU members to postpone by up to six months a ban on providing insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil, arguing that it could lead to a damaging spike in oil prices, Reuters reports. Sources said Britain's proposal had yet to win support from other EU members, including France, which has been pushing for the toughest stance on Iran. But in Asia, some shippers welcomed the proposal. "One keeps hearing about positive developments on this issue, so we are hopeful that some positive outcome may come out," said S. Hajara, chairman of the Shipping Corp of India.
10) Under IMF-imposed agreements, Jamaica is spending more than twice as much on debt service as on health and education, Inter Press Service reports.
11) A new Venezuelan labor law increases severance payments, increases maternal leave from four to six months and reduces the work week from 44 hours to 40 hours, AP reports. An opposition pollster accused the government of currying favor with workers ahead of the Oct. 7 presidential election.
1) AP-GfK Poll: Support for Afghan war at new low
Anne Gearan, AP, May 9, 2012
Washington - Support for the war in Afghanistan has reached a new low, with only 27 percent of Americans saying they back the effort and about half of those who oppose the war saying the continued presence of American troops in Afghanistan is doing more harm than good, according to an AP-GfK poll.
In results released Wednesday, 66 percent opposed the war, with 40 percent saying they were "strongly" opposed. A year ago, 37 percent favored the war, and in the spring of 2010, support was at 46 percent. Eight percent strongly supported the war in the new poll.
Chris Solomon, an independent from Fuquay-Varina, N.C., is among the respondents who strongly oppose the war. He said the military mission has reached the limits of its ability to help Afghans or make Americans any safer, and he would close down the war immediately if he could. While the rationale for the war is to fight al-Qaida, most of the day-to-day combat is against an entrenched Taliban insurgency that will outlast the foreign fighters, he said. "What are we really doing there? Who are we helping?" he said in an interview.
Yet nearly half, 48 percent, said the continued presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is doing more to help Afghanistan become a stable democracy, while 36 percent said the opposite and 14 percent said they didn't know. Among those opposed to the war, 49 percent say U.S. troops are hurting more than helping. Three-quarters of those who favor the war think they are doing more to help.
Republicans are most apt to see U.S. forces as helping, with 56 percent saying so, followed by 47 percent of Democrats. Among independents, more say troops are hurting Afghanistan's efforts to become a stable democracy (43 percent) than helping (32 percent).
President Barack Obama has promised to keep fighting forces in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, despite the declining popular support. The effort to hand off primary responsibility for fighting the war to Afghan soldiers will be the main focus of a gathering of NATO leaders that Obama will host later this month in Chicago.
That shift away from front-line combat is expected to come next year, largely in response to growing opposition to the war in the United States and among NATO allies fighting alongside about 88,000 U.S. forces. The shift makes some military commanders uneasy, as does any suggestion that the U.S. fighting force be cut rapidly next year. Obama has promised a steady drawdown.
As of Tuesday, at least 1,834 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count.
Obama closed down the Iraq war on the timetable set when he took office and expanded the Afghan fight that had been neglected in favor of Iraq. He is now scaling back in Afghanistan, bringing troops home by the tens of thousands. A small U.S. counterterrorism and training force may remain in the country after 2014.
But in a trend that complicates discussion of the war in this year's presidential campaign, support for the war is plummeting even among Republicans. People who identified themselves as Republicans backed the war at 37 percent, down from 58 percent a year ago.
Among Democrats, support dropped from 30 percent last year to 19 percent now. About a quarter, 27 percent, of independents favor the effort, similar to the level last year.
The war, which will be in its 12th year on Election Day in November, has an inconclusive balance sheet at best.
It has brought greater security to many parts of the impoverished country strategically situated between Iran and Pakistan, and largely flushed the al-Qaida terror network from its former training ground.
But the war has failed to break the Taliban-led insurgency or pressure the insurgents to begin serious peace negotiations with the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The civilian government has not capitalized on the elbow room that more than 100,000 foreign fighting forces provided to build up its own ability to govern the entire country and push the Taliban to the political fringe.
Obama was hosting NATO's top officer at the White House on Wednesday to finalize the agenda for NATO leaders. They are trying to show that NATO nations are committed to keep fighting now but will stick to the plan agreed at the last leaders' summit in 2010 to end the war by 2015. But the summit will be a national security debut for France's new Socialist leader, Francois Hollande, who has vowed to pull French troops out by the end of this year. That's two years earlier than the rest of the alliance has pledged.
2) Palestinians demand UN action on hunger strikers
Abbas Momani, AFP, May 9, 2012
Dozens of Palestinians blocked UN offices in the West Bank on Wednesday to demand action over hunger striking prisoners, prompting UN chief Ban Ki-Moon to call on Israel to stop the detainees' condition worsening.
The demonstrators, who stopped UN employees from entering the building in the West Bank town of Ramallah, waved banners reading: "UNjust" and "UNfair."
More than a third of the 4,700 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel are currently observing an open-ended hunger strike.
Two of them -- Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahla, 33 -- are marking their 71st day without eating in protest at their being held without charge under a procedure known as administrative detention which allows Israel to hold suspects indefinitely for renewable periods of up to six months.
Another five prisoners have been refusing food for between 48 and 66 days.
The vast majority began refusing food on April 17 to demand improved conditions, including increased access to lawyers and family visits, an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention.
Until now, Israel has rejected all appeals lodged by the hunger strikers, has refused them family visits and only briefly transferred one of them to a civilian hospital, sparking mounting protests from human rights groups as well as the UN.
"We note with disappointment your silence ever since this protest movement began in December 2011," protest organisers said in an open letter to Ban, referring to the month when a prisoner called Khader Adnan began a 66-day hunger strike which put the international spotlight on the issue of administrative detention.
Adnan ended his strike in mid-February after Israel agreed not to extend his detention. He was released on April 17.
"This stands in stark contrast to your vocal and persistent remarks in support of formerly incarcerated Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit," the organisers said, referring to a soldier who was held captive by Gaza's Hamas rulers for more than five years and released in October last year.
"We urge you to take a firm and vocal position in opposition to Israel's abuse and violation of Palestinian prisoners' rights," it said, demanding that the UN "encourage member states to stand against these gross human rights' violations."
Ban later issued a statement through his spokesman calling on Israel to take action to prevent the longer-term hunger strikers' condition worsening. "The secretary general continues to follow with concern the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, in particular, those held in what is known as 'administrative detention'," spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ban "reiterates that those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees, or released without delay," Nesirky added. "He stresses the importance of averting any further deterioration in their condition."
3) Ranking Member Smith Calls for Accelerated Transition in Afghanistan
House Armed Services Committee Democrats, May 09 2012
Washington D.C. – Today, as the House Armed Services Committee proceeds with the markup of the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Ranking Member Adam Smith will offer an amendment to remove sections of the bill that aim to prevent the United States from accelerating the transition of security and governance to the Afghan people.
Ranking Member Smith's amendment will strike Section 1216 of the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, provisions that could extend that conflict and U.S. commitments in Afghanistan - commitments which are unwise and counter to our national security.
Ranking Member Smith believes that we should be accelerating our withdraw and, in the form of an amendment, will offer a sense of Congress to replace section 1216 with text that states, "It is the sense of Congress that the President should accelerate the transition of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces and draw down United States military forces in Afghanistan as quickly as possible to the minimum force level necessary to conduct counter terrorism missions against Al Qaeda and train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces."
4) Hollande and Iran
John Vinocur, op-ed, New York Times, May 9, 2012
[reprint from International Herald Tribune - JFP.]
Paris - In the run-up to the French presidential election, the Iranian newspaper Tehran Emrooz wrote that "emphasis must be given to the advantages of a victory by François Hollande."
Widely reported in the French press and blog world, the comment came from a publication described as run by the mayor of Tehran, who is reportedly close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"A victory will lead to a softening of Paris' policies toward Iran," it said. "France under Sarkozy was the strong voice in the European Union against Iran. Hollande's victory will bring nuances to this approach." That's bang-on correct about Sarkozy.
He was the hand holding the prod that pushed Europe toward enacting sanctions on Iranian oil scheduled to take effect July 1. And he took pride in policies repeatedly jabbing at what France maintained were the Obama administration's illusions and foot-dragging concerning Iran's drive for nuclear weapons.
No country had a tougher stance. France believed that the best way to head off an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites was by intensifying sanctions, wary diplomacy, and an unyielding interpretation of the constraints placed by the U.N. Security Council on the mullahs' atomic ambitions.
But what about Hollande? Will there be nuances in his approach - exactly what the Iranian commentary expected to see - that dilute the hard French line on nonproliferation and sanctions?
France had considered the Iranian history of trickery and noncompliance as so profound that it was willing to stand alone in saying there could be no concessions in bargaining with Tehran. In view of talks with the Iranians, it rejected any possible deviation from the Security Council's demands of suspension of all Iranian uranium enrichment, and access "without delay" for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to every site it designates as suspect.
Now, the broad issue comes quickly to hand with a new French government. On May 23, the Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany meet with Iran in Baghdad.
But France agreeing to offer Iran the right to keep uranium enriched to 3.5 or 5 percent - the Obama administration reportedly wants to propose this as bait in seeking a deal with Iran - could be portrayed as a French surrender of its traditional antiproliferation culture.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is apparently Hollande's choice as defense minister, told small groups in Washington more than a month ago that a Socialist presidency would mean no basic change in French Iran policy.
But this week, I spoke to a man who had just talked to Hollande about Iran. My friend's unequivocal impression was that the Socialist president will be closer to Obama's line than Sarkozy's.
Obama's future may hang on the Iran issue through election day in November, but Hollande's does not, and he might easily prefer a recognizant friend in the White House to a Republican.
This was not at all confirmed in a first interview with Hollande on Iran by Jean-Marie Colombani, a former editor of Le Monde, for the political Web site Slate.fr. In it, Hollande said he had no criticism of Sarkozy's "firm position" on Iranian proliferation. Indeed, he said he would "confirm it with the same force and willpower," and that sanctions "must be reinforced for as long as necessary."
He added: "I believe it is still possible to achieve the desired goal through negotiations."
5) Parents of Only G.I. Held by Taliban Say U.S. Weighs a Swap
Elisabeth Bumiller and Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times, May 9, 2012
Hailey, Idaho - The parents of the only American soldier held as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan have broken a yearlong silence about the status of their son, abruptly making public that he is a focus of secret negotiations between the Obama administration and the Taliban over a proposed prisoner swap.
The negotiations, currently stalled, would have traded five Taliban prisoners held at the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of the Army, who is believed to be held by the militant Haqqani network in the tribal area of Pakistan's northwest frontier, on the Afghan border. Sergeant Bergdahl was captured in Paktika Province in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. His family has not heard from him in a year, although the Pentagon believes he is alive and well.
Sergeant Bergdahl's father, Robert Bergdahl, said in interviews near the family's home here on Tuesday and Wednesday that he was speaking out in frustration over the lack of progress in the negotiations, which he believes are moribund because the Obama administration is under pressure from Republicans in Congress in an election year not to negotiate with terrorists.
"We don't have faith in the U.S. government being able to reconcile this," Mr. Bergdahl said.
Although Sergeant Bergdahl's capture and captivity have long been publicly known, the family had kept the prisoner swap negotiations secret at the urging of the administration and out of fear that their son might be harmed. But the talks stalled earlier this year, American officials said, in large part because of Taliban frustration with what the insurgents see as Washington's dragging its feet over the prisoner swap.
Mr. Bergdahl, who had grown increasingly impatient, said he decided to go public after a P.O.W. group asked him to speak in Washington during the coming Memorial Day weekend. "The rhetoric is that 'We don't negotiate with terrorists,' " Mr. Bergdahl said in the interview, describing official administration policy. "And therefore what do we do? Well, you push it hard with everything you have."
The talks have been at the center of the American strategy for Afghanistan, which envisioned the troop surge of the past two years - along with more aggressive targeting of the insurgency's field commanders by Special Operations forces - forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Administration officials have themselves been frustrated by the reaction by some lawmakers in Congress over the negotiations with the Taliban. Publicly, the administration has said only that the negotiations included talks about releasing the five prisoners from Guantánamo - not that the five might be swapped for Mr. Bergdahl. Now that Mr. Berghdal's parents have broken their silence, it could free up the administration to discuss the case publicly, allowing officials to reframe the debate in Washington about releasing the prisoners and the deal's importance as an early confidence-building measure in the Afghan peace process.
That, in turn, could reinvigorate a peace process that one Western official described this week as "moribund."
The New York Times has known since late last year that Mr. Bergdahl was part of the negotiations, but agreed to withhold the information at the request of the administration and his family over concerns for his safety.
The prisoner exchange appears to be of paramount importance to the Taliban. Under the proposal, which has been on the table since last year, the Americans would send five senior Taliban leaders from Guantánamo to some form of house arrest in Qatar. At the same time, the Taliban would free Mr. Bergdahl.
6) Family lobbies for soldier to be included in Taliban prisoner swap
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, Wednesday, May 9, 3:39 PM
The parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured by the Taliban nearly three years ago, have appealed to the Obama administration to swap Taliban prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for his freedom.
The appeal, made in a newspaper interview in their home state of Idaho, has induced the administration to make public its efforts to win Bergdahl's release in U.S.-Taliban negotiations that have been stalled since January.
He is the only U.S. soldier known to be held hostage in the Afghanistan war. U.S. officials believe that Bergdahl is alive and is being held in the tribal area of Pakistan along the Afghanistan border by members of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.
In an interview with their hometown weekly, the Idaho Mountain Express, Bob Bergdahl said the family had become frustrated with "how slowly the process has evolved" and decided to publicly advocate a prisoner swap. "I'm pushing it hard," Bergdahl said. "We started out by trying to encourage the Taliban to take care of our son. . . . Now, we're worried that the government isn't concerned enough to put him on the [negotiating] table."
The Washington Post had withheld information on those efforts at the request of White House officials who said publicizing them could endanger his life.
"We had concerns about the security situation," said one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter. "But this is now a different scenario. If they want to talk about it," the official said of Bob and Jani Bergdahl, "we can't ask for it to be withheld."
The Taliban has threatened to kill him unless a number of demands it has made over the years were met. These include payment of $1 million and the release of various Afghan prisoners and of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist convicted in a U.S. court in 2010 of the attempted murder of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.
In a tentative deal reached by U.S. and Taliban negotiators last November, the administration offered to transfer five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo to house arrest in Qatar. For its part, the Taliban was to make public statements renouncing international terrorism and agree to work with the Afghan government to find a political solution to the war. In what the administration insisted did not constitute a prisoner swap, Bergdahl was to be released.
The deal fell quickly fell apart, however, and U.S.-Taliban meetings have been suspended since January.
While the Bergdahls said they have reason to believe their son is still alive, they are worried he could be harmed by ongoing U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan.
"Bowe's been under the drone program the entire time," Bob Bergdahl said in the newspaper interview. "It scares ... us."
The last Taliban video featuring Sgt. Bergdahl was posted on the Internet in May 2011. Bergdahl, 26, was a private when captured but has since been promoted in his absence.
His father said he hoped to spark a grass-roots movement to "raise awareness that there is an American POW."
7) Iraq, Afghanistan War Veterans to Protest NATO
Phil Rogers, NBC Chicago, 05/09/2012 3:52 PM
Among the thousands of protesters who will march and rally in Chicago later this month during the NATO Summit will be dozens of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who say the multi-national organization's military policies are a failure.
So much so that they said they intend to return their medals in protest when their Sunday march reaches McCormick Place.
"We see that the global war on terrorism is a failed policy and we don't want to be part of that mistake anymore," said Aaron Hughes, who served in Iraq in 2003.
Alejandro Villatoro, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, felt especially compassionate about the people of Afghanistan. He said NATO's actions have resulted in a loss of trust. "You don't win the hearts and minds by doing night raids. It's an insult to their culture," said Villatoro.
Both said they're proud of the men and women with whom they served, but not of missions they were asked to perform.
Hughes said he especially wants to call attention to the medical needs of American servicemen and women who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or are the victims of sexual assault. He said that too many are not having their needs addressed and instead are often being returned to combat.
"That's because of the generals and their failed policies, and not because of the service members. That's why we're going to march on NATO, and that's what this is really about. It's about them acknowledging that they made a mistake," he said.
8) EU asks Israel to let families visit hunger strikers
Shatha Yaish, AFP, Tue, May 8, 2012
The Red Cross and EU on Tuesday expressed concern about several Palestinian prisoners in the advanced stages of a hunger strike, urging Israel to provide them with medical treatment and family visits.
In a statement, the European Union delegations in Jerusalem and Ramallah said they were worried about the failing health of several prisoners, two of whom were on their 70th day without food, passing what medics say is the point of no return in terms of recovery.
"The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah are concerned about the deteriorating health condition of the Palestinians held in administrative detention in Israel who have been on hunger strike for more than two months," it said. "The EU requests the government of Israel to make available all necessary medical assistance and to allow family visits as a matter of urgency," it added.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "extremely concerned" about the fate of a handful of Palestinians on long-term hunger strike, adding they were "in imminent danger of dying."
Five Palestinian prisoners have been refusing food for between seven and 10 weeks in protest at their being held by Israel without charge, under a procedure known as administrative detention.
Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahla, 33, have both gone 10 weeks without food, sparking widespread concern among medical and legal professionals.
Hassan Safdi, 31, has gone 65 days on hunger strike, and Omar Abu Shlal, who is in his late 40s, has been refusing food for 63 days.
The fifth detainee, Jaffar Ezzedine, has gone 48 days without eating.
The head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories Juan Pedro Schaerer called for all long-term hunger strikers to be transferred "without delay to a suitable hospital so that their condition can be continuously monitored."
And he issued an "urgent request" that Israel reverse a ban on family visits for prisoners on hunger strike.
Diab was transferred last week to a nearby civilian hospital called Assaf HaRofeh, but the other four are being held in the infirmary wing of Ramle prison near Tel Aviv, with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel expressing concern they were not receiving adequate medical care.
On Tuesday, PHR-Israel spokeswoman Amani Daeef told AFP that the prison service was refusing to allow Diab's family access to him, saying his condition was "not that severe that he required a family visit."
"There is no such thing as a health condition that is not severe enough to require a family visit and according to international and Israeli laws, every patient has the right to see his family."
She also criticised the failure to move all the long-term hunger strikers to civilian hospitals. "After 45 days, the fear always comes from sudden surprises like heart attacks or organ failure, so they need constant care and monitoring in a civilian hospital," she said.
The EU statement reiterated its opposition to Israel's use of administrative detention under which suspects can be held without charge indefinitely, for renewable periods of up to six months. "Detainees have the right to be informed of the reasons for their detention and be subject to a fair trial without undue delay," the statement said.
9) Britain seeks delay to EU's Iran ship insurance ban
Dmitry Zhdannikov and Justyna Pawlak, Reuters, | Wed May 9, 2012 1:35am EDT
London/Brussels - Britain is seeking to persuade fellow European Union members to postpone by up to six months a ban on providing insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil, arguing that it could lead to a damaging spike in oil prices, European diplomats said.
A European Union ban on importing Iranian oil, which takes effect on July 1, will also prevent EU insurers and reinsurers from covering tankers carrying its crude anywhere in the world.
The impact of the measure is likely to be felt strongly in London's financial district, the centre for marine insurance.
"Britain will be pushing the EU to postpone the ban on P&I insurance by six months," said one diplomatic source. "The main reason is pressure from Japan and South Korea as they would struggle to buy oil after July 1," the source said. He said Britain feared oil prices could rise sharply as a result of disruptions caused by the lack of insurance after July 1, as Japan and South Korea would be forced to bid aggressively for alternative supplies to meet their needs.
Both sources said Britain's proposal had yet to win support from other EU members, including France, which has been pushing for the toughest stance on Iran.
But in Asia, some shippers welcomed the proposal. "A six-month delay would give more time for alternative arrangements to be made or for the situation to become clearer," said Arthur Bowring, managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association and a supporter of Britain's actions.
It was not yet clear when the measure could be debated by EU officials as a meeting to review the embargo on Iranian oil has been rescheduled from the middle of May to an unspecified date.
Japan, South Korea and India have lobbied EU officials for exemptions to the sanctions. "One keeps hearing about positive developments on this issue, so we are hopeful that some positive outcome may come out," said S. Hajara, chairman of the Shipping Corp of India.
10) IMF Policies Crippling Jamaican Economy
Carey L. Biron, Inter Press Service, May 8, 2012
Washington - Jamaica's fragile economic recovery would be dangerously hampered by demands by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other donors, according to a new report released here by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).
Jamaica is currently paying more debt interest than any other country, including those in Europe that have been reeling under the near collapse of the euro. In total, the island owes around 18 billion dollars.
"Pro-cyclical macroeconomic policies, implemented under the auspices of the IMF, damaged Jamaica's recent and current economic prospects," the report warns. "This policy mix risks perpetuating an unsustainable cycle where public spending cuts lead to low growth, exacerbating the public debt burden and eventually leading to further cuts and even lower growth."
In the decade and a half before the recent global financial downturn, Jamaica's growth was already stagnating at just 1.1 percent per year. Since 2008, Jamaica's debts have climbed by nearly a third. While growth has picked back up somewhat over the course of 2011, the report suggests that high levels of poverty and unemployment will dampen any positive impact.
CEPR researchers warn that IMF-enforced policies could keep the Jamaican economy in a "debt trap" for years.
For years, the country has owed far more than it has actually made. Last year, according to the IMF, debt-related payments constituted some 126 percent of national income.
To try to get ahead, the government has had to spend around half of its annual disbursements on debt servicing alone. That's more than twice as much as it is able to spend on, for instance, health and education combined.
In December 2011, the new government of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller was voted into office, having campaigned on a pledge to come up with a new agreement with the IMF within two weeks of coming to power. Simpson-Miller previously held the post in 2006-07.
Since the prime minster's inauguration, two IMF missions have visited the island. While all negotiations have remained strictly confidential, the Kingston government is clearly interested by the type of aid it has seen coming from the eurozone. "If they could give a bailout like Greece, lord have mercy, you would see Jamaica grow and flourish," Simpson-Miller said in March.
In truth, the fact that negotiations have restarted between the IMF and Jamaica marked a turnaround of sorts. In January 2011, the IMF cut off all funding to the island after the Jamaican government – driven by a Supreme Court mandate – flouted an IMF policy prescription not to pay back wages to public-sector employees.
The decision quashed a desperately needed 1.27-billion-dollar loan and also halted the IMF's so-called Article IV consultations, the widely watched annual report on a country's economy.
That decision had significant ripple effects for other multilateral and bilateral funders, with the World Bank, the European Union and the Inter-American Development Bank all announcing similar halts on funding, pending Jamaican reconcilement with the IMF.
According to the CEPR report, "The cut off in funding made it even more difficult for Jamaica to meet the stringent requirements of the IMF and contributed to the anemic economic recovery." Further, without the government's decision to pay the back wages, "the recovery would likely be even weaker."
"If the Jamaican government decides to re-engage with the IMF," CEPR warns, "any agreement should ensure adequate fiscal space to invest in important areas such as infrastructure, health and education. As long as creditors are prioritised over the country as a whole, Jamaica will remain heavily indebted with persistently low growth."
11) Venezuela's Chavez touts new labour law before vote
Associated Press, May 09, 2012
Caracas - New legislation aimed at improving benefits for Venezuelan workers has taken effect amid warnings from critics that it will hurt medium-sized and small businesses.
President Hugo Chavez has heralded the legislation as a means of giving employees benefits they were denied under previous governments.
Chavez and his allies have publicly praised the law, which increases severance payments, increases maternal leave from four to six months and reduces the work week from 44 hours to 40 hours. The law took effect on Tuesday.
Venezuelan pollster and analyst Luis Vicente Leon says Chavez timed the approval of the law to help boost his popularity ahead of an Oct. 7 presidential election.
Critics including representatives of Venezuela's largest business chamber counter the legislation approved by executive decree could put the survival of small businesses at risk because many will not be able to meet new, costly obligations to employees.
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