Just Foreign Policy News
May 4, 2010
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Can Brazil Save the World From War With Iran?
We’re at a new moment in international relations, in which countries outside of the permanent members of the Security Council and their handpicked allies are insisting on having meaningful input into fundamental international issues of war and peace, and are starting to have some success in pressing their case for inclusion. Brazil has been a leader in these efforts. The most striking example of this shift is the recent willingness of Brazil and Turkey to challenge the leadership of the United States on the question of responding to Iran’s nuclear program.
Urge Congress to End the War in Afghanistan
Urge your representatives to support the Feingold-McGovern-Jones bill for a timetable for military withdrawal. (H.R.5015/ S.3197)
If we can get 100 co-sponsors in the House in the next few weeks, we may able to get on a vote on a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the supplemental.
Current House co-sponsors: 63.
Congresswoman Lee Introduces Congressional Resolution on the Case of Tristan Anderson
Lee introduced H.Con.Res. 270, a resolution calling on the US to investigate the case of Tristan Anderson. A resident of Oakland, Anderson was critically injured on March 13, 2009, after being struck by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli Border Police while engaging in peaceful protest activities in the West Bank village of Ni’lin.
1) Karzai’s advisers say one of his main goals for his May 12 meeting is winning President Obama’s support for negotiating with insurgent leaders, and for a Kabul peace conference that has been delayed until after the visit, Joshua Partlow reports for the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Harvard researcher Matt Waldman says the fundamental problem with "reintegration" – inducing lower-level insurgents to stop fighting – is "the dissonance between motives of fighters and what reintegration has to offer, most of which is about job opportunities…They’re not fighting for jobs." Instead, he said, they are fed up with what they see as a profiteering and exclusionary government that has strayed from Islamic principles, and they oppose the presence of nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in their country.
2) The Afghan government said civilian deaths in the last month jumped by one-third over the same period a year ago, Laura King reports for the Los Angeles Times. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said 173 civilians were killed between March 21 and April 21, a 33% increase from the same dates in 2009. Civilian casualties are likely to increase still further as the Kandahar offensive gets underway, King suggests.
3) 61% of Afghans interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces after military offensive in Marjah, the International Council on Security and Development reports. 78% of the respondents were often or always angry, and 45% of those stated they were angry at the NATO occupation, civilian casualties and night raids.
4) Egypt called on the US and France to come clean on their past role in supplying Israel’s nuclear weapons program, Walter Pincus reports for the Washington Post. Egypt is also calling on the US and other countries not to permit the transfer of nuclear equipment or information to Israel until it signs the NPT and submits to IAEA inspection. Egypt’s proposed sanctions are milder than those suggested by the US for Iran, Pincus notes.
5) NATO commanders are weighing a new way to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan: recognizing soldiers for "courageous restraint" if they avoid using force that could endanger innocent lives, Sebastian Abbot reports for AP. "There should be an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the troops who exhibit extraordinary courage and self-control by not using their weapons, but instead taking personal risk to de-escalate tense and potentially disastrous situations," said a statement from a group that advises NATO on counterinsurgency.
6) Calculations of how many civilians who had nothing to do with the Taliban or Al Qaeda have died in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan vary widely, Alex Rodriguez and David Zucchino report for the Los Angeles Times. Pakistani authorities say 708 civilians were killed in U.S. drone strikes in 2009 alone. A U.S. official said the US believes "the number of noncombatant casualties is under 30" since 2008.
7) Many top U.S. military officials in Afghanistan are eager to expand local defense efforts, but Ambassador Eikenberry has blocked funding for the military’s plans, reports Robert Haddick for Foreign Policy. Such efforts would likely bring about a faster security increase compared with waiting for the arrival of Afghanistan’s still-expanding army and police forces, Haddick says. Obama’s July 2011 Afghan pullout timetable has no chance without improved security, which would require more village watch militias. If the Obama team is serious about its timetable, it will have to resolve this impasse.
8) The State Department should lift restrictions on Iranian reporters, argues Barbara Slavin. Iran until recently has behaved better than successive U.S. administrations, giving visas to U.S. reporters to cover events such as a recent nuclear conference in Tehran and Iran’s presidential and parliamentary elections, Slavin notes. During the Cold War, Soviet and US journalists helped domestic audiences see adversaries as human beings.
9) More than 2,000 Palestinians held May Day demonstrations near the crossing with Israel and the border with Egypt to protest at the lockdown of Gaza, AFP reports. Gaza has an unemployment rate of almost 40 percent, according to the IMF.
10) The blockade continued to severely hinder transfers into Gaza of essential medical equipment, putting at risk the immediate treatment and long-term health of thousands of patients, the Red Cross reported. The ICRC said lack of cooperation between health ministries in Gaza and Ramallah was also causing shortages of essential drugs and medical supplies.
11) Trade unions and opposition groups called for an increase in the monthly minimum wage from $6 to $215, the Yolande Knell reports for the BBC. Joel Beinin argues the labor movement is the leading force for democracy in Egypt.
12) 45% of Colombians live in poverty according to government statistics agency DANE, Cameron Sumpter writes for Colombia Reports. 16.6% suffer extreme poverty. The government said that half a million Colombians came out of extreme poverty in 2009.
1) Karzai to seek Obama’s approval for peace deals with insurgents
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Monday, May 3, 2010; A10
Kabul – The most meaningful part of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington next week may end up being talks about talks. Karzai’s advisers say one of his main goals for the May 12 meeting is winning President Obama’s support for negotiating with insurgent leaders, and for a Kabul peace conference that has been delayed until after the visit.
Although Karzai appears wary of a political deal with the Taliban that might threaten his power, diplomats in Kabul say he is interested in smaller-scale negotiations with individual commanders from the Taliban and another insurgent group, Hezb-e-Islami. The prospect of high-level talks with the Taliban still appears far off, complicated by divisions within the Afghan government, uneasiness from the United States, and no clear sign that the Taliban wants to participate.
Still, after months of delay, Karzai’s government has clarified its position, sketching out a two-track plan: pursuing political accommodation with insurgent leaders, while at the same time enticing foot soldiers with jobs and foreign-funded development projects. "One without the other is unsustainable. This is our position," said a senior Afghan official.
A draft of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Plan, expected to be presented at the peace conference, is circulating in Kabul. It states the importance of a political settlement, but it has no road map for getting there, according to Afghan officials familiar with the document. The plan alludes vaguely to generating momentum for dialogue by removing more Taliban names from the United Nations sanctions list and offering exile to insurgents outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan, they said.
The bulk of the document focuses on the less controversial issue of reintegration, which involves shepherding lower-level insurgents back to society. Under the proposal, if a Taliban member wants amnesty, he must renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution. Then he must submit to fingerprinting and retinal scans, and his neighbors or tribesmen must vouch for his sincerity. The next step would be courses in literacy and Islam, followed by a manual-labor job.
[…] But there is a chasm between such proposals and what the Afghan government seems capable of accomplishing. A host of other mismanaged and underfunded Afghan programs have failed in the past to persuade large numbers of insurgents to stop fighting.
Afghan officials hope to sidestep previous failures by building more bureaucracy. Under Karzai’s leadership, a "High Level Peace Council" – including parliament members, military officers and possibly former insurgents – would be formed to set policy on reconciliation and reintegration. Below this council, a new secretariat run by a cabinet-level chief executive would have responsibility for day-to-day management and coordinate with NATO and U.N. officials. Foreign donors have pledged about $160 million for reintegration.
Perhaps the main barrier to the success of such efforts is the deep mistrust that has developed between insurgents and the government over nearly nine years of war. Insurgents who join the reintegration program would have little protection from former comrades, and the incentives are hardly alluring.
"The fundamental problem with reintegration is the dissonance between motives of fighters and what reintegration has to offer, most of which is about job opportunities," said Matt Waldman, a Harvard University researcher who has written about reintegration and recently interviewed several current and former Taliban commanders. "They’re not fighting for jobs." Instead, he said, they are fed up with what they see as a profiteering and exclusionary government that has strayed from Islamic principles, and they oppose the presence of nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in their country.
[…] Many Afghans, in and out of the government, oppose any outreach to the Taliban. Within the past six weeks, both of Karzai’s vice presidents, Mohammed Fahim and Karim Khalili, have said the president could be killed if the Taliban gets a foothold in the government, according to a foreign diplomat in Kabul. Fahim and Khalili were both members of the Northern Alliance, which led the overthrow of the Taliban government with U.S. assistance in 2001. Former Northern Alliance commanders think "the whole idea of bringing [militants] in is antithetical to us: ‘We fought them and won, we don’t want them back,’ " said a senior U.S. military official in Kabul.
Even to Afghan supporters of Taliban outreach, there is skepticism that amnesty for individual foot soldiers will change the war, particularly during a U.S. troop buildup and an upcoming military offensive in Kandahar. U.S. military officials want "to put pressure on insurgents and try to pave the way to a political deal," said a senior Afghan official. "But killings, targeting, doesn’t help. We’ve been killing them for the past nine years." "You either talk of peace or you talk of war," the official said.
2) Afghanistan Reports Surge In Civilian Deaths
Bombings are mainly to blame for the deaths of 173 civilians in the last month, a 33% jump over the same period in 2009. The news is considered worrisome in light of an upcoming U.S. offensive.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan – Civilian deaths in the last month jumped by one-third over the same period a year ago, the Afghan government said Sunday.
The surge in noncombatant fatalities is considered particularly worrisome in advance of a major Western military offensive in Kandahar province this spring and summer. Typically, intensified fighting between insurgents and foreign forces brings a corresponding increase in civilian casualties.
Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said 173 civilians were killed between March 21 and April 21 of this year, the most recent period for which figures were available. That represented a 33% increase from the same dates in 2009, ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary said during a news conference in Kabul, the capital.
Bashary said the deaths, coupled with the injuries of 380 civilians, were largely caused by explosions – either suicide bombings or roadside bombs. The latest example of that came Sunday, when officials in Paktia province, near the Pakistani border, reported that a civilian minibus had hit an improvised explosive device, or IED, wrecking it and killing or maiming most of those aboard.
3) 61% of Afghans interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces after military offensive in Marjah
95% believe that more young men have joined the Taliban over the last year
68% believe Taliban will return to Marjah Press Release, International Council on Security and Development, 3 May 2010
London – 61% of Afghans interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces after Operation Moshtarak than they did before the February military offensive in Marjah, , according to the results of interviews released today in a new report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS).
NATO’s Operation Moshtarak, launched in February 2010 in Helmand province, was the first deployment after the beginning of the much-debated surge of 30,000 additional US troops. It was billed as the largest military operation since the invasion of 2001. The planning for the operation emphasised the needs of the Afghan people, and the importance of winning hearts and minds as part of a classic counter-insurgency operation. However, the reality on the ground did not match the rhetoric.
[…] The new report reviews the local perceptions of the operation from more than 400 Afghan men from Marjah, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar interviewed by ICOS in March 2010.
[…] The legitimate grievances of the people of Marjah are being exploited by the Taliban, who use these grievances as a doorway to recruit and radicalise the region’s angry young men, the report states. Of those interviewed, 95% believe more young Afghans have joined the Taliban in the last year. 78% of the respondents were often or always angry, and 45% of those stated they were angry at the NATO occupation, civilian casualties and night raids.
97% of Afghans interviewed said the operation had led to new flows of internally displaced people. Thousands of displaced Afghans were forced to move to overcrowded refugee camps with insufficient food, medical supplies or shelter. Aid agencies were overwhelmed and under-resourced.
Afghans are also very sceptical about NATO’s chances in the war against the Taliban: 67% of those interviewed stated they did not believe NATO and the Afghan government would win against the Taliban, and 14% believed that NATO would “never” win.
4) Israel’s stance on nuclear arms complicates efforts against Iran
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Tuesday, May 4, 2010; A21
It’s buried as Point 31 in a working paper being circulated by Egypt and other nonaligned parties at the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in New York: a pledge by countries signing the treaty that they will not permit the transfer of any nuclear-related equipment, information, materials or "know-how" to Israel as long as that country refuses to sign the NPT or put its nuclear facilities under safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Point 31 also calls for signatory countries, including the United States, "to disclose all information available to them on the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear capabilities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel." France and the United States have been identified as key suppliers to Israel’s secret nuclear weapons development program in the 1950s and 1960s.
How the Obama administration deals with the nettlesome problem of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East will determine U.S. success or failure at the NPT conference.
Israel has as many as 200 nuclear weapons. It has land-based missiles, bombs, and submarines capable of firing nuclear-armed cruise missiles. Its policy is not to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal. It is not a signatory to the NPT, so it is not a participant in the conference.
Iran, on the other hand, has no nuclear weapons – at least not yet. But as a signatory to the NPT, Tehran’s steps toward acquiring nuclear weapons capability have made it a target for U.N. Security Council sanctions, initiated by Washington and its allies, that are more stringent than those Egypt proposes be applied to Israel.
[…] "Success in dealing with Iran will depend to a large extent on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone" in the Middle East, Egypt’s U.N. ambassador, Maged A. Abdelaziz, said last week.
[…] At the 1995 NPT Review Conference, the Middle East nuclear-free zone was a major issue. A resolution sponsored by the United States, Russia, Britain and Northern Ireland called for non-signatory states to join the NPT, without mentioning Israel specifically, and it embraced a Middle East zone free of chemical, biological and nuclear arms. It also recognized that progress in peace talks would "contribute" to the process of establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.
The United States argued that Israel would not discuss its weapons with countries that did not recognize its existence, nor would it join in conferences on the subject unless its security was assured.
5) New NATO idea to avoid killing innocent Afghans
Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press, Tuesday, May 4, 2010; 4:15 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/04/AR2010050400726.html
Forward Operating Base Ramrod, Afghanistan – NATO commanders are weighing a new way to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan: recognizing soldiers for "courageous restraint" if they avoid using force that could endanger innocent lives.
The concept comes as the coalition continues to struggle with the problem of civilian casualties despite repeated warnings from the top NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that the war effort hinges on the ability to protect the population and win support away from the Taliban.
Those who back the idea hope it will provide soldiers with another incentive to think twice before calling in an airstrike or firing at an approaching vehicle if civilians could be at risk.
Most military awards in the past have been given for things like soldiers taking out a machine gun nest or saving their buddies in a firefight, said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall, the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan. "We are now considering how we look at awards differently," he said.
British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the NATO commander of troops in southern Afghanistan, proposed the idea of awarding soldiers for "courageous restraint" during a visit by Hall to Kandahar Airfield in mid April. McChrystal is now reviewing the proposal to determine how it could be implemented, Hall said.
Hall’s visit came less than a week after U.S. troops fired on a civilian bus near Kandahar City, killing four people and wounding more than a dozen. Hundreds of Afghans protested the attack, chanting "Death to America," and President Hamid Karzai accused NATO of violating its commitment to safeguard civilians.
[…] The idea of using awards as another way to encourage soldiers to avoid civilian casualties came from a team that advises NATO on counterinsurgency, or COIN, doctrine, said an official with knowledge of the process. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal is still under review.
"We routinely and systematically recognize valor, courage and effectiveness during kinetic combat operations," said a statement recently posted on the NATO coalition’s website by the group, the Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team. "In a COIN campaign, however, it is critical to also recognize that sometimes the most effective bullet is the bullet not fired," it said.
It highlighted an incident in Helmand province in January in which rumors that coalition forces had burned a Quran incited an angry mob to throw rocks and bricks at U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers. The Marines had the right to fire in self-defense, but none did, it said. Six people were reportedly killed during the protest, but the shooting is believed to have come from Afghan security forces.
"There should be an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the troops who exhibit extraordinary courage and self-control by not using their weapons, but instead taking personal risk to de-escalate tense and potentially disastrous situations," the statement said.
6) U.S. Drone Attacks In Pakistan Get Mixed Response
The aircraft target Al Qaeda and the Taliban and minimize civilian deaths, U.S. officials say. Many Pakistanis decry them as indiscriminate; others approve, even some who have lost relatives.
Alex Rodriguez and David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2010
Kundian, Pakistan – Their whir is unmistakable, a buzzing hum that prompts the tribespeople of Waziristan to refer to the fleet of armed U.S. drone aircraft hovering overhead as machay, or wasps. The Khan family never heard it. They had been sleeping for an hour when a Hellfire missile pierced their mud hut on an August night in 2008. Black smoke and dust choked villagers as they dug through the rubble.
Four-year-old Zeerak’s legs were severed. His sister Maria, 3, was badly scorched. Both were dead. When their cousin Irfan, 16, saw them, he gently curled them into his arms, squeezed the rumpled bodies to his chest, lightly kissed their faces, and slid into a stupor.
Drones have transformed combat against Islamic militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the rugged belt of villages and badlands hugging the border with Afghanistan. Since 2004, analysts say, Predator and Reaper drones operated by the CIA have killed at least 15 senior Al Qaeda commanders, as well as several top Pakistani Taliban leaders and hundreds of fighters.
[…] But civilians who had nothing to do with the Taliban or Al Qaeda also die in these strikes. Calculations of how many vary widely, from fewer than 30 since 2008 to more than 700 just last year. The Pakistani government restricts access to the tribal areas and has only nominal control there. Militants seal off attack sites, and victims are buried quickly, according to Islamic tradition.
Still, the deaths inflame anti-American suspicions, particularly among middle- and upper-class Pakistanis outside the tribal areas, many of whom are convinced that Washington wants to colonize their country or wrest control of its nuclear arsenal.
Inside the poor, isolated and politically powerless tribal areas, the reaction is more nuanced. Some say bluntly that they would avenge the killing of their relatives, if they could only reach those remotely piloting the drones buzzing thousands of feet over their heads. Others say they understand the need for the program, and even support it if it helps drive out the militants. They loathe the constraints the Taliban places on everyday life.
But many don’t understand why a technology that pinpoints its targets with lasers and infrared cameras can also kill innocents. And they would prefer that Pakistanis, rather than Americans, were flying the drones.
[…] "We believe the number of noncombatant casualties is under 30, those being people who were near terrorist targets, while the total for militants taken off the battlefield exceeds 500," said a U.S. counter-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said the estimate was based on various types of intelligence, as well as observations made before and after the strikes, and characterized unofficial estimates as little more than guesses.
[…] Pakistani news reports have quoted authorities as saying that 708 civilians were killed in U.S. drone strikes in 2009 alone. The Long War Journal, a website that uses news reports and contacts with security sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan to track drone strikes, puts the number at 43, and a cumulative 94 since 2006. It estimated that more than 1,100 militants were killed last year in such aerial attacks.
7) Does defending a village mean undermining Karzai?
Robert Haddick, Foreign Policy, April 30, 2010
An April 27 Washington Post article discussed a small victory for an Afghan village defending itself against Taliban intimidation. Two dozen Afghan men, trained by a small detachment of U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers, organized their own neighborhood watch and now patrol their village near Kandahar. Taliban fighters, who recently swaggered through the village and who seeded the village’s dirt road with bombs, haven’t been active there in months.
Although many top U.S. military officials in Afghanistan are eager to expand such local defense efforts, President Hamid Karzai has rejected any initiatives not under the authority of his Interior Ministry. Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, supports Karzai’s decision and has blocked U.S. funding for the military’s plans. According to the article, the establishment in Kabul fears that the organization of local militias will bring about the return of warlords, whose marauding led to the Taliban takeover in the 1990s.
On March 24-25, the Small Wars Foundation (the parent organization of Small Wars Journal) co-sponsored a workshop featuring a wide range of experts to study "tribal engagement" in Afghanistan (the workshop produced a summary report and background research materials). The purpose of the workshop was to assess the wisdom of a U.S. government-sponsored "bottom-up" security and development strategy that would essentially bypass the Afghan central government. The workshop also examined what U.S. planners and operators would have to consider in order to implement such an approach.
The workshop participants were well aware that a local community engagement strategy might undermine the Afghan government’s authority and risk political fragmentation. But with time running short and the Taliban very effectively implementing their own version of "bottom-up" community engagement, workshop participants concluded that it was unwise to wait for Afghanistan’s central government, using a purely "top down" strategy, to provide security and economic development across the country.
So how would a "bottom up" community engagement strategy avoid political fragmentation? Most workshop participants agreed that a community-engagement strategy should focus on the district level, a level of government that is close to the population but also has connections to the provincial governments and to Kabul. Workshop participants also agreed that Afghanistan’s government won’t improve its legitimacy until district governors are elected rather than appointed by Karzai.
The logic behind a bottom-up strategy in Afghanistan is difficult to refute. Afghanistan is too large, too rugged, and its villages too dispersed from the main roads for Afghanistan’s national security forces to effectively patrol. That is why Afghanistan has a long tradition of locally provided security. The conditions that have supported that tradition will not change any time soon.
U.S. military forces in Afghanistan are positioned to expand the kind of community-based "foreign internal defense" mission described in the Washington Post article. Such an effort would likely bring about a faster security increase compared with waiting for the arrival of Afghanistan’s still-expanding army and police forces.
One would think that President Obama’s staff would be especially interested in rapid gains in local security. The recent NATO conference in Estonia, no doubt informed by Obama’s July 2011 Afghan pullout deadline, agreed to an aggressive timetable to turn over security to Afghan forces. This timetable has no chance without improved security, which, in turn, would seem to require more village watch militias like the kind organized by the Special Forces soldiers outside Kandahar. U.S. commanders want to expand this approach. Karzai and Eikenberry have said "no." If the Obama team is serious about its timetable, it will have to resolve this impasse.
8) Let my reporters come: Iranian reporters blocked from covering Ahmadinejad
Barbara Slavin, Washington Note, Tuesday, May 04 2010
[Slavin is author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.]
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York to speak at the review conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is unlikely to help resolve the escalating dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
But since the Obama administration allowed him to come – a U.S. obligation as host to the United Nations – it should also have permitted the Iranian president to bring Iranian journalists with him. Unfortunately, their visas have been denied.
A State Department spokesman declined comment on the reasons, noting that the visa application process is "considered confidential." But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on NBC’s "Meet the Press," suggested one reason: "We’re not going to permit Iran to change the story from their failure to comply" with nonproliferation obligations.
Restrictions on the press have been a factor in the three-decade-long dialogue of the deaf that passes for U.S.-Iran relations. Iran until recently has behaved better than successive U.S. administrations, giving visas to U.S. reporters to cover events such as a recent nuclear conference in Tehran and Iran’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
However, the Bush administration refused to accredit Iranian reporters to cover the 2008 U.S. elections. And Iranian news organizations have been largely confined to a 25-mile radius around the U.N. while U.S. reporters have been free to travel outside Tehran.
Throughout the long Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, journalists from both countries interpreted each other’s policies and helped domestic audiences see adversaries as human beings. What’s more, Russian journalists based in the U.S. came to understand the strengths of the U.S. political system. That sort of experience should be available to Iranian journalists, particularly those who work for hard-line outlets that routinely denigrate the United States.
9) Palestinians hold May Day jobs protest in Gaza
AFP, May 1, 2010
Erez Crossing, Gaza Strip – More than 2,000 Palestinians held May Day demonstrations on Saturday near the Erez crossing with Israel and the Rafah border with Egypt to protest at the lockdown of Gaza.
"We call on the world to stop the siege of Gaza and to come to the defence of Palestinian workers in all Palestinian territories," said Ramzi Rabah, a protest organiser with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
About 2,000 demonstrators waving red and Palestinian flags gathered near the Erez border crossing with Israel in northern Gaza in response to a call from the DFLP and other leftist factions. Hundreds of other demonstrators, meanwhile, took part in a sit-in against the blockade – which causes high unemployment in the impoverished territory – at Rafah on the border with Egypt, witnesses said.
The Islamist movement Hamas which has ruled Gaza since 2007 issued a statement vowing support for workers in the impoverished coastal strip and urging Egypt to open up its border with the territory. "Hamas supports all workers, especially those suffering until the end of the siege and the reopening of the crossings," the statement said.
[…] The territory has an unemployment rate of almost 40 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
10) Israel and the occupied territories: violence claims more lives as blockade continues to stifle Gaza
Operational update, International Committee of the Red Cross, 29-04-2010
Restrictions on transfers into Gaza of supplies and on freedom of movement continue to plague the daily lives of Palestinians. This is an update on ICRC activities carried out in Israel and the occupied territories during the first quarter of 2010.
The beginning of 2010 was marred by violence occurring during Israeli incursions in Gaza and law-enforcement operations in the West Bank that claimed the lives of several civilians. In Israel, renewed indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza resulted in one person being killed, reigniting fear among the population in the southern part of the country.
In Gaza, the blockade imposed nearly three years ago continued to severely hinder transfers into the Strip of essential medical equipment, thus putting at risk the immediate treatment and long-term health of thousands of patients. Many essential drugs and disposable medical items were unavailable owing to a lack of cooperation between the Palestinian health ministries in Ramallah and Gaza. Moreover, reserves of industrial fuel continued to dry up, resulting in electricity being available only 60 per cent of the time. Power cuts were unpredictable and frequent, and jeopardized the proper functioning of hospitals. All of these factors contributed to a worrisome pattern of declining health-care services.
"It is the sick and the wounded who are paying the price of restrictions imposed on medical spare parts. It is also they who are suffering from patchy cooperation between the ministries of health in Ramallah and Gaza," said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. "We call on all parties to assume their responsibilities and act quickly to ease the transfer of drugs, disposables and medical spare parts needed for medical treatment."
11) Egyptian workers demand pay rise
Calls for better pay in Egypt getting louder
Yolande Knell, BBC News, May 2, 2010
Cairo – There was the usual din as cars stuck in the rush-hour traffic honked their horns but the shouts of several hundred demonstrators in downtown Cairo were louder. "Our demand is the lowest demand," they shouted, shaking their fists beneath the windows of cabinet ministers’ offices, "we need wages that are enough for a month."
A day after international labour day, members of trade unions, public workers and opposition groups gathered to call for an increase in the national minimum wage, set at 35 Egyptian pounds ($6) a month since 1984. They said it should rise to 1,200 pounds ($215).
"I swear my salary does not cover more than five days of normal living," commented Samir, a teacher from Sharqiya in north Egypt who supports a wife and four children. "It’s just 461 pounds ($82) and I’ve worked for the ministry of education for over thirty years."
"Wages stay the same but prices are going up. Now my family can only afford meat once every four weeks," said another government worker, Safaa al-Lutfi, "I’ve almost forgotten how to cook it."
[…] There are common causes for complaints. Many Egyptians have low incomes and feel they have not benefited from recent economic growth. A lot have experienced problems with new employers following privatisation of state industries.
"This is the largest social movement of its kind in the Arab world since the end of the Second World War," observes Joel Beinin, professor of Middle East History at Stanford University. "It involves some two million people since 2004 in over 3,000 actions."
"The workers have had an enormous degree of success – a very significant proportion of the collective actions have resulted in demands being met," he says.
The government has typically used concessions to deal with isolated strikes but has responded harshly to attempts at co-ordinated action. In April 2008, there was a heavy security crackdown following efforts to put a strike by 27,000 workers at a state-owned factory in Mahalla al-Kubra at the centre of national action to protest low wages and high inflation. Since then the labour movement has mainly stuck to bread and butter issues.
Nevertheless Mr Beinin believes it is becoming an important opposition voice. "I would argue it is the leading force for democracy in Egypt because even if the demands are economic at first, what is happening is that people are getting together, deciding what they need, choosing a leadership to achieve those goals and in many cases actually achieving them."
The latest demonstration was unusual for its anti-government sentiment and close involvement of the political opposition. A founder of the Egyptian Movement for Democratic Change, George Ishaq, suggested it could be a turning point. "I am very happy because it is the day of the workers and also the opposition parties and groups are here to support them. It’s a good sign," he remarked. "We are all coming together to call for this minimum salary that will help the poorest people in our society."
12) 45% of Colombians live in poverty
Cameron Sumpter, Colombia Reports, Friday, 30 April 2010 14:19
Almost half of Colombia’s population live in poverty, while 16.6% suffer extreme poverty, according to a study released by government statistics agency DANE on Friday.
The study found that the percentage of Colombians who lived below the poverty line in 2009 was 45.5%, down slightly from the 46% in 2008, despite a decrease in average per capita income of households. The average Colombian household earned COP560,409 ($287) last year, a 2% drop on the previous year when average earnings stood at COP570,258 ($292).
The government said, however, that half a million Colombians came out of extreme poverty in 2009. In February the government announced a state-funded program to help 1.5 million families out of extreme poverty. The largest reduction of poverty recorded in a major metropolitan area was in Bucaramanga, where the rate fell from 24.7% in 2008 to 18.5% last year.
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