Germany: Retirement age raised

The German Parliament voted 408-169 March 9 to approve a measure backed by a Social Democrat-Christian Democrat coalition to reset Germans’ retirement age from 65 to 67. Communists and labor-backed legislators opposed the legislation. Before the vote thousands of protesters organized by unions demonstrated in Berlin streets.

The parliamentary upper chamber of representatives from Germany’s 16 state governments is also expected to pass the legislation. Beginning in 2012, workers’ retirement age will extend incrementally until the final retirement age of 67 is reached in 2029. Workers paying into social security for 45 years may still retire at age 65.

After 2029, early retirement will result in a monthly 0.3 percent pension cut until age 67 is reached. Insurgente.org said the German government sees the nation’s pension system as endangered due to a low birth rate and the expected doubling by 2035 of people over 65.

Palestine: Israeli soldiers use human shields

Israeli soldiers used a young girl, a teenage boy and a man as human shields during search operations starting Feb. 25 in Nablus, in Palestine’s West Bank. On March 8 an Israeli human rights group reported the infraction of military rules to the army’s judge advocate general, according to the btselem.org web site.

Since June 2006, the group has reported the army’s practice of using human shields four times. Pushed by human rights groups, Israel’s High Court of Justice banned the practice in 2002, citing Geneva Conventions calling for humane treatment for civilians during war and protection of children.

In Nablus, the soldiers pushed two children into potentially weapons-filled rooms at gunpoint. Jihan Dadush, 11, told reporters that after the soldiers left, “I was shaking with fear. I was afraid they would kill me or put me in jail.” Portions of the operation appeared on Israeli television.

Kenya: Ministers protest trade policies

“We reiterate our call to African governments not to … reduce their tariffs on products that are essential for food security… rural development and poverty eradication,” said a memorandum presented by 50 organizations to a March 9 meeting of 20 African trade ministers in Nairobi.

Responding to the Doha round of WTO negotiations, aimed ostensibly at relieving poverty through trade regulations, the ministers called also for cuts in subsidies to U.S. and European farmers that force their African counterparts to sell cheap.

Over two years, 20 million African cotton farmers lost an estimated $350 million in revenues. An Oxfam study cited by allafrica.com claims that U.S. cotton producers receive subsidies amounting to 86 percent of their sales receipts.

U.S. representative Peter Allgeier was in China on March 14 seeking Beijing’s cooperation in the Doha negotiations. In a statement, Commerce Minister Bo Xilai backed positions taken by the African officials.

China: Gov’t deals with joblessness, poverty

At a press conference March 14 held in conjunction with China’s National People’s Congress, Civil Affairs Vice-minister Li Liguo outlined a program to expand social support for China’s rural poor. This “huge decision made by the central government concerning people’s lives [will] benefit millions of poor people,” he declared.

Over 15 million rural poor in 2,133 counties will receive a “minimum living allowance” varying according to “local economic and financial conditions.”

Labor Minister Tian Chengping told reporters that only half of 24 million job seekers would find employment in 2007, despite plans to create 9 million new jobs. State owned companies are releasing workers. Millions of rural laborers migrate to China’s cities every year. Almost one-third of college graduates in 2006 remain unemployed, and 5 million more students are about to graduate.

Haiti: Chavez outlines aid program

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez finished a five-nation tour in Haiti where he met with President Rene Preval and Cuban Vice President Estaban Lazo. At a March 13 press conference, they announced $1 billion for new housing in Haiti and stepped-up Cuban medical assistance.

Venezuela will establish a $20 million development fund for Haiti, double oil shipments to 14,000 barrels per day, build four power plants and apply $57 million to refurbishing the country’s airports. Haitian medical students studying in Cuba will be increased to 800.

“With Cuban help and cooperation, all Haitian communities” will have health care, declared President Preval, according to eluniversal.com. Describing popular enthusiasm over Chavez’s visit, Preval jokingly told Fidel Castro, who joined the meeting by telephone, “It’s almost a revolution here [and] it’s your fault!”

Chavez said he advised Preval “to become incorporated into ALBA [a socially-oriented alternative trade bloc] immediately, and we’ll finalize it when you’re ready, Fidel.”

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @ megalink.net).

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