Colombia: Journalist freed but still under threat

Telesur correspondent Fredy Munoz, falsely accused of rebellion and terrorism, left jail in Barrinquilla, Colombia, Jan. 9. The campaign for Munoz’s release has raised demands for press freedom, freedom of expression, and legal rights for the accused.

Munoz’s case remains open. Immediately after his departure intelligence agents questioned jail personnel about his destination.

Telesur President Andrés Izarra, speaking at a Mercosur journalism seminar, declared, “Fredy’s life runs more dangerously now that he is on the street than when he was in jail.” He referred to “intelligence service mechanisms directed by political interests aimed at discrediting, endangering and somehow finishing off journalists’ lives.”

European Union: New energy policies favor environment

In preparation for an EU summit in March, Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission chief, is urging member states to agree to an unprecedented continent-wide energy conservation plan.

The projected policy calls for low carbon energy and development of an internal energy market. Prominent goals include 20 percent of all energy consumed being derived from renewable sources by 2020; 10 percent of vehicle fuel from bio-fuels; and new power stations recapturing and burying carbon wastes, becoming “carbon neutral” by 2013. The energy market would be extended to the entire continent, no longer functioning within individual nations.

Environmental groups see the proposed 20 percent cut as insufficient to reverse climate changes. French and German energy officials reportedly fear that integrated operations will result in the loss of price controls and investment opportunities. Barrosso, quoted by BBC, envisions a “post-industrial revolution — the development of a low-carbon economy.”

Nigeria: Violence threatens workers and oil industry

Last year, violence in the Niger Delta caused oil production to fall by up to 600,000 barrels per day. Revenue loss amounted to $4.4 billion.

Finance Minister Nenadi Usman attributes assaults, kidnappings and sabotage to militant groups demanding shares of oil export profits. Five Chinese telecommunications workers were kidnapped Jan. 5, and hundreds of Nigerian oil workers have been taken hostage in recent months, according to reports on BBC and AllAfrica.com.

To pressure the government into holding a “stakeholders’ summit” dealing with security issues, the Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers had planned to strike Jan. 1, but delayed because of potential fuel shortages affecting masses of impoverished Nigerians. Union President Peter Akpatason told reporters that peace waits upon the resolution of development and security issues, and that the infrastructure and financial integrity of the industry are at stake as well as worker safety. Akpatason is a candidate for the presidency of the Nigeria Labor Congress.

Burma: Resistance grows against authoritarian regime

Following confidence-building protests last year and a 30 percent hike in the price of rice, Burmese people are openly denouncing a regime they see as corrupt and oppressive.

In October, 60,000 signatories demanded that the State Peace and Development Council, as the ruling junta is known, release political prisoners. A “White Expression” movement — people wearing white clothes symbolizing honesty — materialized last year, as did anti-government, silent prayer meetings. In the last two weeks, thousands have undertaken a so-called “Open Heart” campaign.

Protests are banned, the media censured and elections abandoned, so dissatisfaction is expressed through handwritten letters with special envelopes and paper. The “88 Generation,” a young people’s group, has organized the campaign. The group’s name memorializes students violently repressed in 1988. Naing Aung, spokesperson for exiled activists, sees Open Heart as “an effort to break the silence,” according to Inter Press Service. He calls for “people to show their courage by standing up and openly identifying themselves as critics.”

Iran: U.S. sanctions large bank

The U.S. Treasury Department has blacklisted a large Iranian state-owned bank, alleging it has a role in weapons proliferation. The Bank Sepah’s assets in the United States have been frozen, and U.S. corporations and citizens are prohibited from dealings with the bank.

A Treasury spokesperson accused the Iranian bank of facilitating Iran’s international purchases, including missile technology from North Korea and “missile related items” from China. In September, Washington had blacklisted Bank Saderat, another Iranian bank, alleging that it “supported terrorism.”

The ban also covers a subsidiary of Bank Sepah in Great Britain, the BBC reported toward Jan. 10.

The U.S. moves are seen as part of the Bush administration’s escalating hostility toward Iran.

Bank Sepah’s close ties with Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS AG, was one factor in triggering a $100 million fine against the Swiss bank by the Treasury Department in May 2004. The Swiss bank’s cooperation with Cuba served as another pretext.

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

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