East Timor: Popular forces under the gun

Alexander Downer, the Australian foreign minister, visited East Timor on Sept. 3 to pressure new Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta to reverse the Fretilin Party’s domination of East Timor’s Parliament, where the party currently holds 56 of 88 seats.

Fretilin, the driving force behind the nation’s independence, faces elections in May 2007. Leader Mari Alkatiri was forced out as prime minister last May in the wake of disturbances. Australian troops were sent in to “restore order.”

The Guardian newspaper claims that Australia is focused on Timor Sea oil reserves worth $30 billion, and that Ramos Horta is an Australian pawn. Australia opposes East Timor’s search for regional allies, its acceptance of Cuban doctors, and its participation in the Non-Aligned Summit meeting in Havana.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has resisted plans for a UN police force to monitor next year’s elections, preferring Australian troops already in place.

India: 50 coal miners killed

At least 50 Indian coal miners were killed Sept. 6 when the roof of a state-owned mine collapsed following an explosion of methane gas. Their badly charred bodies were recovered several days later, local officials said.

Three others on the roof of the mine were injured in the explosion.

The coal mine, which is located in the eastern state of Jharkland, is managed by the Bharat Coking Coal Co. According to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), “Though the mine was known to be gaseous, local officials failed to take precautionary steps provided in the mine safety regulations.” The party demanded that action be taken against the officials who were responsible.

On Sept. 9, coal minister Shibu Soren said that criminal cases would be registered against any official whose negligence may have caused the accident, Reuters reported. The report added that safety measures in India’s mines are poorly implemented and that hundreds of miners are trapped in the mines each year.

Canary Islands: Massive influx of African migrants

Canary Island officials call it Spain’s worst humanitarian crisis since the civil war of 1936-39.

On Sept. 6, 898 African migrants arrived in nine boasts for a single-day record. So far this year, over 20,000 people have made the ocean crossing, double the top yearly total.

The BBC estimates the death count this year at between 600 and 3,000.

Spain’s crackdown on crossings from North Africa has resulted in a shift to Senegal and Mauritania as points of departure. Canary Island detention centers are full, and most African migrants have been transferred to freedom on the streets in Spain.

Right-wing critics have tried to make political hay out of the Spanish government’s amnesty of 600,000 undocumented immigrants last year. Spain has tried to induce African countries to stem the flow by offering developmental aid, and is now seeking EU assistance.

Afghanistan: Taliban are back

Five years after U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban are back, according to a field report released Sept. 6 by the Senlis Council, a think tank based in Afghanistan and Europe.

The report details the embrace by millions of starving, destitute Afghans of Taliban forces that now control the southern half of the country. It points to U.S. spending that is skewed toward military occupation, cutbacks in humanitarian aid and development programs, and growing Afghan despair and rage.

Executive Director Emmanuel Reinert points out on the council’s web site that the UN World Food Program recently canceled food aid for 2.5 million Afghans: “Hunger leads to anger. … Farmers who have had their poppy crop eradicated … now see their children facing starvation.”

Japan: Gov’t bans contaminated U.S. rice

Japan has suspended U.S. long-grain rice imports after rice stored in Missouri and Arkansas was found to have been contaminated by an unapproved genetically engineered version developed by Bayer CropScience of Germany. The EU quickly followed suit.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said, “There are no human health, food safety, or environmental concerns associated with this rice.” He admitted, however, that his department delayed reporting the contamination affecting the 2005 U.S. rice harvest until Bayer could develop a test to identify the illegal rice, which has its DNA modified to resist a weed killer.

Critics worldwide have criticized the U.S. government for failing to regulate agricultural biotechnology. The Sept. 6 report from Greenpeace also disclosed that banned Chinese rice has showed up recently in German, French and British food products.

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

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