Algeria: Protests mushroom
In a follow-up to nationwide demonstrations earlier in January that left five dead and hundreds wounded, 10,000 disciplined protesters marched in Bejaia on January 29. They called for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s removal and an end to a “state of emergency” lasting 19 years. According to AFP news, the LADDH human rights group leading the march is planning a larger one for Algiers on February 12. Adverse living conditions have triggered the protests, as they did in neighboring Tunisia. Food prices have doubled, the minimum salary covers only 25 percent of expenses for poor families, and youth unemployment has reached 60 percent. Protests are calling upon the government to use increasing income from oil and natural gas exports to support the poor.
Greece: Migrant workers on hunger strike, gain support
Demanding legal status, 300 immigrant workers on January 23 settled into an empty university building in Athens. A few moved on to a labor union headquarters in Salonika. They all began a hunger strike, condemned uniformly by the socialist government, university, media and most parliamentarians. “They’ve put the country’s political and social life into inconceivable danger,” said the Interior Ministry. The police, mindful of solidarity activists hovering nearby, cleared central Athens of pedestrians and at 4 a.m. on January 28 pushed the workers into rainy, dark, cold, and empty streets. Thousands of supporters marched with them to a tiny, new space. The hunger strikers now enjoy a two-week grace period. But what’s next? “Greece doesn’t need them now, Europe doesn’t need them now, and they cannot now return to their homelands,” says rebelion.org.
Canada: United Steelworkers mobilize in Hamilton
Some 10,000 unionists, retirees, and supporters demonstrated in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada’s “Steeltown,” on January 29. They were backing 900 striking United Steelworker unionists who since November 7 have been locked out at a U.S. Steel subsidiary there, an action triggered by Local 1005’s refusal to accept pension cuts proposed by the company. Notably, they rejected heavier cuts directed at workers who have already retired. Despite promises to buy the mill in 2007 so as to maintain jobs and production for three years, U.S. Steel laid off 2,200 workers within two years, thereby provoking a Canadian government lawsuit.
South Korea: Tiny steps toward real negotiation
The government reacted positively to U.S. and Chinese interest in resuming six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. That was one outcome of the recently concluded U.S.-China heads of state meeting in Washington. Taking North Korea up on proposals for both preparatory and higher-level bilateral military meetings, the Defense Ministry proposed “senior level, inter-Korean military talks” for Panmunjeom on February 11. Any North Korean refusal there to apologize for last year’s sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island could waylay further interchange. But overcoming that hurdle could lead to subsequent, higher-level military talks on denuclearization and other issues. Success there, in turn, is seen, as crucial to restarting six-party talks, reports Hankyoreh News.
Haiti: Ex-president may soon return
Abandoning a long-held position, the government announced January 31 its inclination to accept former President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s return from South African exile. A spokesperson promised a diplomatic passport would be issued upon Aristide’s request, which, according to his Miami-based lawyer Ira Kurzban, was delivered that day. Kurzban asked for security guarantees and denied rumors Aristide was waiting in Cuba. A week earlier the popular leader, removed in a U.S.-assisted coup in 2004, reiterated his readiness to return “today, tomorrow, at whatever moment.” He cited pleas from the Haitian people. TeleSur reported Haitians as asking, “Why can’t Aristide come back, if [Jean Claude] Duvalier returned after 25 years?” Ex -dictator Duvalier returned from exile in France on January 16.
Cuba: Teachers of the world meet in Havana
Havana’s International Pedagogical Conference opened on January 24. Welcoming 3,300 delegates from 38 countries, Cuban Vice President José Ramón Fernández emphasized teachers’ closeness to the people and the necessity to eliminate illiteracy. A final declaration, summarized by Prensa Latina, urged “unity for the preservation of peace” and demanded educational policies worldwide reflecting children’s rights to educational access and support for completing school. The document defended Latin American unity and denounced U.S. anti-Cuban hostility. The president of the Association of Latin American Educators sought delegates’ support in the campaign to free the Cuban Five. Bélgica Ramírez of the Dominican Republic also displayed the plaque her organization was giving former Cuban President Fidel Castro for initiating the teacher congresses in 1986.