Palestine: Despite obstacles, heavy turnout

Despite severe restrictions imposed by the Israeli Occupation Forces, Palestinians voted in record numbers in Jan. 25 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Tension was high in east Jerusalem where Israeli officials have prohibited campaigning and harassed candidates, WAFA, the Palestine News Agency, reported. Last week they said they would permit limited voting but would not allow all parties to participate. Harassment of candidates continued.

Fadwa Khader, a member of the central committee of the Palestinian People’s Party and the only woman candidate for the Legislative Council in Jerusalem, was arrested at a public meeting in Jerusalem and jailed. Israeli police also broke up a news conference and detained seven candidates of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The Palestinian National Authority invited international observers, including representatives from Brazil, India and members of the European Union Election Commission, to observe the voting process.

Chile: First woman president elected

In a Jan. 15 runoff election against a conservative businessman, Socialist Party candidate Michelle Bachelet won Chile’s presidency with more than 50 percent of the vote. Voter turnout was 97 percent.

The former health and defense minister succeeds outgoing Socialist President Ricardo Lagos. She pledged to continue Lagos’s policies and to narrow the gap between the rich and poor in Chile.

The daughter of an air force commander who died in prison after the 1973 coup, Bachelet and her mother were forced into exile for a number of years during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Considered to be on the left of the left-center coalition that backed her, Bachelet becomes the first woman elected to the presidency of Chile. According to Prensa Latina, her opponent, Sebastian Piñera, a former senator, is a billionaire businessman and one of the richest men in the country.

“I will work tirelessly for all Chileans, for our country,” Bachelet promised thousands of enthusiastic supporters who celebrated in the streets.

China: Web site for migrant workers

A web site to safeguard workers’ interests was launched last week in Beijing, according to the Xinhua News Agency. The site is specifically geared to help rural migrant workers who work in major urban areas across the country. Operated by the Beijing Workstation of Legal Aid for Rural Migrant Workers, the web site publishes laws and regulations as well as information on the more common lawsuits against offenders of migrant workers’ rights. It also lists lawyers who handle migrant worker cases and has a hotline for immediate help.

There are about 140 million rural migrant workers working in cities in China. Although they play a significant role in urban construction and development, they have low social status and relatively little political influence. Many, frustrated at their inability to protect their rights, have turned to violence. The web site,, began receiving hits on the first morning it opened.

S. Africa: Miners to get compensation

Mozambicans who have suffered illness as a result of working in South Africa’s asbestos mines are scheduled to receive compensation from the Asbestos Relief Trust this year, BuaNews reported.

The fund was formed in an out-of-court settlement in 2003 between companies and workers, following the successful suit of 7,000 asbestos workers against the British multinational Cape Pic. The Cape Pic victory set a precedent where the company was forced to pay compensation to asbestos victims and relatives of those who had died from asbestos-related diseases.

The trust is about R460 million (about $76 million) and will benefit about 1,500 workers. Additional former miners with asbestos-related health problems, some of whom have worked as long as 30 years in the mines, are not due to receive compensation because of complications with paperwork and medical records.

Europe: Dockworkers close ports

Ports across Europe were at a standstill last week as 40,000 dockworkers throughout the region protested a European Union directive to “liberalize” cargo handling at European ports. The EU bill would allow independent contractors to hire untrained poorly paid workers to load and unload cargoes. The work is dangerous for the skilled union workers who currently do the job. Union representatives say if the bill is passed about half the 150,000 workers would lose their jobs.

About 10,000 dockworkers converged on Strasbourg in eastern France where the bill was debated, according to the Irish Examiner.

Short strikes were scheduled at Rotterdam and Antwerp in the Netherlands, and at ports in Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Greece, Spain, Germany and France. The European Transport Workers Federation said more than 40,000 workers from 12 countries participated in the protests.

World Notes are compiled by Pamella Saffer (