France: Ultra-right, and the left, gain in municipal elections
In first round of voting for local officials on March 21, President Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for Popular Movement added only 16 percent to the conservative coalition's results, taking over 30 percent of all general councilor seats. The Socialist Party elected almost 30 percent of the local officials, followed by the Left Front (in which the Communist Party of France participated) and Ecology Parties, each with 10 percent of the vote. The ultra-right National Front upped its national total to a new high of 16 percent, in the process excluding conservative candidates in 100 departments from the second round of voting scheduled for March 27. Some 56 percent of voters abstained. The results of this last election round prior to presidential voting in 2012 reflect "exasperation over unemployment, living standards and immigration," according to Reuters.
Chile: Obama visit triggers street protests
In a joint press conference on March 21, President Sebastián Piñera called upon the visiting U.S. President to expand the current bilateral free trade agreement and bring Colombia and Panama into trade agreements. President Obama promised increased trade and investment, maintaining, "Our businessmen are dedicated to creating jobs in both countries." He added, "We are expanding collaboration in clean energy," referring to a nuclear power cooperation agreement the two countries signed three days earlier. There were three earthquakes in Chile last year, and in 1960, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded on earth. TeleSur reported thousands of protesters demonstrated against the agreement while Obama was visiting in Santiago, and against the U.S. led offensive in Libya.
South Africa: UN confab highlights water as human right
Cape Town marked World Water Day March 22, 2011, by hosting a UN sponsored three-day event attended by 1,000 people representing 30 organizations. The theme "Water for Cities" was appropriate, with Africa's urban population projected to double over 20 years. Advocates for water privatization were on hand with one quoted by IPS pointing out, "When you talk about water as a human right, investors get nervous." Since 1994, South Africa has increased drinking water access from 60 to 90 percent. Now, however, 95 percent of fresh water resources are already allocated, bad news in a country the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research says is "facing a water supply crisis caused by a combination of low rainfall, high evaporation rates, and an expanding economy."
Palestine: Soldiers unloose collective punishment
"Why do you have to punish all these people?" an Israeli soldier was asked. His reply, according to the International Solidarity Movement: "So they will understand." Some 300 soldiers entered Awarta early on March 11 after five members of a settler family were murdered in nearby Itamar. For five days soldiers ransacked and occupied homes, forcing occupants outside or into single rooms for the duration. Later that day, 300 settlers joined in on destroying property, stealing possessions, inflicting injuries, and polluting water. Over 300 residents taken into custody were subjected to fingerprinting and DNA testing. On March 20, 55 were still detained. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the Itamar murders by announcing construction of 500 new settler homes.
Ivory Coast: Humanitarian crisis looms
Armed conflict between forces loyal to entrenched President Laurent Gbagbo and paramilitaries backing President-elect Alassane Ouattara has precipitated a humanitarian crisis "that is deteriorating alarmingly," says the United Nations. Since the disputed December 2010 elections, the number of displaced persons has risen to 380,000, with many having sought refuge in neighboring countries. In a March 16 report, Doctors without Borders blamed international economic sanctions for causing medical supply and drug shortages; "There are several regions of the country now lacking basic medications." One sector of Abidjan has only one hospital available for 2 million residents. Fleeing teachers have deprived 800,000 children of schooling. World Health Organization officials fear yellow fever, cholera, and meningitis outbreaks, according to rebelion.org.
Cuba: Television series turns to cyber war
The series "Cuba's Reasons" has documented U.S. intrusions, including a Luis Posada agent arranging for hotel bombings and U.S payments to street protesters and sham journalists. Former state security agents infiltrating the groups figure prominently in the showings. On March 21, programming turned toward U.S. destabilization efforts using Internet systems. Telecommunications specialist and former agent Dalexi González told how a U.S. citizen gave him software security systems to hand over to government opponents. The report on Cubadebate.cu includes Information Ministry official Carlos del Porto's description of long-term U.S. efforts to bend the Internet toward disrupting Cuban military, economic, and diplomatic functions. Anti-Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, who the UK Guardian says is the recipient of $500,000 in international prize monies, was shown entering the U.S. Interests Section and foreign embassies.