WORLD NOTES: Dec. 1

South Korea: Gov’t promotes North-South integration

South Korea’s National Assembly received a proposal from the South’s unification ministry Nov. 22 for an “Inter-Korean Cooperation Project.” The five-year plan was propelled by talks in October between leaders of South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea).

Focusing initially on economic cooperation, the plan calls for assisting road and railway repair efforts in the DPRK; construction of a communications center at the Kaesong inter-Korean industrial site and the expansion of that site; joint shipyards; a new industrial zone in the DPRK; and establishment of offices in Seoul and Pyongyang, the two capitals, for permanent representatives. Cross-border rail cargo service begins Dec. 11.

The project is to eventually encompass bilateral denuclearization, “recovery of national identity,” humanitarian issues and establishing a legal framework for ongoing relations.

However, support from the administration that succeeds that of outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun, who steps down in February, is far from certain, according to the Hankyoreh web site.



Russia: Ford workers on strike

Workers at Russia’s largest foreign-owned car assembly factory, a Ford plant located near St. Petersburg, undertook a one-day warning strike Nov. 7 followed by an open-ended walkout starting Nov. 20.

Negotiators from the Interregional Automobile Workers Trade Union had failed after four months to secure a 30 percent wage hike and collective bargaining rights. Inflationary pressures have fueled demands nationwide for increased pay, according to laborstart.org.

Marina Pustilnik, writing for Moscow News Weekly, lamented that apart from 20 Renault workers picketing in front of a Ford dealership, the 1,500 striking Ford workers have gained little public support. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there these days,” she said. “We are all living in a market economy, holding on to our jobs for fear of losing them.” But on the other hand, she suggested, “maybe the Ford plant workers are setting an example for all of us.”



Afghanistan: Taliban gains ground

Joining NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a Kabul press conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai reported Nov. 22 on his government’s expanding contacts with Taliban leaders.

Scheffer took the occasion to denounce a Senlis Council report, released the day before, asserting Taliban control of 54 percent of Afghanistan (senliscouncil.net). The NATO chief called for member nations to step up troop contributions and efforts to equip and train Afghan soldiers.

According to Senlis, a European nongovernmental organization, the Taliban exercises “significant psychological control and gains, day by day, more legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans.”

“The question is not if the Taliban will arrive in Kabul,” the report adds, “but when ... and how.” Oxfam also issued a report recently that, according to aporrea.org, condemns the corruption of the Afghan central government and calls for preventive measures to blunt an expected humanitarian disaster in the country.



Nigeria: Leaders reject Pentagon buildup

At a meeting in Abuja Nov. 19, Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, joined by his Council of State, announced Nigeria’s refusal to host a base operated by the U.S. military’s Africa Command (Africom), preferring instead to back a multi-nation African Standby Force.

The president called for other African nations to follow Nigeria’s lead.

In July the 14-nation Southern African Development Community rejected an expanded U.S. military presence in Africa, and Libya and South Africa recently condemned the initiative as aimed at protecting U.S. oil interests.

Last week U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte toured African countries in search of support. So far, according to allAfrica.com, only Liberia has signed on with the Pentagon’s Africom, presently based in Stuttgart, Germany. Coincidently, the General Assembly of Nigeria’s Presbyterian Church issued a statement opposing a U.S. base in Nigeria as a potential threat to the country’s independence.

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