Egypt: Regional conference condemns death penalty
Alexandria was the venue late last month for a two-day gathering directed at reviewing progress toward abolition of the death penalty in Arab countries, where 860 prisoners - 269 in Egypt - received death sentences last year. Egypt and Saudi Arabia apply capital punishment to "dozens of crimes," and many countries rely upon torture to extract confessions, according to the report available here.
It points out that Islamic law, often used to justify capital punishment, provides for alternatives.
The conference, attended by human rights activists and NGO representatives from throughout the Middle East and northern Africa, called for a moratorium on state sanctioned executions, in line with a 2007 UN General Assembly resolution. They envision a campaign undertaken by regional coalition.
Kenya: Continent-wide campaign for women's rights launched
Welcoming delegates to a Women's Summit in Nairobi on October 11, government and UN officials called for women's empowerment and gender equality. The event served to introduce African Women's Decade, an initiative supported by the African Union which is launching a women's grassroots organizing campaign. On October 12, the World Economic Forum released its Gender Gap Index that, with data from 2007, ranked South Africa first in overall women's equality for Sub Sahara Africa and 20th in the world. Lesotho, ranking second and 26th place respectively, was unique in Africa for gender equality in the health and education areas. The report, available here, documented other gains there for women, particularly in work force participation, wage equality, and parliamentary representation.
India: High per capita income co-exists with malnutrition
The International Food Policy Research Institute released its 2010 Global Hunger Index (GHI) on October 11. India ranked 67th out of the 84 countries surveyed with China achieving 9th place and Pakistan, 52nd place. Of three parameters contributing to the results, child malnutrition exerted more impact than elevated child mortality or caloric deficiency affecting entire populations. The study highlighted the urgency of correcting nutritional deficits early in life to avoid irremediable physical and intellectual damage. African and Asian countries account for 90 percent of all children whose development has been damaged by malnutrition, with 42% of them living in India. An Institute press release claimed that "countries with high per capita levels of national income...tend to have low 2010 GHI scores," and vice versa. See the report here.
Italy: China lends a hand
Visiting Italy as part of a European tour, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in early October joined Prime Minister Berlusconi to pledge a five year doubling of bilateral trade to $100 billion. He signed commercial agreements valued at $3 billion and invited increased Italian investments in China, which presently total $ 5 billion. Quoted by UPI, Wen reminded his hosts that China has "stayed at Europe's side to overcome the crisis and allow the recovery." In Greece, Wen signaled Chinese intentions to buy Greek bonds and increase trade. Later in Turkey, Wen announced plans to expand Chinese investments from $17 billion to $50 billion in 2015. China will help build 2,700 miles of railway there.
Venezuela: Chavez calls for unity
President Hugo Chavez on October 10 called for re-founding of the coalition behind his electoral victory in 1998. He projected a revived Patriotic Pole as promoting socialist change at the grassroots level, drawing in social movements, and assuring a Chavez victory in 2012 presidential voting.
"We can not allow for sectarianism," said Chavez who specified as coalition partners his own United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the Venezuelan Communist Party, the Popular Unity Party, and the Electoral People's Party. Communist Party leader Oscar Figuera approved, telling reporters that his Party had long sought "collective political leadership" and "lines of action derived from collective discussion." Edgar Melendez told rebelión.org readers that in 1958 a "patriotic union" joined by communists had overthrown the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship.
Cuba: Jazz breaks blockade
In Havana on October 4-9, Wynton Marsalis told reporters he wanted "to bring people together through swing." The famous U.S. trumpeter and his Lincoln Center Jazz band jammed with young Cuban musicians and played for a recording session featuring singer Omara Portuondo and legendary pianist Chucho Valdes. Marsalis and his group also offered Mella Theater programs highlighting big band jazz and U.S. - Cuban jazz connections. They engaged in musical give and take with Valdes and his players - "a veritable jazz summit," according to Granma newspaper. Marsalis concluded with a young people's jazz concert and a program with selected Cuban music students. Marsalis and Valdes will play together in New York in late October, as Valdes and his Afro-Cuban Messengers embark upon a U.S. tour.
Photo: Musician Wynton Marsalis, accompanied by students, performs during a visit to Cuba's National School of Music in Havana, Cuba, Oct. 8. (Franklin Reyes/AP)