WORLD NOTES Nepal, Turkey, Cuba, Russia, Haiti, Madagascar

Madagascar: Pact paves way for elections Interim President Andry Rajoelina and former President Marc Ravalomanana, whom the military forced from power in March, have signed an agreement for a period of political transition leading to elections within 15 months, Bloomberg news reported. The two met in Maputo, Mozambique for talks mediated by former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano. Two former presidents of Madagascar also participated. Ravalomanana’s ouster was preceded by two months of protests by Rajoelina’s supporters. Since Rajoelina became president, arrests, widespread violence and killings have prevailed and international aid has fallen precipitously. Ravalomanana, who had earlier been sentenced in absentia to four years in jail, agreed not to participate in the political transition. In return, he and his supporters received a general amnesty under the pact.

Haiti: Minimum wage law for a few By a 55-6 majority, Parliament last week doubled the current daily minimum wage to $3.75. The law affects only 250,000 people, with most employed Haitians working on small farms or in the informal sector. The vote was preceded by street clashes between police and demonstrators demanding $5 a day. President Rene Preval opposed the measure for its adverse effect on the export garment industry. Claiming pay increases would hurt efforts underway to combat unemployment, “development experts” cited by AP noted that garment exporters had to choose between expanding factory jobs and raising wages. In a recent UN report Paul Collier noted that “in garments” labor costs loom large and that poverty and an “unregulated labor market” make Haiti competitive with China, “the global benchmark.”

Russia: Auto workers urge nationalization Thousands of the 100,000 workers at Russia’s largest auto factory demonstrated last week, threatening to strike. Workers at the Avtovaz plant in Togliatti and at the Avtovaz GM joint venture were protesting plant closures during August and plans afterwards for half-time operation and 50 percent wage cuts. Sales of the company’s Lada cars are down 49 percent and 26,000 workers may soon be dismissed, according to Moscow News. Pyotr Zolotaryov, spokesperson for the Unity trade union, asserted that if “existing problems” [are not solved], nationalization is an idea ― the government should own and control the company.” A banking official criticized Avtovaz, recipient of $800 million in government aid, for lack of diversification, innovation and upgrading of technology.

Nepal: Maoists said to threaten peace process The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is preparing to carry out civil disturbances that, according to Reuters, will endanger the peace process that ended 10 years of civil war. On Aug. 7 Maoist deputies stormed out of parliament, promising street protests against parliament’s failure to debate civilian control of the military. Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda resigned in May to protest the president’s reversal of his dismissal of Nepal’s top general, who blocked integration of Maoist insurgents into the Army. Impasse in Kathmandu played out against a rural backdrop where, according to a World Food Program spokesperson, food shortages have become “an issue of national and international concern, a reality which is destroying the future prospects of an entire generation of Nepalese.”

Turkey: Gov’t reaches out to Kurdish party Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week took the unprecedented step of meeting with Ahmet Türk, leader of the Democratic Society Party (DTP). The Kurdish nationalist DTP, politically social-democratic, holds 21 seats in Parliament. The European Union and United States have labeled it as terrorist because of supposed links with the Party of Kurdish Workers whose armed struggle for Kurdish autonomy in Turkish territory has claimed some 40,000 lives since 1984. Erdogan said he was meeting with Türk in his capacity of leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party rather than as prime minister. The government last month announced plans to enhance democratic rights for Kurdish people, according to Chinaview News.

Cuba: Educating physicians for the U.S. After six years of study, 17 U.S. students graduated last month from the Latin American School of Medicine. Residency training in the United States will prepare them for practice in underserved areas, an obligation assumed by each of the school’s 1,400 to 1,500 graduates each year. Students enrolled at the school begun in 1999 come from 29 countries, over 100 of them from the U.S. “We have studied medicine with a humanitarian approach, explained Kenya Bingham of Alameda, Calif., quoted on ifconews.org. “Health care is not seen as a business in Cuba,” she added. Student Jose De Leon from Oakland, Calif. savored no-cost medical education; he avoids debt that for most stateside medical graduates exceeds $250,000.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit@roadrunner.com)