WORLD NOTES: Nov. 3

Palestine: Siege tightens on Gaza

Reports from Al Jazeera and the Chinese newspaper People’s Daily highlight the mounting peril weighing on civilians in the Gaza Strip.

In late September, Israeli military chiefs announced plans to incrementally cut fuel and electricity to Gaza in response to sporadic Palestinian rocket fire. Such measures, which began with fuel cuts on Oct. 28, have been widely denounced as a form of collective punishment, illegal under international law.

Having last month designated Gaza as “hostile territory” rather than an administrative entity, Israel has begged off from having to supply 1.5 million people with many vital necessities, including uninterrupted electricity, which is critical for refrigeration and water pumping.

Tensions intensified Oct. 24 as Israeli troops stormed into southern Gaza houses to make arrests of suspected militants, as Israeli tanks leveled crops and farm buildings.



Congo: Humanitarian crisis looms

Civilian displacement has overwhelmed North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where fighting has uprooted 370,000 people this year alone. DRC generals have threatened to forcibly disarm 5,000 former DRC troops now loyal to Gen. Laurent Nkunda, a rebel and former army commander.

Conflict has intensified since August, according to the BBC, with local militia forces joining the government in attacking the rebel soldiers. Nkunda claims to be protecting Tutsi people in the eastern DRC from government forces and from armed Hutu refugees from neighboring Rwanda, some of whom are suspected of participating in the 1994 anti-Tutsi genocide there.

DRC President Joseph Kabila set a deadline of Oct. 22 for Nkunda to disarm and return his troops to the national army. Two days after the deadline, about 200 had not shown up, according to the IRIN news service.



Venezuela: New socialist party on track

The day after 1,500 delegates were elected to a founding congress, President Hugo Chavez described the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), as a “great people’s party of the revolution that is born from the grass roots — a party of the masses, a socialist party.”

The election of the delegates was undertaken on Oct. 20 by 14,000 activists, who in turn had been chosen a month earlier by 1.5 million others in community assemblies.

Party membership now totals 6 million, according to venezuelanalysis.com. Beginning on Nov. 2 and lasting two months, the congress will determine the party’s program, select leaders and devise a party constitution to be submitted to a nationwide referendum. The PSUV, expected to replace 20 of the parties joined in the dominant Chavez coalition, will participate in 2008 municipal and state elections. The Communist, Podemos and the PTT parties so far remain independent.



Italy: Protest to gov’t, ‘Do better’

A week after rightists, neo-Nazis among them, staged an anti-government demonstration, a million or more people, led by Communist parties, thronged the streets of Rome on Oct. 20, red flags and Che Guevara banners on full display.

“It’s not against the government, which we are a part of,” declared Oliviero Diliberto, leader of the Party of Italian Communists. “It’s to ask the government to do better.”

At issue were labor and pension rights, especially after moderate elements of Romano Prodi’s left-center governing coalition — invoking neoliberal, pro-big-business demands — pressured him to accept a hike in Italy’s retirement age and laws facilitating worker dismissals and contract hiring, a category affecting one in six Italian workers, reports the BBC.

The Prodi government ousted the right-wing Sylvio Berlusconi regime in April 2006 by a slim margin of votes, and now may be facing early elections, according to insurgente.org.



Philippines: Scandals build

Having pardoned former President Joseph Estrada, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo set the former film actor free on Oct. 19.

Elected in 1998 as an alternative to predecessors drawn from the wealthy elite, Estrada was forced out of office in 2001, later convicted of embezzling $80 million, and sentenced to lifetime confinement at his country estate.

Prosecutors, according to the BBC, argued that the pardon “totally demeaned” ongoing anti-corruption campaigns.

Prestoline Suyat, spokesperson for the KMU Labor Center, said Arroyo’s action was a sign of “a survival instinct” of a “dying regime.” He also denounced widening human rights violations, poverty and “massive corruption.”

Politicians visiting Arroyo administration officials in Manila were recently found to be leaving with paper bags filled with cash. Protesting outside recent Senate hearings on corruption, unionists brandished signs reading, “Gloria resign.”

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