Iraq: Journalists charge U.S. intimidation

Following the recent detention of several journalists from South Korea by U.S. occupation forces in Baghdad, the International Federation of Journalists March 15 accused the U.S. occupation authorities of trying to “control and intimidate” the media.

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White called the U.S. military’s March 6 detention of three Korean Broadcasting System journalists on suspicion of carrying explosives “absolutely unacceptable.” The journalists were handcuffed and held despite confirmation of their identities by the Korean Embassy in Iraq. They were finally released after no traces of explosives were found in their luggage.

“It is very difficult not to interpret this as a direct attempt to intimidate the media,” White said.

The Journalists Association of Korea and the IFJ are demanding the occupation authorities and the Bush administration apologize and make public the “internal regulations” on which the journalists were held.

Zimbabwe: Mercenaries with intriguing links

Leaders of the mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe March 7 have some intriguing ties to Western intelligence services. The 64 mercenaries, detained when their U.S.-built plane landed at Harare, allegedly planned a coup against the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. They included men from South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and one Zimbabwean with a South African passport. Another 15 supposed plotters were arrested in Equatorial Guinea.

The Johannesburg Mail & Guardian last week said one alleged ringleader, Simon Mann, was a former British special forces soldier and a founder of a private military firm close to British intelligence. Another, former South African special forces operative Nic du Toit, is a director of a private military firm whose founder allegedly had CIA ties until his mysterious death in 2001.

The plane, registered to a Kansas company, was sold earlier this month to Mann’s offshore company, Logo Logistics, which worked closely with the firm Executive Outcomes, formed in 1989 by former apartheid special forces operatives.

Cuba: Protest ban on doctors’ travel

The Bush administration has barred 70 medical professors, doctors and other experts in brain injury from attending an international symposium on coma and death taking place this week in Cuba.

“This decision … will harm the ability of American health care providers to provide cutting edge health care to U.S. citizens” and is a political payoff to the Florida far-right, said the Center for International Policy, Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba, the Latin America Working Group and the Fund for Reconciliation and Development in a letter to Secretary of State Powell and Treasury Secretary Snow. Professor Alan I. Leshner, executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, expressed alarm at the travel ban and at the ban on publication of articles by individuals from countries under U.S. sanctions.

Japan: ‘Spring Struggle’ the biggest ever

Bannai Mitsuo, secretary general of the Zenroren trade union federation, told a March 5 rally in Tokyo that this year’s Spring Struggle by trade unions demanding a wage increase for all workers and an end to pension cutbacks was the biggest ever, with concerted actions at more than 1,300 locations throughout Japan, and the largest worker participation. “This points to the worsening living conditions in sharp contrast with the record profits made by large corporations,” he said.

Bannai also urged Spring Struggle participants to take part in the March 20 international peace actions, as well as in a national strike April 15 to oppose the harmful revision of the pension system.

Japan Press Weekly reported that on the same day, members of the Liaison Council of Civil Aviation Workers’ Unions demonstrated in Tokyo to protest their companies’ cost-saving measures while failing to defend safety.

Venezuela: Gov’t launches big jobs program

The Venezuelan government announced March 12 that it is launching a program to create 1.2 million jobs within the year, reported. Participants in “Mision Vuelvan Caras” (Returning Faces) will receive a scholarship of $90 per month while they receive technical training. The program aims to cut unemployment to 5 percent by 2005 by prioritizing training of the country’s unemployed and underemployed, starting with graduates of the free literacy and adult education projects which the government has instituted.

The program is “the continuation of initiatives of this government dedicated to building the capacities of the people that have traditionally been excluded, where we all participate and decide what we want for our communities,” said Luis Hernandez, coordinator of the Puerto Fermin Neighborhood Association.

About half the program’s work will be devoted to agriculture, with emphasis on overcoming food shortages, especially in meat products.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (