Nigeria: U.S. seeks closer security ties

General Charles Wald, deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, met with Nigerian government and military officials last week in an effort to build closer security ties in West Africa. In a tour of several African nations, Wald was expected to discuss the continent’s strategic position in “fighting terrorism” and protecting natural resources.

The European Command, traditionally focused on Western Europe and the Balkans, has enlarged its area of responsibility to include 93 countries covering much of Africa and parts of the Middle East as well as Europe.

The Gulf of Guinea – from Liberia in the west to Angola in the south – now provides about 15 percent of U.S. oil supplies, and is expected to supply up to 25 percent by 2015. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and its biggest oil producer. In recent years the U.S. has increasingly emphasized Africa’s significance and sought to build ties with many African nations concerning security issues.

Haiti: Lavalas supporters demonstrate

Over 5,000 supporters of Fanmi Lavalas, the party of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, demonstrated in Port-au-Prince July 15 to protest Aristide’s removal in a Feb. 29 coup d’etat and to commemorate his birthday, the Haitian news agency AHP said.

The demonstrators chanted, “We cannot betray our blood because our blood is Aristide’s blood,” and emphasized that even though the president is now in South Africa, the majority of Haitians continue to support him.

Speakers protested the current climate of political persecutions, arbitrary arrests and intimidation, which they said created a climate of fear making a new election impossible. They also cited the population’s worsening living conditions.

A new demonstration was announced for July 28 – the 89th anniversary of the first U.S. occupation of Haiti – to demand release of all Fanmi Lavalas activists illegally imprisoned by the interim government installed by the U.S. and France.

Peru: General strike protests gov’t economic policies

A general strike July 14 against government economic policies drew participation of some 150 different unions and was backed by Peru’s largest opposition party. The strike was called by the country’s largest labor federation, the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), to protest economic and social austerity policies adopted by the government of Alejandro Toledo at the behest of the United States.

“We want bread with social justice – that is the main message of this national strike,” CGTP leader Juan Jose Gorriti told thousands of union members and supporters in the capital city, Lima. He said reports the union received indicated about 90 percent of workers had supported the strike.

The government deployed some 600 army troops as well as 93,000 police in connection with the strike, a move Gorriti criticized as increasing the risk of confrontation.

Israel: Suicide top killer of soldiers

Citing statistics from the Israeli army’s rehabilitation division, the Hebrew daily Maariv said last week that for the first time, suicide has become the leading cause of death in the Israeli armed forces.

A total of 43 soldiers killed themselves last year, compared to 30 soldiers killed in incidents related to the Palestinian uprising. Maariv said this was a 30 percent increase over the 2002 figure of 31 suicides. Additionally last year, 32 Israeli soldiers died of illnesses or accidents.

While the Israeli Defense Ministry says there is no correlation, it is generally believed that many of the suicides are related to soldiers’ traumatic experiences in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Germany: Autoworkers down tools

Over 60,000 autoworkers struck July 15 to protest DaimlerChrysler’s plan to have Mercedes workers work longer hours, Reuters said.

The company aims to save $618 million in annual personnel costs at Mercedes, its most profitable unit, but the unions have agreed to measures saving just over one-third of that. DaimlerChrysler has said it might cut thousands of jobs at its Sindelfingen plant and shift some production of the new C-class midsize Mercedes to other plants in Germany and abroad if workers continue to oppose new cuts.

“These are not negotiations; this is a brutal attempt at blackmail,” said Erich Klemm, the head of DaimlerChrysler’s works council, at the demonstration in Sindelfingen. The DaimlerChrysler dispute follows a deal reached by Siemens last month with its workers, to increase hours from 35 to 40 without increasing pay.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel ( Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s notes.