China: Mine disaster claims 166 lives

The death toll in a major coal mine explosion in central China rose to 166 on Dec. 1, making it the deadliest accident in the country’s mining industry in years. Frantic rescue workers were blocked by fires and toxic fumes after a Nov. 28 gas explosion at the Chenjiashan coal mine in Shaanxi Province. They were able to save 127 lives.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao — himself a former head of the state industrial safety bureau — had urged local officials to do everything possible to rescue the missing miners and care for the injured, while provincial officials, family members and the head of the State Production Safety Bureau rushed to the scene.

The state-owned Chenjiashan mine is capable of producing 2.3 million tons of coal a year. Coal, oil and gas are contained together there, which experts say can easily cause fires and explosions. A gas explosion there in April 2001 claimed 38 lives.

In recent years the government and Communist Party have focused increasing attention on industrial health and safety including mining accidents – most of them in smaller and privately owned mines. Small illegal mines have been closed, and overall standards tightened.

Venezuela: Coup prosecutor assassinated

On Nov. 18, Venezuela’s state prosecutor Danilo Anderson — lead prosecutor in the investigation of some 400 people for their part in the 2002 coup that attempted to remove President Hugo Chavez — was killed by a car bomb in Caracas, according to Nicaragua Solidarity Network’s Weekly News Update. Anderson had told Reuters earlier in the month that he hoped soon to complete the formal indictment of all the accused.

Opposition leaders denied involvement, but Information Minister Andres Izarra called the murder “a political assassination whose essential objective is to intimidate the judicial branch” and stop the investigations.

Though the Bush administration denied advance knowledge of the coup, recently released CIA documents show that Washington knew about it in advance, Newsday said last week. Leading National Security Archive analyst Peter Kornbluth called the CIA briefs “substantive evidence” that the CIA knew about the coup beforehand, but said the documents did not prove direct U.S. involvement.

Africa: Women hit hardest by AIDS

Over three-quarters of sub-Saharan young people between 15 and 24 living with AIDS are women, as are over half the adults living with the disease, according to a United Nations report released Nov. 23.

The report, prepared by the UN Secretary-General’s task force on women, girls and AIDS in southern Africa, attributed the increased vulnerability of women to sexual violence, unequal access to information, gender-power relations and traditions like wife inheritance, whereby a male relative of a deceased husband may marry his widow.

The UN is calling for measures ensuring women have access to education, prevention information and treatment, and are guaranteed their right to own property.

Philippines: Protest attack on strikers

The International Federation of Food and Allied Workers (IUF) last week sharply condemned the Philippine military’s shooting of pickets outside the Hacienda Luisita Sugar Mill Nov. 16, killing at least seven sugar mill workers, injuring 53 more and resulting in 130 arrests.

“No military force in the world has a place in resolving labor disputes,” the IUF said. Workers struck after they rejected management’s proposal during collective bargaining. The government then issued a back-to-work order.

“No matter what the status of that order,” the IUF said, “there can be no moral or legal justification for what followed.” The federation demanded urgent action to change labor laws as well as dropping of charges against the pickets and reinstatement of fired workers.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (