Chile: Pinochet faces new probe

The Court of Appeal Dec. 2 stripped former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet of legal immunity in connection with the 1974 murder of Gen. Carlos Prats, who preceded him as army chief. Prats, who opposed Pinochet’s military dictatorship, had fled to Argentina with his wife, Sofia Cuthbert. Both were killed by a car bomb in Buenos Aires Sept. 30, 1974.

Allegations about Pinochet’s role in the double murder can now be investigated, the BBC said. A former Chilean secret service agent was sentenced to life imprisonment by an Argentinean court four years ago for direct involvement in the killing.

It was the second time this year that Pinochet’s immunity has been lifted in connection with crimes committed during his regime. A court ruling last May cleared the way to investigate the former dictator’s role in Operation Condor, a 1970s conspiracy by six South American regimes to track and kill left and progressive opponents. A ruling is expected soon on Pinochet’s fitness to stand trial.

Palestine: World Bank urges end to closures

The World Bank Dec. 1 called on Israel to roll back restrictions on the movement of people and goods in the Palestinian territories. The bank urged Israel to progressively dismantle a system of more than 700 checkpoints and barriers in the West Bank and encouraged the reestablishment of efficient transport between the West Bank and Gaza, the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star reported.

“Too often in the course of this conflict, economic considerations have been dealt with as a residual element in diplomacy,” said Nigel Roberts, the WB’s country director for the West Bank and Gaza. “Given the depth of the economic crisis in the West Bank and Gaza, securing work and a future for one’s family features very high on the agenda of the ordinary Palestinian and needs to be catered to as top priority.”

In its report, “Stagnation or Revival? Israeli Disengagement and Palestinian Economic Prospects,” the WB also called on the Palestinian Authority to make “a credible security effort.”

India: Rallies mark Bhopal anniversary

Protests marked the 20th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial accident — the leak of toxic gases Dec. 3, 1984, at the Union Carbine pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, which killed 2,000 people instantly and over 20,000 in the years since. Union Carbide is now a subsidiary of U.S.-based Dow Chemical.

Survivors, relatives of the dead, and rights activists marched through Bhopal shouting, “Don’t forget the victims of the genocide in Bhopal,” “Death to Dow,” and “We will win, we will fight!”

Survivors’ leader Rashida Bee told Associated Press that protesters would keep up the fight until victims’ demands for compensation, medical care and rehabilitation are met. “Lethal chemicals are still lying around at the plant, some in the open,” Bee said. “Every time it rains these poisonous chemicals are leaked into the soil, affecting groundwater resources in the area.”

Amnesty International recently called Union Carbine’s attitude toward the victims shameful, and said meager compensation payments had been held up for years by India’s government bureaucracy.

Italy: Nationwide strike vs. austerity cuts

Millions of workers brought Italy to a virtual standstill Nov. 30 as they staged a one-day strike against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s plan to slash $8 billion from public sector spending next year. The measures include sharply reduced spending together with tax cuts.

Workers marched, many in pouring rain, in some 70 cities around the country. In Venice 40,000 turned out despite a flooded main square. In Rome, marchers shouting anti-Berlusconi slogans carried banners reading, “Where is my contract?” and “The government is a thief.” In Turin, a northern industrial city, 55,000 marched and unions said 80 percent of public workers observed the strike.

The stoppage was the fourth general strike over economic issues in Italy since Berlusconi became prime minister in 2001.

Southern Africa: New watchdog for children’s rights

Five Indian Ocean countries — Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles — have set up the first-ever regional “observatory” to monitor progress in improving the lives of some 9.5 million children in the island nations, the UN’s IRIN news service said last week.

The observatory, a joint initiative by the Indian Ocean Commission, the University of Mauritius and UNICEF, will pool expertise from the five nations to compile and analyze data on the plight of children and the results of initiatives to improve their lives.

Health and education are special priorities, and it is hoped the institute will be able to advocate for policy changes to improve children’s well-being.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (