Czech Republic: Protests vs NATO summit

A counter-summit to last week’s top-level NATO meeting, organized by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, brought together 150 delegates from the European Peace Forum, the World Federation of Democratic Youth and nearly 40 communist and left parties from all over Europe and beyond.

Despite the Czech government’s well-publicized ‘anti-terrorist’ security measures, including snipers, U.S. fighters overhead, aerial surveillance by Czech army helicopters, many thousands of police in the streets and harsher border controls intended to keep out ‘foreign radicals,’ thousands of demonstrators did manage to protest the summit.

In what Italy’s Party of the Communist Refounding called ‘an unprecedented attack on the freedom of the press,’ Ivan Bonfanti, a reporter for the Liberazione newspaper, was expelled by Czech authorities on his arrival at Prague airport. The PCR reported that other would-be demonstrators, including PCR members, were stopped at the Czech border and rejected because they carried flags and a banner.

Ecuador: New president promises to ‘give voice to poor’

Lucio Edwin Gutierrez, a former career military officer who ran a campaign of reaching out to the country’s Indians, trade unions and left-wing parties, won the presidency last Sunday by 54 percent to 46 percent for banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, considered Ecuador’s wealthiest man.

When he began to campaign two years ago, Gutierrez said, ‘We started in my old car, three or four people, running around Ecuador, eating in the car, sleeping in the car.’ He added, ‘Little by little, we began to reach people.’ Gutierrez finished first in a field of 11 candidates in first-round voting Oct. 20.

‘Ecuador can begin to convert itself into a more just country, a more honest country, a country with a better living standard and a country that is authentically democratic,’ the president-elect told a television interviewer this week.

Gutierrez helped lead a brief coup by military officers who joined an Indian uprising three years ago.

Thailand-Indonesia: Demonstration for Shangri-La workers

Hundreds of union members and supporters demonstrated outside the Bangkok Shangri-La Hotel last Saturday as Thailand’s Prime Minister gave the keynote address at a high-level meeting of Asian political parties. The action was organized by the IUF international food workers federation’s Thai outreach organization and labor rights groups.

With leading political representatives from across the region in attendance, the demonstrators unfurled banners denouncing the nearly two-year-old lockout at the Jakarta, Indonesia Shangri-La Hotel. They called on the Indonesian, government to act to reinstate the Jakarta workers at their jobs, delivered a letter and petition supporting the Shangri-La workers and their union to the Thai Prime Minister, and distributed a press release about the conflict to meeting participants and the media.

In December 2000, the Jakarta Shangri-La Hotel locked out its entire workforce, closed the hotel for three months, and fired some 800 union members.

World Days for Children: 246 million children working

Almost a quarter of a billion children were working as child laborers during last week’s Nov. 19 World Day for Children, according to Kailash Satyarthi, chairperson of the Global March against Child Labor.

‘These World Days should be marked with a renewed determination to protect the lives of all children,’ the Global March against Child Labor said in a statement. ‘Governments must be called upon to meet the commitments in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the ILO Conventions on child labor.’

The commercial exploitation of children in both developing and developed countries has come to be recognized as the most common form of child abuse today, the Global March said. ‘Subjected to physical, psychological and emotional abuse, child laborers are often trapped with no other options.’

European Union: Report says EU lacks minority protections

Roma, Muslims and Russian-speaking minorities continue to face discrimination in Central and Eastern European countries seeking membership in the European Union, according to a report released this week by the Open Society Institute. Though all Central and Eastern European EU candidate countries have adopted special policies to improve the situation for Roma or to facilitate integration for Russian speakers, these have yet to be effectively implemented, the OSI said.

Even where comprehensive policies have been adopted, as in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, the report said government political support is lacking, and funding and administration are insufficient.

Nor is the problem limited to ‘candidate’ countries. The report noted that Britain has ‘a sophisticated framework’ against racial and ethnic discrimination but lacks protections against religious discrimination, France and Italy lack comprehensive policies to protect Muslim communities. Spain and Germany have not adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, and lack adequate protections for Roma.