Algeria: Saharawi refugees homeless

The worst rains in 12 years washed out mud brick homes and schools and damaged hospitals and markets in Saharawi refugee settlements in western Algeria last week.

An estimated 150,000 Saharawi refugees have lived in desert settlements near the borders of Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania since 1975. Women and children make up 80 percent of the population of the camps and, according to the UN World Food Program, about 35 percent of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition.

The UN High Commission on Refugees is coordinating airlifts of plastic sheeting, tents and blankets, and the World Food Program issued a plea to the international community for additional food assistance in efforts to reach the 90,000 considered most vulnerable.

The Saharawi traditional homeland is the Western Sahara, an area between Mauritania and Morocco, considered a colony of Spain until 1975, but still in the center of a territorial dispute with Morocco.

Japan: Unions defend ‘Peace Constitution’

Two of Japan’s major maritime workers trade unions have called for increased efforts to defend the nation’s “Peace Constitution” and block attempts at its revision. Article 9 of the postwar Constitution renounces war or war preparations.

“During the Korean War and the Vietnam War, harbor workers were forced to engage in loading/unloading war materials. … We are resolved that we will never give assistance to war planners,” Watanabe Saburo, Liaison Council of Harbor Workers’ Unions secretary-general, told Akahata newspaper.

The All Japan Seamen’s Union and the Liaison Council of Harbor Workers’ Union issued a joint statement, stating, “Never again will seamen go to war and that dock workers will not load or unload any war materials.”

The appeal calls on 20 trade unions and democratic organizations to defend the Peace Constitution and to oppose a referendum bill on a revision procedure.

The Liberal Democratic Party is discussing a plan to realign U.S. forces in Japan so that Japanese forces will join U.S. wars.

Venezuela: Parliamentarians hit the streets

In a campaign called the “Workday of Social Parliamentarianism,” public officials took to the streets last week to implement participatory democracy.

Members of the Venezuela Parliament left the National Assembly in Caracas to travel to the capitals of 23 states and the capital district to discuss the country’s priorities from the standpoint of the people.

Prensa Latina reported that two previous trial runs resulted in 600 meetings involving almost 2 million people. After listening to constituents speak about their chief priorities, the officials cut their legislative proposals from 72 to 50.

Simultaneously, a network of 3,000 communal councils has been established to work out solutions to local problems. The goal is to have between 13,000-15,000 councils around the country.

The councils and workdays are a reflection of President Hugo Chávez’s position that socialist transformation requires the full participation of the people.

Nigeria: Conflict in the oil fields

Nigeria is the scene of a major 21st century contradiction: the vast labyrinths of swamps and tidal creeks that make up the oil rich Niger Delta host an extremely profitable Shell oil operation alongside desperately impoverished fishing villages.

According to BBC News, exports in Nigerian oil in 2006 will reach $50 billion, but local villagers see none of the profits.

Over the past 20 years, tensions between Shell and the local people have persisted with disruptions connected to demands for jobs, clinics and community development, but in the past month, the conflict reached a new level.

A relatively new organization, MEND, or Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has initiated a series of large-scale attacks against the oil rigs, demonstrating a high degree of military expertise and possession of significant resources.

Local people fear government reprisals. In a 1999 incident, government troops seeking armed militants leveled an entire town and killed 1,000 people.

Italy: Gearing up for elections

In recent developments leading up to the run-off for national elections on April 9, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, have joined forces. Mussolini, along with the leaders of two neo-fascist parties, has agreed to withdraw from the elections in support of Berlusconi.

According to BBC News, media mogul Berlusconi is about to face new allegations of corruption and bribery for false testimony in court. Most opinion polls show his ruling House of Freedoms coalition either trailing his opponent by 5 percentage points or running neck-and-neck.

Rival candidate Romano Prodi of the left-center Union has said he considered the decision to enter the Iraq war a mistake, and if elected, Italy would immediately pull out. The union leader and former chief of the European Commission has promised posts to the Italian communists if his party wins.

World Notes are compiled by Pamella Saffer (