China: President Hu Jintao visits Africa

In late January, Chinese President Hu Jintao undertook a 12-day, 8-nation African tour. Chinese-African economic cooperation was high on the agenda.

Arriving in Zambia after visiting Cameroon, Liberia and Sudan, Hu declared that economic development must be based on equality and mutual benefits. He asserted that “the basic foothold for China’s economic development is to expand its own domestic demand” rather than build exports. Recently China has increased imports from Africa and has adjusted tariffs to suit African needs.

Hu went on to Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Seychelles. In Namibia, whose trade with China increased 100 percent in 2006, Hu offered developmental aid. In South Africa, he announced a $2.6 million grant in support of agricultural education.

The newspaper People’s Daily highlighted Chinese educational assistance over 50 years to 50 African nations. From 1956 to 2006, 18,000 young Africans studied in China on scholarships. China constructed advanced laboratory facilities at 21 African universities.

Egypt: Gov’t jails student for blog

Designating Karim Amer a “prisoner of conscience being judged for the peaceful expression of his opinions,” Amnesty International (AI) has called upon the Egyptian government to release the university student from jail.

Prosecutors say that Amer used an Internet blog to disparage Egyptian religious authorities, President Hosni Mubarak and Islam. His trial began Jan. 18, and he faces a 10-year jail sentence.

Amer was jailed for 12 days in October 2005 because of Internet commentary regarding an allegedly anti-Islamic video shown by a Coptic Church in Alexandria. Al-Azhar University expelled him in March 2006 and issued a complaint that led to his being jailed in November. Denied family visits, he has been subjected to solitary confinement. quotes AI spokesperson Malcolm Smart as suggesting “that the authorities want the trial of Karim Amer to serve as a warning to other bloggers who dare criticize the government.”

Palestine: Union leaders face deadly attacks

Bombs almost destroyed the Gaza headquarters of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) on Feb. 2, while fire devastated its allied Workers Voice radio station. The federation’s headquarters had previously been bombed Oct. 12, and several union leaders have received death threats.

Two rockets hit the home of Rasem Al Bayari, deputy secretary-general of the federation and a prominent critic of the Israeli occupation, on Jan. 29, followed by bombs and shootings of his residence the next day. There were no injuries.

In a demonstration Feb. 4 in Ramallah, the PGFTU protested against what the federation’s general secretary, Shaher Saad, sees as attempts to destroy the labor movement. On its web site, the PGFTU called upon Palestinian authorities to investigate the crimes, whose perpetrators are unknown, and to help deal with Gaza’s factional violence and extreme poverty.

Established in 1965, the PGFTU represents 270,000 members, or 75 percent of Palestinian workers.

Czech Republic: No free ride for U.S. bases

A growing “No to the bases!” movement, with 30 groups involved, actively opposes U.S. plans for radar installations in the Czech Republic purportedly directed at a hypothetical North Korean or Iranian missile attack. The radar component is connected with defense facilities located in Poland.

In August 2006, two public opinion polls found that a majority of Czechs, in one case 83 percent, oppose the idea. On Jan. 25, U.S. officials officially requested permission to locate a radar base in the Jince locality. A day later a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson declared that such a move would have “negative consequences for international security.”

The Czech government reportedly favors the radar station, which Communists and Socialists say should be submitted to a referendum. reported that 2,000 people — Radio Free Europe said “a few hundred” — demonstrated against the base in Prague on Jan. 29, followed by 300 people marching in Jince on Feb. 7, most of them signing a petition for a referendum.

Bolivia: Women prepare for local politics

Bolivian women, many illiterate and unschooled, are increasingly taking on political responsibilities, with 340 of them serving on 329 town and city councils.

The Association of Women Town Councilors of Bolivia met in La Paz, the nation’s capital, Jan. 29. Over 100 women honed negotiating and communication skills and discussed legal aspects of their work.

The UN’s Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, co-sponsor of the event, will be facilitating similar meetings in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. The group’s research indicates that previous experience — labor activism, for example — inadequately prepares women for administrative roles fashioned by men.

Too often, says an Inter Press Service report, women are silent on reproductive rights, education, health and human rights.

“Factors like families, political violence and the machismo” force many to leave office, according to UN specialist Altagracia Balcacer.

Over the past 10 years, women in Latin America have held 14 percent of executive positions and 17 percent of the seats on town councils. Women make up 25 percent of left-wing President Evo Morales’ cabinet, including the ministers of justice, interior and health.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @