South Africa: Public workers go on strike

By June 10, a weeklong strike of public service workers called by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) had become “the most devastating strike in post-apartheid South Africa,’ according to

Schools, hospitals and health centers throughout the nation were closed, and military troops were attempting to operate hospitals. The government fired striking nurses.

Strike leaders warned that 1 million private sector workers would be stopping work in solidarity on June 13.

Most unions are demanding a 12 percent wage hike, but the government is stuck at a 6.5 percent offer. The Times of South Africa reported on “investor sentiment,” saying, “A high wage settlement would convey the wrong message to the private sector [and would] fuel inflation.”

China: Don’t waste energy, says new task force

The city of Beijing has formed a 20-member team to check on energy saving practices in response to the central government’s latest calls to cut energy consumption in big cities.

According to task force leader Huang Qian, the “energy-saving police” will check whether energy consumption in offices, hotels, schools, shopping malls, supermarkets and other big buildings meets national standards — air conditioning no cooler than 79 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and no warmer than 68 degrees in winter.

The team will also evaluate the energy consumption of big real estate projects, including large residential complexes, Huang said.

“Those who fail to meet the standards will get a ‘prescription’,” she said. “If they fail to make improvements, we will report them. They will face penalties and their names will be publicized on TV, on the radio and in newspapers.”

Under a five-year plan through 2010, China has pledged to cut energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 20 percent, or 4 percent each year, but consumption fell by just 1.23 percent last year.

Belgium: European nations complicit in CIA crimes

A 19-month-long investigation by the Council of Europe has documented CIA use of prison facilities in Eastern Europe, mainly in Poland and Romania, for questioning prisoners picked up in recent U.S. combat operations.

Utilizing testimony from victims and prison personnel, the report describes prison operations, identifies prisoners and provides evidence that “water boarding” and “extreme sleep deprivation” (forms of torture) were regularly used for “enhanced” interrogations.

The investigation, headed by Swiss Sen. Dick Marty, found that European nations secretly agreed to open up airports for detainee transport operations.

The report, which was summarized in the Guardian (U.K.), says NATO countries were remiss in their responsibilities because “all remained silent and kept the operations, the practices, their agreements and their participation secret. … We have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities were aware of the CIA’s illegal activities on their territories.”

Venezuela: Puerto Rican independence leader honored

Venezuela honored Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, May 25, by dedicating a bust of the slain activist in downtown Caracas, close to memorials for other anti-colonial heroes.

Caracas Mayor Freddy Bernal declared, “Filiberto dedicated all his life to the vindication and independence of the Puerto Rican people.” Bernal bestowed upon Beatriz Rosada, Ojeda’s widow, an award memorializing Venezuelan independence hero Juan Francisco de León.

According to the ALBA news web site, Rosada told a large audience that Ojeda knew that imperialist forces would eventually kill him. His commitment, she said, was undiminished.

Ojeda served as leader of the Boricua-Macheteros insurgency during the 1970s, and had lived clandestinely in Puerto Rico for 15 years. On Sept. 23, 2005, FBI agents killed Ojeda in a barrage of gunfire, as they tried to arrest him at his house in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico. That day Puerto Ricans were commemorating the “Grito de Lares” in honor of their independence struggle.

Pakistan: Schools for girls under siege

The recent bombings of four primary schools for girls in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have caused girls and women teachers to leave schools. Threatening letters and telephone calls are rampant, and fundamentalist radio broadcasters demand they stay home. Two girls’ schools closed in April.

These developments come as a provincial government campaign for improved schooling for girls bears fruit. Having dedicated 70 percent of educational spending since 2002 to girls’ schools, officials point to 300 new schools, 30,000 more girls attending school, and a 75 percent increase in girls’ literacy.

Female school enrollment rates in Pakistan are the lowest in southern Asia. Less than 50 percent of women there are literate — 20 percent in parts of NWFP.

Peshawar human rights activist Afrasiab Khattak said, “Most people are very eager to educate girls,” but “growing talibanisation” has led government leaders to cooperate with fundamentalists, according to IRIN, the UN-related news agency.

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