Japan: No free ride for new, right-wing premier

The first cabinet of new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came under criticism at a Sept. 26 meeting of Communist delegates to the Japanese Diet. Party Chair Shii Kazuo held up three appointees as reflecting “the hawkish nature of the new prime minister”: the holdover foreign minister, Aso Taro, who advocates visits to the Yasukuni Shrine to honor those who died fighting for the Japanese emperor; the education minister, Ibuki Bunmei, who calls for “an educational system based on competition and screening”; and the defense minister, Kyuma Fumio, who apparently favors constitutional changes allowing Japan to become “a nation ready to fight wars abroad.” Lastly, according to the Japan News Service, Shii denounced deteriorating living conditions and a “widening gap between rich and poor.”

Nicaragua: Washington escalates pressure

U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld joined 33 hemispheric defense ministers — minus Cuba’s — for meetings Sept. 30-Oct. 3 in Managua, Nicaragua. At a press conference Rumsfeld, permitting only four questions, blandly called for cooperation in fighting drugs, human trafficking and terrorism.

Prensa Latina, the Havana-based news agency, reported Rumsfeld’s remarks were echoed by Nicaragua’s defense minister, who asked for increased U.S. funding and military aid in the “war on drugs.”

Asked about the possibility of U.S. military intervention should Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega win Nicaragua’s presidential elections Nov. 5, Rumsfeld replied that, just as he is uninvolved in U.S. politics, “I will not get involved in Nicaragua’s politics.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), lobbying for Ortega’s defeat a few days earlier in the nation’s capital, failed in his mission to engineer a unity ticket against Ortega, who is ahead in polls. Burton darkly warned, “The Nicaraguan people [ought to] know what could happen if they return to a kind of government like that of the ’80s.”

Australia: Activists on trial for trespass on U.S. base

Four faith-based activists went on trial Oct. 3 in Alice Springs, central Australia, for trespassing at the U.S. military intelligence base at Pine Gap in Australia’s Northern Territory in December 2005. Jim Dowling, Bryan Law, Adele Goldie and Donna Mulhearn, members of Christians Against All Terrorism, are the first to be tried under Australia’s “Defense (Special Undertakings) Act,” enacted 54 years ago.

The Guardian newspaper characterized the trial as a “clear effort at intimidation,” but said the trial may have the unintended consequence of giving wide publicity to the secret installation.

The Pine Gap base has been responsible for communications surveillance and target selection in the Iraq and Lebanon wars, and serves as ground control for satellites over China, the Middle East and southern Russia.

A national solidarity campaign with the four defendants, who face up to seven-year jail terms, is under way. The campaign will target Prime Minister John Howard’s “slavish support for the U.S.” in the Iraq war.

Five additional protesters from the faith-based group were arrested trying to block the entrance to the base Oct. 7.

Paraguay: Gov’t ends U.S. troop immunity

In July 2005, 400 U.S. military personnel moved into Paraguay. The move followed the government’s agreement to grant immunity to U.S. troops from prosecution for crimes committed on its soil by Paraguayan courts or by the International Criminal Court.

On Oct. 2, Paraguay announced the withdrawal of that immunity and its intention not to renew the troop agreement. Paraguay’s partners in Mercosur, the regional trade alliance, had complained about the arrangement, saying that the international Convention of Vienna only protects diplomats, not soldiers, from prosecution.

Analysts suggest that U.S. interest in the region’s oil, gas and water resources and its political concerns about Bolivia and Mercosur may have motivated the Bush administration’s attempt to establish a permanent U.S. military base in Paraguay. Such plans are now in doubt.

Egypt: Nuclear power program to resume

Egypt announced Sept. 26 the resumption of its civilian nuclear energy program abandoned 20 years ago in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. The impetus, according to the BBC report, comes from worsening electricity shortages, with unmet needs rising 7 percent annually.

The government plans on having a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power generation facility operational in 10 years near El-Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast. The cost is estimated at between $1.5 billion and $5 billion, and foreign investment is anticipated.

Since 1986, Egypt has maintained a small experimental reactor that was investigated by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005. Based on the absence of uranium enrichment, the conclusion was that the facility was directed toward civilian applications.

Egypt, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has called for the elimination of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Francis J. Ricciardone, U.S. ambassador to Egypt, told reporters that Washington does not object to Egypt’s peaceful use of nuclear energy.

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