Latvia: Occupying powers at odds over Afghanistan

At a NATO leaders’ conference held in Riga, Latvia, in early December, French, German, Italian, and Spanish delegates rejected the Bush administration’s plan to open up the organization to wider membership to obtain more troops for the occupation of Afghanistan. According to the UK newspaper The Guardian, they were also objecting to possible U.S. plans for enlarging the pool of troops available for U.S. wars anywhere.

European nations, notably Germany, where antiwar sentiment is strong, also turned down Bush’s request for easing the Geneva rules of warfare for troops serving in Afghanistan.

In a related development, a British court has ruled that many soldiers wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq are eligible for reimbursement up to $985,000 each, the Sunday Telegraph reported. The court viewed such injuries to be the results of crime, not war, which, according to Bush, ended in May 2003.

Spain: Reparations law stirs debate

Controversy has erupted as the Spanish Parliament debates a proposed law granting reparations to victims of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. Franco, an ally of Hitler and Mussolini, died in 1975 after 36 years of rule.

Victims and prisoners’ families would receive one-time payments or pensions. The law would require local authorities to help families find the remains of relatives buried in mass graves, and to receive requests for declarations of past injustices under Franco.

The law, if passed, would also permit memorials honoring both sides in Spain’s 1936-1939 Civil War to be placed in the “Valley of the Fallen” outside Madrid.

Right-wing forces in Spain, still strong, have demanded the proposed law be withdrawn, alleging it aggravates old wounds. The coalition United Left Party has criticized the law for failing to annul political prisoners’ sentences, according to a BBC report.

United Nations: Children’s welfare tied to women’s status

The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF released a report Dec. 11 titled “The State of the World’s Children.” The main theme, UNICEF Director Ann Veneman told Inter Press Service, is that “gender equality and the well-being of children are inextricably linked.”

Throughout the developing world, women have prime responsibility for the protection and welfare of children, yet millions of women suffer from physical abuse at home, discrimination at work and inferior education. Only 43 percent of girls attend secondary school.

Women’s education correlates with child survival, maternal health, prevention of HIV/AIDS, and children attending school, the report says.

Japan: Growing militarization criticized

Japan’s House of Representative voted Nov. 30 to upgrade Japan’s Defense Agency to the status of a ministry, a prelude to Japanese troops being deployed to foreign wars, according to Communist Party leader Shii Kazuo. Kazuo and other critics say that the overseas use of Japanese troops violates Japan’s constitution.

In the House, Communist and Social Democratic representatives were alone in their opposition to the move. Referring to troops serving now in Iraq at Washington’s behest, they saw the measure as enabling Japanese troops to “become ‘U.S.-support forces’” in other situations that go against “the world’s order for peace.”

In a related development, the citizens of the city of Yokosuka are petitioning for a referendum on the decision by city officials to allow the city’s harbor to serve as home base for a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Critics quoted by Japan News Service say that the move contributes to U.S. first-strike capabilities and adds to the risk of nuclear accidents. U.S. nuclear submarines visit the port also.

Egypt: Workers strike for bonuses

About 27,000 textile workers struck Dec. 17 at a state-owned textile factory in Al-Mehalla Al-Kobra, an industrial area 60 miles northwest of Cairo. The strike, the first there since 1988, has revived Egypt’s labor movement, according to union leaders quoted by IPS. Night workers went out first and the entire work force occupied the factory a day later.

Demands centered on payment of bonuses promised two months earlier. Union leaders denounced corruption and profiteering by management, along with government plans for privatization under World Bank auspices. Company spokespersons alleged heavy debt as justification for withholding bonuses and also charged Muslim Brotherhood involvement in the strike. The union denied both claims.

On Dec. 19 the workers turned down a company offer of partial bonus payments, but later accepted immediate partial payments plus promises of more in January. One-fourth of the strikers were women.

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