Nigeria: Prison reform approved

A plan to reform abysmal prison conditions in Nigeria has been approved by the federal government. About 45,000 inmates are currently held in 277 prisons across the West African country, reports the Vanguard newspaper in Lagos. Of the 25,000 who are to be immediately released, priority will be given to those who have completed their sentences, including time spent awaiting trial, prisoners who are critically ill or of advanced age.

The plan also includes providing bail for many incarcerated on minor charges simply because they could not provide bail while awaiting trial. Those released will be housed in halfway houses across the country and provided with counseling and job training.
A voluntary board representing independent, nongovernmental organizations will visit each of the country’s prisons periodically to monitor conditions.

Indonesia: Thousands homeless after landslide

Rescue workers continue to search the mud and rubble of last week’s massive landslide in central and eastern Java, Indonesia. About 150 bodies have been recovered, but it is doubtful there are any survivors beneath the tons of mud. More than 2,500 buildings have been destroyed and thousands have left their home to take refuge on higher ground, BBC News reported.

UN agencies said 9,500 people have been left homeless and about 7,000 are living in temporary shelters. Torrential rains and flash floods are common during the rainy season, and dense forest cover can absorb heavy rains. But environmentalists say that heavy logging and deforestation have contributed to the environmental degradation, with serious repercussions.

Ghana: Gold no easy way out of poverty

The World Gold Council claims the gold mining industry provides poor nations a solution to debt and poverty. But experience reveals many pitfalls, according to

In Prestea, a town of 60,000 in the heart of Ghana’s Ashanti gold belt, vibrations from daily blasting of Bosogo Gold’s surface mine have damaged personal belongings and buildings. The local hospital has to shut off all equipment during blasting. Toxic waste from the mines is dumped in a heap next to the hospital, cyanide is dumped into local rivers and streams which provide most drinking water, and the mine’s sulphur fumes damage local farmers’ produce.

Golden Star Resources, registered in Canada and headquartered in the U.S, took over a previously local concession, fired the local workers and hired about 5,000 undocumented immigrant workers who live in shanties near the mines.

The Prestea Concerned Residents Association has protested the company’s destruction of their waters, land, livelihoods and homes. Thus far, Bosogo has refused to abide by the terms of its permit and Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency has intervened.

India: Toyota workers on strike

Workers at the Toyota car plant in Bangalore are on strike protesting the dismissal of three fellow workers. About 400 workers blocked the road to the plant and many were injured in altercations with the police. Toyota, the largest carmaker in the world, responded with a lockout and shut the plant down Jan. 8, claiming that the safety its managers and machines was at stake, according to BBC News.

Last year police clashed with Honda workers at a plant near Delhi under similar circumstances. Multinational corporations are attracted to India because of low wages and a plentiful workforce. India has recently emerged as one of the fastest growing markets for cars.

Venezuela: Belafonte leads tour of U.S. activists

A delegation of 13 prominent U.S. activists led by singer Harry Belafonte visited Venezuela last week. They visited cooperatives and met with factory workers, government officials, community leaders, opposition leaders and President Hugo Chávez.

Members of the group expressed their enthusiasm for the Bolivarian Revolution and its impact on the lives of ordinary Venezuelan citizens at a press conference in Caracas, reported.

Actor and president of TransAfrica Forum Danny Glover said, “I’ve been excited to get back to the United States to talk about what is happening … knowing that you are in a transformative stage and that you are the architects of your own destiny.”

Cornel West of Princeton University said U.S. funding for opposition groups in Venezuela by the National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. agencies underscores the importance of changing the balance of forces in the U.S. Congress so as to stop the funding.

World Notes are compiled by Pamella Saffer (