Congo: Millions cast ballots in landmark vote

Millions of people turned out to vote Oct. 29 in a presidential runoff marking the official completion of a transition from war to peace that began in 2003, according to the UN news agency IRIN. Incumbent President Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba had swept aside a field of 33 candidates in the July 30 first round. Kabila won 45 percent of the vote and Bemba 20 percent. A candidate needed 51 percent plus one vote to be declared the outright winner in the first round. The winner of the second round will be decided by a simple majority. Kabila and Bemba pledged to respect the results, which were expected in about a week.

The Congo, with large mineral resources, making it potentially Africa’s wealthiest nation, has had a turbulent history. For five years, it experienced a civil war that eventually involved several African countries. The war killed 4 million people, mostly through hunger and disease, and displaced 5 million. This has presented the country with a huge humanitarian challenge.

Israel: Gov’t uses new, terrible weapons

Israeli missile and bomb attacks on Palestinians in Gaza Oct. 18-21, which killed 23 people and injured many more, resulted in bizarre wounds apparently caused by a radically new type of weapon, the French newspaper L’Humanité reported.

Gaza surgeons detected “microscopic shavings” in some of the victims and said it was “as if a saw had been used to cut the bone.” Wound sites showed burned tissue but, surprisingly, no metal fragments. Military analysts have noted this effect previously with a U.S.-engineered “dense inert metal explosive.”

Over 5,400 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military raids since 2000.

In a related development, Israel’s Cabinet admitted in mid-October that the Israeli Army used white phosphorus bombs against “military targets” in Lebanon during July and August, the Independent (UK) reported. People hit by incandescent particles of white phosphorus typically suffer severe chemical burns, often leading to fatal complications. Its use against civilians is banned under some international conventions.

Venezuela: Chavez ahead in pre-election polls

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez leads Manuel Rosales, presidential candidate for five opposition parties, 59-24 percent in polling for the Dec. 3 election. The poll was conducted by the University of Miami School of Communication and Zogby International.

Chavez’s ratings for positive job performance, overall popularity and “should be re-elected” all stand at 59 percent. A similar percentage of the 800 people interviewed believe their nation is heading in the right direction.

George Bush was viewed unfavorably by 57 percent, favorably by 20 percent. Crime, not the economy, was identified as Venezuela’s most pressing issue by 64 percent of potential voters. Half the respondents believe they are better off now than six years ago, and 71 percent anticipate they will be better off in another six years.

A report on cites government sources for accusations that opposition forces have rigged polls showing Rosales, the governor of Zulia province, running ahead of Chavez. They predict U.S.-assisted street demonstrations and paramilitary violence will materialize before the voting, especially in separatist Zulia.

Nepal: Preparations continue for new constitution

Although his interim government is committed to a constituent assembly, Nepali Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala told reporters Oct. 25 that talks with Maoist rebels have to be concluded first, according to China’s People’s Daily news service. Interviewed by L’Humanité newspaper in Paris two weeks earlier, Deputy Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, a member of Nepal’s Communist Party, spoke of the fundamental changes that have taken place in Nepal this year. Referring to the king’s loss of privileges and control of the Army, Sharma Oli declared, “We have put an end to autocracy.” A coalition of seven political parties has formed an interim government and parliament. Under a cease-fire agreement signed June 18 between rebels and the government, plans were laid for an inclusive transitional government and general participation in elections leading to a constituent assembly. However, disarmament is not complete, according to Sharma Oli, and rebel intimidation has yet to disappear. Negotiations continue intermittently.

Norway: Gov’t cancels Third World debts

The Norwegian government has announced cancellation of debt worth $80 million owed by five developing nations. On Oct. 2 it relieved Egypt, Ecuador, Peru, Jamaica and Sierra Leone of interest payments on debts incurred for purchases over 25 years ago of ships built in Norway. Government spokespersons indicated that debt cancellation would not affect developmental aid from Norway. In a first for creditor nations, Norway based its action on a reappraisal of the original decision to lend money. The impetus to sell ships came from a need to prop up a dying shipbuilding industry, not from consideration of benefits for poor nations. Action Africa sees Norway’s action as significant for African nations. Co-Executive Director Ann-Louise Colgan, quoted on, said Norway’s “willingness to accept responsibility for illegitimate lending set an important precedent that other international creditors must heed. [They] can no longer turn a blind eye to their own historically unfair and corrupt lending practices.”

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