Bolivia: Marchers demand equity on oil proceeds

La Paz remains on edge as street protests over the unjust distribution of the country’s oil and gas revenues entered their third week and escalated in intensity. Clashes between police and thousands of protesters May 31 forced suspension of a key session of Congress in Bolivia’s capital.

Bolivia has large deposits of natural gas, second in South America only to Venezuela’s. Yet two-thirds of the country’s population, mainly indigenous peoples, live in extreme poverty.

The wealthy minority, chiefly of European descent, would rather strike deals with oil companies than share the proceeds with the people. President Carlos Mesa has taken a similar stance.

Protesters have been calling for either a tax of 50 percent on oil-gas revenues or outright nationalization. Evo Morales, a leader of the influential Movement Towards Socialism, has called for an increase in state royalties and a tax increase on oil proceeds to alleviate poverty and to improve education and health care.

Ecuador: Gov’t rejects IMF ‘reforms’

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s minister of economy, last week said his country would not accept any commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that would endanger his country’s sovereignty, Granma International reported.

After meeting with IMF representatives, Correa emphasized that Ecuador would not cede its sovereign rights and would carry out “those reforms that are advisable for the country.” For now, he said, there is no need to reach an agreement with the IMF.

“While the deposed president Lucio Gutierrez received offers from the IMF, the country has not signed any agreements with that agency,” Correa said. “For that reason,” he added, “nobody will be allowed to suggest structural reforms.”

Italy: Unions call for general strike

Leaders of Italy’s three main labor federations called last week for a rolling four-hour strike, to put pressure on the Berlusconi government for renewal of public workers’ contracts, the Associated Press reported.

The strike will be held on different days in different regions of the country, according to a schedule to be decided later, leaders of the CGIL, CISL and UIL trade unions said.

“It’s a mobilization which we obviously hope never to activate because we expect the government will be reasonable and honor the contracts,” said Luigi Angeletti, one of the leaders.

Some public workers have been working without a contract for over three years, the unions say. Berlusconi has said public finances don’t permit contracts giving workers all the pay raises they are seeking. Several recent strikes have crippled travel by train, air and local transportation services, in disputes including safety issues, restructuring plans and contract renewals.

Sudan: AU calls for support in Darfur

The African Union warned last week that its peacekeeping mission in war-torn Darfur risks failure unless it receives increased support, the UN’s IRIN news agency said.

At a fundraising conference for the peacekeeping mission, AU Peace Commissioner Said Djinnit called Darfur a critical test of international commitment and Africa’s resolve to end wars on the continent.

“We strongly believe that now is the time for peace in Darfur,” he said at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Djinnit said the 53-nation AU needs financial, military and logistical backing, but emphasized that troops on the ground must be exclusively African.

Djinnit said the AU would hand over authority to the UN as soon as a political solution is found. “Our ambition is to make sure there is a political settlement and that the process is in the hands of the Sudanese,” he said.

Afghanistan: Demand probe into journalist’s killing

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said last week it is “saddened and concerned” over the brutal murder of former Afghan television journalist Shaima Rizaee. The former entertainment presenter for Tolo TV was beaten to death May 17.

“The tragic loss of a colleague is a massive blow for free and independent media in Afghanistan,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren. “The Afghan authorities must investigate and bring to justice those responsible for Rizaee’s death,” he said.

The Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists (CPAJ) said Rizaee was fired from Tolo TV over two months ago for unknown reasons. She then disappeared, sparking rumors she had been killed. Tolo TV and Rizaee’s family failed to comment on the rumors.

CPAJ said during this time, Rizaee was confined to her family home and prevented from appearing in public. Kabul’s 10th district police are questioning her brothers in connection with her disappearance and murder.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel ( Brian McAfee contributed to this week’s notes.