Palestine: Mutual ceasefire essential

Mahmoud Abbas, sworn in as Palestinian National Authority (PNA) president Jan. 15, said last week he will not be pressured into national infighting among Palestinians, but will achieve a mutual ceasefire with Israel based on a national Palestinian agreement and only through national dialogue. Abbas rejected Israel’s accusations of responsibility for an attack in Gaza in which three Palestinians and six Israelis died, saying he was dismayed to be held responsible even before being sworn in.

Abbas condemned the attack at the Karni crossing as counterproductive, saying, “This operation and Israel’s operations, which killed nine Palestinians this past week, do not contribute to the peace process.”

“Israel must cease its escalation of the violence and withdraw from Palestinian areas so that the Palestinian leadership can proceed with its work after the elections,” said PNA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah.

After the attack, Israel froze all official contacts with the PNA.

Bolivia: Protest gas price hikes

Strikes and roadblocks tied up two major cities last week, as residents protested a government decision to cut fuel subsidies — a move that would raise gas prices by up to 23 percent. Hundreds of thousands of residents joined the protests in the country’s economic capital, Santa Cruz, where workers put up roadblocks to halt public and private transport. In El Alto, demonstrators — who were also demanding cancellation of the contract with a French firm operating their water system — halted traffic with the nearby capital city, La Paz.

In La Paz, members of the country’s largest labor federation, the Bolivian Workers Central, held several peaceful marches. The federation is demanding the resignation of President Carlos Mesa. Mesa became president in October 2003 after Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned in the wake of mass street protests.

El Alto’s strike leaders say the local water company, controlled by Lyonnaise de Eaux of France, charges excessive rates and has failed to provide service in poor neighborhoods since it started to operate in Bolivia in 1997.

The government said it would negotiate with strike leaders, and said the water contract might be cancelled if service is not extended to poor neighborhoods in El Alto. But officials said they would not rescind the cuts in fuel subsidies.

Guinea: Teachers strike for higher pay

Teachers in Guinea began an indefinite strike Jan. 10 to demand a 40 percent pay raise, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency said.

Bamba Camara, secretary-general of the Guinean Teachers’ Federation, said the strike was also called for full implementation of a 2000 protocol with the government, which set a formula for raising teachers’ pay.

The average Guinean teacher earns about $70 a month, but Camara said this is no longer enough to live on, in view of steep increases last year in the price of food and transportation.

“Teachers’ salaries are laughable but yet they face tough living conditions,” Camara told IRIN. “Transportation alone eats over half of their salaries, while there are other obligations like rent, electricity and water bills, and you know the price of a bag of rice nowadays is anything between $17 and $22 per bag,” he said.

Soaring food prices, rising electricity costs and unpaid state salaries have resulted in strikes and demonstrations by railway workers, students, mineworkers and others in recent months.

Moldova: CP the top political organization

A recent poll has found the Communist Party of Moldova (CPRM) is the top political organization in the former Soviet republic.

In a poll by IMAS Inc. and the Moldovan Institute of Public Policy, nearly 40 percent of respondents in the country said they would vote for the CPRM — which leads the current government — in the next parliamentary election, slated for March 6.

The opposition Our Moldova alliance is second with 9.5 percent, followed by the Christian-Democratic People’s Party with 7.5 percent. Others are below 5 percent.

In the parliamentary election held in February 2001, Moldova became the first former Soviet republic to democratically elect a communist administration. The PCRM won 49.9 percent of the vote and 71 seats in parliament. Following the election, parliament picked PCRM leader Vladimir Voronin as president.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (