Afghanistan: Bombings lead to impasse

President Hamid Karzai demanded recently that U.S. air raids against the Taliban cease. His nationally televised plea came after U.S. bombs earlier this month reportedly killed over 100 civilians in western Farah province. Responding to an official U.S. defense of the bombings, a Karzai spokesperson reiterated: “We demand a complete end to the bombardment of our villages.” (

The controversy follows accounts that wounded victims suffered burns typical of those caused by the internationally-banned material white phosphorus. The UK Guardian quoted Mohammad Aref Jalali, head of a burn hospital in Herat, who relayed a woman’s report “that 22 members of her family were totally burned. She said a bomb distributed white power that caught fire.”

Somalia: War suffering grows

Revived civil war has displaced tens of thousands of Mogadishu residents and killed hundreds of civilians. Severe drought has aggravated suffering.

UN officials sought support for the government promoted by the UN Djibouti process, now headed by a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union.

Insurgent forces are led by the Al-Shabab movement, said to have Al Qaeda ties. A regional political director explained on that rebels “are not actually strangers, but are Muslims who have come from the various parts of the world in order to assist.”

Gen. William Ward, head of the U.S. Africa Command, told the Associated Press that “battle-hardened extremists” had moved in from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The report suggested links to Al Shabab.

United Nations: U.S. joins Human Rights Council

“We are looking forward to working from within with a broad cross-section of member states to strengthen and reform the Human Rights Council,” U.S. ambassador Susan Rice declared at the United Nations as she welcomed U.S. election to a three-year term on the Council. The 47-member body replaced the UN Human Rights Commission three years ago.

The Bush administration stayed out because of the council’s criticism of Israel and exoneration of nations the former administration said were abusing human rights, including Sudan, Cuba and China. The Huffington Post quoted Rice’s response to claims that some new member states abuse human rights: “Obviously, there will always be some countries whose respect and record on human rights is sub-par. We have not been perfect ourselves.”

Cuba: Relations with EU under study

In Brussels for discussions on EU-Cuba relations, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez took encouragement from EU negotiator Louis Michel, who remarked that “if the European Union does not consolidate the normalization of relations with Cuba, the Americans will do so before us.”

Czech foreign minister Jan Kohout, pleased at “a real dialogue, not just two monologues,” expressed continuing concerns over human rights in Cuba. EU nations placed sanctions on Cuba in 2003 after it imposed penalties on government opponents taking U.S. pay. The sanctions were suspended in 2005 and removed last year. In June, EU foreign ministers will consider normalizing relations.

Great Britain: Ban anti-labor blacklisting

The government earlier this month prohibited companies’ use of secret blacklists to deny employment to trade unionists. In March government information minister Richard Thomas closed down a private detective who had compiled a database of 3,000 workers highlighting their trade union activities that he marketed to some 40 construction firms.

Legislation banning blacklisting had passed in 1999 but was never enforced. Trades Union Congress general secretary Brendan Barber welcomed the initiative denouncing “shady blacklisting practices that have no place in a democratic society.” The policy announced May 11 by Lord Peter Mandelson stemmed from lobbying by trade unions and over 100 labor parliamentarians, the UK Guardian reported.

Mexico: Police confront mine protesters

Some 150 trucks brought police to the Canadian-owned Trinidad silver mine in Oaxaca on May 6 in order to remove 150 local residents blockading the mine entrance. The police employed tear gas, gunshots, dogs, beatings and arrests. They entered and searched nearby homes, confiscating personal items. Several residents disappeared.

Concerns over diminishing water supplies and heavy metal water contamination had motivated community people to close the mine down for eight weeks. They also blocked highways. One protester, quoted on, observed, “We poor people have the right to life [and] we poor people can also defend all that we have.”

The Oaxaca newspaper El Impartial reported on mine owner pay-offs to local officials and recruitment of paramilitaries.

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