India: Russia aids nuclear development

Visiting in India, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed agreements with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh providing for Russian construction of four more nuclear energy reactors in addition to two already being built, all in Tamil Nadu state. Russia will assist India’s space program, sell or lease nuclear submarines and, in a $1 billion deal, provide India with 80 military helicopters.

From the cold war on, Russia has supplied India with 70 percent of its military equipment. Russia had already arranged for nuclear fuel sales worth $700 million. Following the deal it signed earlier this year with Washington, India also secured French assistance in developing civilian nuclear capabilities, the Bloomberg news service said.

Somalia: Slaughter, suffering continue

Al Jazeera reported that Ethiopian troops’ Dec. 5 shelling of a marketplace in northern Mogadishu ended up killing at least 16 people and wounding dozens. Although forces loyal to the ousted Islamic Courts Union government retain control of Somalia’s south, they remain unable to dislodge U.S.-supported Ethiopian and government forces from the city.

Ethiopian plans to withdraw all troops within weeks, in accordance with peace agreements signed in Djibouti last month, have fueled renewed calls for international peacekeepers and U.S. backing of a “unity government.” Fighting has killed 10,000 civilians since early 2007 and displaced more than a million.

“Somalia has the highest levels of malnutrition in the world,” a UNICEF official asserted recently.

Italy: Historic rescue underscores risks

Lampedusa Island, closer to Africa than Sicily, is ground zero for EU authorities protecting “fortress Europe” from undocumented African migrants. Rescues at sea can lead to prosecution on contraband charges. Those seized often end up in camps.

On Nov. 27, the “law of the sea” prevailed. Lampedusa port authorities learned that two crowded boats proceeding from Libya were in danger. Coast Guard lieutenant Achille Selleri radioed captains of four fishing boats docked in Sicily that were large enough to handle high winds and 30-foot seas: “Gentlemen, we can’t save them. I need your boats.”

“We are ready,” they replied immediately. A complicated night rescue operation ensued. Over 650 migrants walked onto Lampedusa’s dock. Terrible disaster was averted.

Colombia: Gov’t evidence evaporates

Under oath, police investigator Ronald Coy, who examined computers belonging to FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes, told prosecutors handling the case of an Ecuadorian politician accused of ties with FARC insurgents that the computers contained no e-mails, only word documents.

The government has alleged that Reyes’ e-mails proved Colombian leftists and Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan activists and politicians maintained FARC associations. The computers fell into military hands following the raid March 1 on a FARC campsite in Ecuador that killed over 20 people including Reyes.

Speaking to reporters after Noticias Uno broke the story on Dec. 2, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos continued to insist on the existence of the e-mails.

Cuba: Scientists, industry respond to world vaccine needs

Twenty years ago Cuba developed the world’s only commercially available vaccine against type B meningococcal bacteria, responsible for meningitis affecting young adults. On Dec. 4, Concepcion Campa, director of Havana’s Finlay Institute, announced Cuba’s donation of 5.2 million doses of the vaccine to African countries. In addition, Cuba and Brazil, encouraged by the World Health Organization, recently outlined cooperative plans to expand vaccine production.

New vaccine manufacturing facilities, developed in response to UN urging and inaugurated last week, are central to the project. Global Insight indicates that Cuba’s pharmaceutical industry ranked second for export income in 2007.

Gaza: Siege builds

The Israeli noose has tightened. Banks in Gaza closed Dec. 4 because cash transfers worth $63 million were blocked, leaving 70,000 civil servants payless. The Arab Doctors Union warned of epidemics due to vaccine and water shortages. Libya last week protested Israel’s interdiction in international waters of its ship Al-Marwa, carrying 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid.

Israel’s military recently introduced a robot with small weapons capabilities useful for “exploring tunnels and detecting ambushes.” Resumed fighting caused the deaths recently of 19 Palestinians. The Xinhua news reported last week the governing Hamas movement would soon end its six-month truce with Israel. Demonstrators against Israel’s siege congregated in Istanbul and Amman on Dec. 5.

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