Hungary: Economy fells prime minister

Economic minister Gordon Bajnai is slated to succeed socialist party head Ferenc Gyurcsany as prime minister on April 14. Bajnai promised to strengthen austerity measures imposed by the minority government, despite their failure to ward off adverse effects of an economic crisis particularly disastrous for Eastern European countries. Industrial production fell 23 percent last year, and experts say the economy will shrink this year by 5 percent.

IMF loans totaling $27 billion and conditioned on reducing social services, staved off looming bankruptcy and replenished the coffers of banks, many owned in Germany. The government cut public employee wages, imposed a value added tax and devalued the currency.

Global Research news predicts the likely new government will serve banking and business interests and prepare to confront popular movements.

Afghanistan: People’s needs still neglected

“Now is the time for the international community to put the people of Afghanistan first,” wrote Oxfam official Farah Karimi as power brokers discussed Afghanistan’s future earlier this month in The Hague. On Oxfam International Blogs, she noted consensus “that there is no military solution to the problems facing Afghanistan.”

Half the Afghan people live in poverty, one third lack sufficient food, and survival is at risk for 1.5 million malnourished children and women.

Last year’s Joint Emergency Appeal for $404 million in aid yielded a 42 percent return. Support for health and school services has been nil. Donors supplied 70 percent of the $185 million requested by the United Nations World Food Program, according to the UN’s IRIN news service.

Philippines: Protests mount against U.S. military

Almost daily protests outside the U.S. embassy in late March began by marking the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Demonstrators condemned both the continuing U.S. occupation there and, according to GMANews, the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement, under which Washington supports the Philippines military to the tune of $200 million annually. Binational military exercises begin next month.

The recent recanting by a Filipina woman of 2006 testimony helping to convict a U.S. soldier for rape brought new protesters to the embassy. PressTV news reported the Gabriela women’s rights group as denouncing the agreement for casting Filipinos as “second-class citizens of the United States.” On March 25 riot police injured 20 of the women protesters, none seriously.

Canada: Movement grows vs. deportations

Parliament has once more condemned the deportation of former U.S. soldiers resisting deployment in Iraq. The non-binding resolution passed March 30 demanded permanent resident status for resisters and their families.

On its web site, the War Resisters Support Campaign called upon the immigration minister to exercise discretion based “on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.”

At a press conference the week before, opposition parliamentarians protested the looming deportation of former U.S. soldier Kimberly Rivera. A judge subsequently ruled in her favor, following the lead of previous magistrates by citing the prospect of unduly hard U.S. punishment. A public opinion poll last year found 64 percent of Canadians favoring permanent residence for the war resisters.

Colombia: FARC promotes prisoner exchange

The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have failed to agree on setting aside a demilitarized area in which to negotiate humanitarian exchange of prisoners.

The Colombian Communist Party recently published on its web site a FARC communication to the group Colombians for Peace that signals relaxation of its requirement for a safety zone and also willingness to exchange the remains of fallen combatants. Three potential negotiators have been designated in advance of possible talks on an exchange involving 20 prisoners.

The month before, the government reiterated its refusal to open talks. The FARC denied government allegations it holds 3,800 prisoners for ransom, placing the number instead at nine. It unilaterally freed 12 prisoners last year.

Cuba: Chernobyl rescue anniversary marked

April 1 marked the 19th anniversary of the medical program the government and medical specialists established in Cuba for children suffering radiation-associated illnesses following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The Cuban News Agency reported the estimate of program coordinator Dr. Julio Medina that every year up to 800 children have come to Cuba accompanied by at least one parent for care that is cost-free to families. The 20,000 children arriving since 1990, 16,000 of them Ukrainian, were housed at a former Pioneer Children’s Camp in Tarará, east of Havana. Medical care offered the children has included treatment for various types of leukemia, bone marrow and kidney transplants, and surgery for congenital heart defects.

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