Germany: For immigrants, class rules

A day after attending Feb. 7 funeral services in Germany for victims of a fire possibly set by racists, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German and Turkish students.

He called upon Germany to establish schools that teach in Turkish. Responding en masse, conservative critics warned of Turkish “ghettoes” and advocated German language instruction as a prime tool for integrating 2.7 million resident Turks.

But immigrant life is precarious and ghettos already exist, defenders pointed out. Besides, schools teaching in French and English are commonplace. So “it’s less a question of language or culture than rejection of the lower classes,” Thomas Steinfeld suggested, writing in Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Sri Lanka: Civil war intensifies

The Red Cross reported Feb. 13 that civilian deaths have risen recently to “appalling levels.” Over 70 victims have died in attacks on buses since Jan. 16, when the Sri Lankan government abandoned a five year old cease fire agreement with Tamil Tiger insurgents. While most attacks occur in rural areas controlled by the government, cities are also under siege.

The UN’s IRIN news agency cited government figures showing that in the first six weeks of the year, 1,238 Tamil Tiger troops and 105 government soldiers have died.

UN Assistant Secretary General Angela Kane arrived in Colombo Feb. 20 for talks aimed at ending a conflict that has killed over 5,000 people since 2005.

South Africa: Social support builds

President Thabo Mbeki’s recently announced “War on Poverty” materialized Feb. 21 when Finance Minister Trevor Manuel announced the addition by April of a monthly 70 rands ($9.10) to pensions and disability grants received by 12 million people. By October, child support grants will be augmented by $5.19. Monthly totals will reach $122 and $28.55, respectively.

Children’s eligibility was extended to age 15, although Manuel cautioned that school absenteeism and lack of immunizations would become criteria for disqualification.

By 2010 men will start receiving pensions when they are 60, the age when women already receive benefits. Inflation and price increases were factored into the payment increases, according to BuaNews.

Israel: Land occupied illegally

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported Feb. 12 that 44 of 122 Israeli West Bank settlements were built on land confiscated from Palestinian landowners. In 1979, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the justification of military security, especially because seized land was turned over to private settlers.

Attorney Michael Sfard, representing former Palestinian landowners, claims that closely guarded military data “prove that systematic land theft for the purpose of establishing settlements was carried out via a fictitious and completely illegal use of the term ‘military necessity.’”

Presently some 270,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank.

Venezuela: Poverty drops

President Hugo Chavez announced Feb. 20 that poverty in Venezuela fell 40 percentage points between 1997 and 2007, a period when unemployment dropped from 15 percent to 7 percent. Analyst Okrim Al Qasal ( documents poverty reduced from 50.4 percent in 1998 to 45 percent in 2001, but rising to 62 percent in 2003 because of right-wing sabotage and slowdown affecting state oil company revenues.

Victory in that struggle and burgeoning of social missions brought rates down to 43.7 percent in 2005, and 33 percent last year. Corresponding rates for extreme poverty were 20.3 percent in 1998, 16.9 percent in 2001, and 29.8 percent in 2003, followed by 17.8 percent in 2005 and 9.4 percent last year.

Cuba: A globalized economy

New data testify to Cuban success in overcoming U.S.-imposed economic isolation. Canadian, European, Chinese and Brazilian oil companies are exploring for or producing oil and natural gas from reserves in the Gulf of Mexico estimated at two-thirds those in Alaska.

Fidel Castro’s decision no longer to serve as Cuba’s president triggered an 8 percent rise in share prices for Sherritt Corporation of Canada that, according to, is extracting 60,000 barrels daily from Cuban deposits.

Last year Cuba imported $437.5 million worth of food products from the United States, now Cuba’s leading foreign food supplier with sales totaling $1.99 billion since 2001.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney (