Canada: Quebec opposes war in Afghanistan

In the next year and a half, Canada must decide on its continued deployment of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.

On Aug. 23, two Quebec soldiers became Canada’s 68th and 69th war deaths there, highlighting the province as a focal point of opposition to Canadian involvement. Polling data this year suggests that 70 percent of Quebecois and 55 percent of all Canadians favor withdrawal.

On June 22 in Quebec City, protesters with the War on War Coalition greeted troops from nearby Valcartier participating in a farewell march prior to their deployment to Afghanistan. Quebec Premier Jean Charest told the protesters, “You are the acting arm of Quebec pacifism. You are liberators.”

Foreign policy, rarely an issue in Canadian electoral politics, reportedly will determine the outcome of a Sept. 17 parliamentary by-election in Montreal’s Outremont district, reports The Globe and Mail.

Liberal Party candidate Jocelyn Coulon, an early supporter of Canada’s intervention in Afghanistan, now wants troops out in 2009. He faces New Democratic Party challenger Tom Mulcair, who calls for Canada’s immediate withdrawal.

Mauritania: Slavery now a punishable crime

Mauritania, led since March 2007 by its first ever democratically elected government, passed a law Aug. 22 establishing jail terms for those who engage in the practice of slavery.

West Africa’s only Islamic republic banned slavery in 1981, but a report published in estimates that some 500,000 people — 20 percent of the population — are still living under slave-like conditions or, in the case of ex-slave families, experiencing discrimination.

Human rights spokespersons say that provisions are still lacking for monitoring the problem, investigating complaints, awarding compensation, launching civil suits and providing economic support and education for former slaves.

Subjugation of the victims, most of whom belong to the Haratine caste, is typified by prohibitions against their right to own land, to have ready access to water or to participate in politics. They are also locked in dependency relationships for food and permission to marry.

The anniversary of the 1791 Santo Domingo slave rebellion that led to Haitian independence, Aug. 23, marks the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition established by UNESCO in 2001.

Israel: Refugees from Sudan turned back

The Israeli government deported 50 African refugees to Egypt on Aug. 19.

Over two years, some 2,500 migrants, mostly from the Darfur region of Sudan, have entered Israel, using Egypt as a way station.

Opposition Knesset member Dov Khanin condemned the Israeli attorney general’s action as a violation of international law, and pointed out that “Israel has no guarantee that Egypt will not deport these asylum seekers back to Sudan.”

In July, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian officials arranged for the return of “infiltrators” to Egypt, where discrimination, harassment and violence are said to prevail. Before crossing into Israel, the refugees endured dangerous physical obstacles and Egyptian police gunfire. Israeli border officials rejected criticism that they had denied the asylum seekers’ their legal right to a hearing, claiming they were preventing entry rather than expelling refugees.

The report by IRIN, the UN news agency, said that at the time of their return to Egypt, the migrants had been in Israel for 24 hours.

Bolivia: Constituent Assembly is halted, big struggle looms

On Aug. 23, in Bolivia’s historic capital of Sucre, Constituent Assembly President Silvia Lazarte suspended assembly deliberations indefinitely following a year of struggle over procedural questions and control of natural resources. She was responding to havoc in city streets caused by thugs linked to European-descended, well-heeled opponents of President Evo Morales’ socialist government.

The week before, an assembly majority had voted against considering an opposition proposal to move all government functions to Sucre, a campaign the government saw as an attempt to block progress toward a new constitution. Right-wing gangs reacted by threatening to enter the assembly, prompting Lazarte to act. On Aug. 24, leaders of Morales’ Movement towards Socialism party called for 100,000 indigenous people to move into Sucre on Sept. 10, enough, declared Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, that “not even a single fly would dare to insult delegates and indigenous representatives.”

President Morales condemned U.S. financial support for the opposition, according to

India: Communists put brakes on U.S. nuclear deal

Communist allies of India’s ruling coalition have called for a projected U.S.-India nuclear cooperation treaty to be put on hold. Their concerns, voiced Aug. 19, centered on worries about undue U.S. influence over India’s foreign and nuclear policies, according to a BBC report.

The U.S. Congress approved the treaty in December 2006 and will need to do so again, together with the International Atomic Energy Agency, before nuclear material is sent to India.

Washington has signaled its refusal to renegotiate the pact, which, if ratified, would reverse its 30-year policy of refusing to give nuclear materials to India because of its failure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Some critics suggest the change in attitude stems from a U.S. desire to offset China’s influence in the region.

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