Australia: Labor, war protesters challenge Bush

As President George Bush and leaders of 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) nations met in Canberra last week, labor leaders from Asian and Pacific nations spoke out against privatization and trade policies that harm workers.

According to the union-based KMU web site, Philippine labor leader Elmer Labog joined his regional counterparts in lobbying the governments for policy changes, emphasizing adverse effects from cheap food dumped on local markets by Australian and U.S. agribusinesses.

In talks Sept. 6 with Bush, Australian labor leader Kevin Rudd, set to run against incumbent right-wing Prime Minister John Howard in upcoming elections, said that a Labor-led government would withdraw all 1,600 Australian troops from Iraq. During the week prior to talks beginning on Sept. 8, anti-Iraq-war protesters filled Canberra streets, blocked off by 3,000 riot police, a steel and concrete fence, 45 helicopters and water cannons.

Czech Republic: U.S. bases not popular

U.S. talks with Poland resumed Sept. 6 in Warsaw on plans to install long-distance missile interceptors. A week later, U.S and Czech negotiators were headed toward agreement on a U.S. radar missile tracking system to be set up nearby on Czech soil.

Plans for both projects were announced in January.

Polling data indicate that two-thirds of Czech citizens oppose the U.S. initiative, fearing the residential areas surrounding the installations will become military targets.

On Sept. 5, Greenpeace protesters and “No to Bases” campaigners demonstrated outside the castle where Czech ministers were meeting. The ministers, having recently hired a public relations agency, were ostentatiously offering to fund transportation, water and sewage systems for municipalities and to subsidize farmers.

Opposition Social Democrats and Communists are calling for a referendum on the bases issue, according to China’s People’s Daily.

Ethiopia: Norwegian diplomats ousted

Denouncing Norway’s role in mediating a border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Ethiopian government recently ousted six Norwegian diplomats. According to Reuters, Aug. 28, Ethiopia accused Norway of “acquiring leverage” and “causing instability in the Horn of Africa.”

Spokespersons alleged Norwegian bias in favor of Eritrea going back to the 30-year guerrilla war against Ethiopia that led to Eritrean independence in 1993 and continued through a 1998-2000 conflict, leaving 70,000 dead.

Norway has emphasized its role in providing humanitarian relief, donating $49 million to the region in 2003. It proposes to give $16 million to Ethiopia this year.

Ethiopia’s government, which invaded Somalia with U.S. backing last December, remains highly focused on Eritrea, writes one observer at On Sept. 6, 300 Somali opposition leaders representing the deposed Islamic Courts government were in Asmara, Eritrea, planning the ouster of the successor Somali regime imposed by Ethiopian troops.

Jamaica: Labor Party wins election

In voting on Sept. 3, Jamaica’s Labor Party secured 33 of 60 seats in the House of Representatives, putting an end to 20 years of rule by the People’s National Party. The vote, clarified after three days of Election Commission review, unseated Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who had replaced veteran Prime Minister P.J. Patterson on his retirement in March 2006.

Simpson Miller complained of election irregularities, a contention denied by spokespersons for a team of 40 election observers. She also charged that some Labor Party candidates were U.S. citizens. Jamaican law forbids dual citizenship for parliamentarians.

With few ideological differences, both parties focused on poverty and crime. The election turned on the government’s allegedly weak response to Hurricane Dean, according to an AP report, plus a strong debate showing by Labor Party leader Bruce Golding.

Palestine: UN report indicts economy

On Aug. 30, the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development reported on the Palestinian economy. Potential income losses in 2000-2005 totaled $8.4 billion. Per capita gross income dropped 15 percent in 2006; GDP, 6.6 percent. Unemployment is 30 percent; poverty, 53 percent. Exports dropped 3 percent in 2006, imports rose 20 percent, and the trade deficit reached 73 percent of GDP.

Palestinian tax revenues collected by Israel but withheld totaled $1.2 billion between 2000 and 2005. Governmental operating deficits rose from $761 million in 2005 to $791 million in 2006. Since April 2006, few public employees have received pay.

The report assigns these causes: diminished donor support, Israeli closures of border crossings and withholding of tax revenues, and Palestine’s isolation from potential trading partners. It urges an increase of donor support and the creation of alternative trade and transportation networks.

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