Lithuania: Anti-gay legislation protested

Parliament last week banned discussion of homosexuality in schools and in literature available to children. Viewing the legislation as discriminatory, gay rights and human rights groups including Amnesty International launched a campaign mediated through the European Parliament and EU leaders to urge the government to revise the new policies.

That effort is stymied in part over the possibility that the European Convention on Human Rights only covers discrimination in employment.

Local gay rights groups cited by Inter Press Service attribute passage of the law to the influence of a “homophobic society strongly influenced by [the] Catholic Church.” Experts say economic dislocation has fueled animus against gays, which is rife throughout Eastern Europe, as well as attacks against immigrants and Roma people.

China: News service overhauled

The Communist Party this month authorized a restructuring of the People’s Daily newspaper. Reporters worldwide will work in new branch offices. Expansion from 16 to 20 pages will enhance coverage of “international news, social construction news and theories, literature and art reviews.”

According to its web site, the news service intends “to show the characteristics of the era” to party members and a “vast number of readers.” Guiding the change will be the “three closeness[es]: close to reality, close to life and close to the masses.”

Last year, People’s Daily introduced an internet platform to further citizen communication with local government officials. The purpose, reported the Global Times, is to make government “more transparent, efficient, and democratic.”

Uganda: Desertification advances

The 2008 State of Environment Report, released June 17 and reported on the New Vision web site, indicates that “The entire forest eco-system has disappeared in 23 districts,” also that 3 million acres — 30 percent of the country’s forest cover — were lost between 1990 and 2005.

The National Environment Management Authority predicts deforestation and near-desertification will be almost total by 2050. Contributing factors include a growing population’s use of wood and charcoal, bush burning, and diversion of land to agricultural, construction and industrial uses.

Overgrazing, the melting of ice on Mount Ruwenzori, and agricultural and housing encroachment on wetlands have led to decreased availability of water, manifested by declining biodiversity of wetland species and rivers that disappear.

Global: UN documents hunger

One billion people, including 642 million living in the Asia-Pacific region, are hungry, according to a report released June 19 by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The record high includes 100 million people added last year through rising unemployment and falling income attributed to the world financial crisis.

Food prices rose 24 percent from 2006 through 2008.

FAO spokesman Kostas Stamoulis highlighted as a contradiction that “a lot of the world is very rich despite the economic crisis.” The BBC also quoted FAO Director General Jacques Diouf who warned that hunger affecting one-sixth of the world population “poses a serious risk for world peace and security.” He urged governments to provide agricultural support, particularly for small farmers.

Iraq: A plague of serpents

Snakes have descended upon southern Iraq. A medical administrator in Dhi Qar Province reported six deaths. “People are terrified and are leaving their homes,” he noted. Snakes “are attacking buffalo and cattle.”

Experts see heat and dryness as causes. Severe drought has prevailed for four years, and Tigris and Euphrates River flow has dropped 75 percent over 10 years. Dams in Turkey and Syria permit diversion of water for irrigation. Almost half the agricultural land that once made Iraq a cereal exporter has been lost to desertification.

The UK Independent last week foresaw the possibility, little noted outside Iraq, of “one of the world’s greatest natural disasters, akin to the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest.” Iraq has appealed to Turkey to release impounded water.

Cuba: Cuban Five prisoner responds

Protesting the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal recently to consider the case of the Cuban Five, Rene Gonzalez, one of them, declared, “Once more the judicial death mask … falls away, revealing the true face of North American imperialism and insulting the world’s conscience.” U.S. law does little to rein in terrorist impunity, he noted on

Cuba’s National Union of Writers and Artists last week called upon “U.S. colleagues” to back the Five. Citing support from Nobel Prize Winners, parliamentarians, lawyers’ groups, religious bodies and human rights activists “throughout the planet,” the Union demanded that President Obama free them, as “an act of elemental justice.”

Gonzalez, however, has less faith in “ethical considerations or universal clamor” than in the “price imposed by resistance.”

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