==== THE WEEK IN REVIEW ====
October 24, 2002
UN ROUND-UP: to table of contents
Voicing outrage that millions of people around the world still suffer from hunger, a United Nations expert has urged speedy action by governments and the UN system to meet the target of cutting the number of chronically malnourished people in half. Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur of the UN commission on Human Rights on the right to food, noted that every seven seconds, a child under the age of 10 dies from hunger directly or indirectly. The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, said urgent action was needed to address current shortages of key vaccines and to improve the stability of future supplies. Vaccine security - the sustained, uninterrupted supply of affordable vaccines - is at risk, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy told an Oct. 23 meeting in Cold Spring, New York.
The UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH) will wind down its operations by the end of the year, and arrangements for a seamless transition to the European Union are now in place. This will amount to the largest police reform and restructuring operation in UN history, UNMIBH head Jacques Paul Klein told the Security Council. The draw down of the UN International Police Task Force (IPTF) and the gradual build-up of the EU Police Mission (EUPM) has been carefully coordinated, with the first Mission deployment scheduled for Nov. 4. Sierra Leone's remarkable progress in implementing the peace process has opened up human rights work in the country to address past abuses and violations, advocacy, capacity building, education and institution building, according to a new report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The main challenges remain addressing past abuses and redressing present-day violations while developing national capacity to promote and protect human rights, says the report to the General Assembly on the human rights situation in Sierra Leone. Calling attention to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's failure to cooperate with the UN war crimes tribunal, the head of the UN court Oct. 23 asked the Security Council to take "all the measures necessary" to force the country to fully assume its international obligations. top of page
ICTY head Judge Claude Jorda said he had been informed that Belgrade is in serious breach of its international obligations by failing to arrest or transfer the accused in its territory and by adopting a law on co-operation with the Tribunal that violates the country's commitments towards the institution. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said ahead of Security Council meetings this week that war against Iraq was not a foregone conclusion, while stressing that Baghdad must meet the terms of UN Security Council decisions.
Meanwhile, Iraqi oil exports jumped sharply to hit an unprecedented high over the past week, according to the UN office running the humanitarian "oil-for-food" programme that allows Baghdad to use a portion of its crude revenues to purchase relief aid, continuing an erratic pattern seen over the past year. The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council Oct. 21 elected five judges to fill upcoming vacancies at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) : Hisashi Owada (Japan), Shi Jiuyong (China), Peter Tomka (Slovakia), Abdul G. Koroma (Sierra Leone) and Bruno Simma (Germany). The World Food Programme (WFP) announced the appointment of the agency's first woman Deputy Executive Director. She is Sheila Sisulu, currently South Africa's Ambassador to the U.S. top of page
WORLD BANK ROUND-UP: to table
Some of the poorest nations on earth have signed up for a scheme to apply for sovereign ratings from credit agencies under a program launched last year by the US administration and the UN. The plan, which subsidizes the cost of application for sub-Saharan African countries, has already seen Lesotho awarded a B+ rating on its foreign currency debt by Fitch Ratings. The countries applying for ratings include famine-stricken Malawi and very poor countries such as Ethiopia, Mali and Zambia, as well as relatively good performers such as Uganda and Ghana. Only four sub-Saharan African countries-South Africa, Senegal, Mauritius and Botswana-currently have sovereign credit ratings, and much of the continent is in effect closed to the capital markets.
African finance ministers Oct. 21 criticized the World Bank's debt relief program for failing to keep step with goals to reduce poverty in some of the poorest African countries, reports the Financial Times. At the end of a three-day meeting hosted by the UN, the finance ministers called for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative to be brought in line with the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to halve poverty levels by 2015. African governments want the World Bank and donor countries to move beyond HIPC to offer greater debt relief and to extend relief to non-HIPC countries.
World Bank officials say that although poverty is declining in Bangladesh, corruption and inefficient government cost the country around $1.5 billion a year. In 2000, half of Bangladesh's population of more than 130 million people were poor, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank said in a joint report. Poverty in Bangladesh shrank from 1991 to 2000 by a creditable nine percent, with the decline occurring in both urban and rural areas and touching all of the poor, even the poorest of the poor," said the development agencies.
The Brazilian Workers' Party presidential candidate Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, if victorious in Sunday's (Oct.27) presidential election runoff, reportedly may try to renegotiate $6 billion in 2003 debt payments to the IMF. Guido Mantega, the party's top economic adviser, said the country could negotiate an improved loan payment schedule with multilateral organizations. Brazil currently has a$30 billion aid program with the IMF that extends into 2003. The country has so far drawn down $3 billion from the package. Another $3 billion will be made available for the country in December after a November program revision, and the remaining $24 billion is scheduled for disbursement in 2003.
UNFAO has once more appealed to donors to assist in fighting hunger in Southern Africa, amid reports that the World Bank would give US $100 million to Malawi and Zambia, two of the worst hit countries. Half the money will be in grants and the balance in concessionary loans. UNAIDS and the World Bank have agreed an "educative vaccine" strategy to promote HIV prevention in primary schools in developing countries. The strategy, to be followed over the coming years, will be to introduce prevention education to 115 girls and boys in primary schools by 2015.
As expected, the IMF has said it plans to provide a standby loan program
to Colombia worth $2 billion over the next two years. Jorge Marquez, sub-director
of the IMF for the Western hemisphere, also said the organization was willing
to provide additional resources if needed, but didn't go into details.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn noted in an interview that while
financial aid to developing countries fails to rise above $50 billion,
rich countries agricultural subsidies total some $350 billion a year.
As a result, while developing countries' agriculture sectors could be quite
competitive at least in their own markets, they have to compete with heavily
subsidized Western production.
AFRICA to table of contents
ALEGATIONS OF "WIDESPREAD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION" OF REFUGEES housed in camps in West Africa has not been confirmed by a UN investigation. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) of the UN led the investigation into alleged sexual exploitation of refugees by humanitarian aid workers and peacekeepers in the region's refugee camps. The OIOS has confirmed that the conditions in the camps and in refugee communities in the three countries make refugees vulnerable to sexual and other forms of exploitation, and such vulnerability increases if refugees are female and young - but not that humanitarian aid workers and peacekeepers are to blame. The investigation, conducted at the request of the Office of the UNHCR, arose from a report by two consultants who had been commissioned by the UNHCR and Save the Children (UK) to study the questions of girl mothers, sexual violence and exploitation in the refugee communities in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. top of page
ANGOLA: The Angolan government aims to move all former UNITA rebels and their families out of reception areas and into a new phase of resettlement by the end of the year. Over 3,700 former UNITA soldiers and their relatives will leave government-run camps this week to return to home. Last week, all provincial governors met in the capital Luanda to agree a strategy for the next stage of the peace process, the resettlement of the 80,000 UNITA ex-soldiers and their more than 300,000 family members under the terms of the April ceasefire. The World Bank is to provide Angola with US $100 million over three years to help with the reintegration program. In other news, at least 20 people, mostly children, are known to have died in the past two weeks from a spate of meningitis that hit villages in the Chipungo District of southern Angola. to table of contents
BURUNDI: The African Union (AU), the continent's foremost political body, announced a $200,000 grant Oct. 23 in support of the ongoing Burundi ceasefire negotiations in Tanzania. The AU said the money would be drawn from its Peace Fund. The grant was announced as negotiations resumed in the Tanzanian commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, in the second phase of the ceasefire talks. In other news, at least three civilians and six soldiers were killed in Burundi this week when Hutu rebels of the National Liberation Forces (FNL) attacked a bar in Sororezo, two miles northeast of the capital, Bujumbura.
ETHIOPIA: Thousands of drought-stricken people have migrated into the Bale Mountains National Park in southern Ethiopia and are threatening its ecosystem, warns the UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (EUE). Numbers have risen to nearly 20,000, and it is feared their presence will intensify the destruction of forest in the park, and increase risks to communicable disease. The park is one of the most precious in the country, being home to the Ethiopian wolf - one of the rarest animals in the world, with only 500 still in existence. Meanwhile, farmers in Ethiopia's rural district of Arsi Zone, Oromia State, are reporting that most of their children have stopped attending school due to an acute food shortage. top of page
THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC): The leader of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma), Adolphe Onusumba, a key rebel group in the DRC, has said it is not ready to participate in the next round of inter-Congolese talks due to open Oct. 24 in Pretoria, the South African capital. Mr. Onusumba said his movement would be tied up restoring its hold on the town of Uvira on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. The other major rebel faction, the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, has said it is ready to participate in the talks, announced by UN Special Envoy to the DRC Moustapha Niasse, and due to end Oct 27. to table of contents
IVORY COAST: A west African summit began Oct. 23 in Abdijan aimed at organising direct talks between President Laurent Gbagbo and rebels who rose up against him a month ago. The meeting gathered the heads of state of Togo, Mali and Niger, along with top government officials from Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau. South African President Thabo Mbeki also attended in his capacity of chairman of the African Union. A ceasefire reached Oct. 17 between the governmment and the rebels has been holding. However, Oct. 22 French soldiers used teargas, stun grenades and water canons to fend off protesters trying to storm their main military base in Ivory Coast, where France is monitoring the truce. About half of the world's leading cocoa-producing country remains in the rebels hands, mostly in the predominantly Muslim north.
RWANDA: Rwanda has dismissed a UN report claiming the country's military officers were involved in the looting of natural resources and other goods from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The UN report, prepared by a panel of experts was presented to the Security Council Oct. 21, recommends sanctions against companies and people who exploited resources during the war in the DRC. It listed 85 multinationals, most of them based in Africa. Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe were included. Rwandan Defense Minister Emmanuel Habyarimana told a press conference in Kigali that troops withdrawn from in September arrived back home with clean hands and have since been sent to reorganization centers around the country. top of page
SUDAN: U.S. President George W. Bush issued a White House statement Oct. 21 announcing his signing of the Sudan Peace Act, H.R. 5531, which he said "is designed to help address the evils inflicted on the people of Sudan by their government. . .and to press the parties, and in particular the Sudanese Government, to complete in good faith the negotiations to end the war." In other news, the Sudanese government said it has provided a visiting African Union (AU) fact-finding team with information to back up its accusation that neighboring Eritrea invaded eastern Sudan. A presidential spokesman said Oct. 4 Eritrea must have been involved in the offensive because of the presence of heavy weapons, like tanks and artillery, which the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) lacks. to table of contents
TANZANIA: UNHCR said a fresh influx of 500 Congolese (DRC) into northwestern Tanzania, coupled with 11,000 Burundians since the beginning of the month, is "outstripping" the agency's reception capacity at its transit centre in Mbuba, close to the border area. Some 13,000 Congolese are seeking asylum in surrounding countries since fighting erupted again last week around Uvira, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The rebel group RCD-Goma recaptured Uvira from the pro-government Mayi-Mayi militia on Oct.19.
UGANDA: Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels massacred 35 people in an attack on a village in Northern Uganda, randomly killing every villager they came across, army intelligence coordinator Lieutenant Colonel Charles Otema said Oct. 22. The LRA, originally armed and given sanctuary by neighboring Sudan in retaliation for Uganda's alleged support for Sudanese rebels, have been fighting a civil war in the northern region for over 15 years. In other news, the U.S. government is to grant Uganda some $12.5 million over five-years to help victims of war and communities in the country's areas of conflict. One goal of the project will be the gradual disappearance of reception centers for displaced persons. top of page
ZAMBIA: The government said Oct. 23 a final decision on whether it would accept genetically modified (GM) food aid was "imminent" but did commit to an exact date for a decision. Close to three million Zambians are in urgent need of food relief until next year's harvest, mainly due to two succesive droughts. President Levy Mwanawasa's administration has, however, categorically rejected GM food aid, citing health risks. This week Zambia received $50 million from the World Bank to manage the hunger crisis. The concessionary loan will not be used to purchase non-GM maize but to help deliver food and water to villages where wells and boreholes have dried up. to table of contents
ZIMBABWE: Tony Hall, the newly appointed
U.S. ambassador to the UN food agencies, told an executive board meeting
of the WFP that Zimbabwe, formerly an exporter of food, largely responsible
for the widespread hunger now stalking the country. The U.S. ambassador
said President Robert Mugabe's land seizure program had deprived commercial
farms of thousands of skilled workers, jeopardising production of the staple
maize and that it may be too late to prevent a famine. He noted that a
long drought and soaring HIV/AIDS rate had also eroded productivity.
AMERICAS & CARIBBEAN to table of contents
EIGHT CARIBBEAN ISLANDS HAVE AGREED TO CREATE AN ECONOMIC UNION they hope will strengthen their economies and help to deal with progressive liberalization in the region and the hemisphere. The governments have agreed to give some urgency to the creation of the economic union by ensuring the free circulation of goods and services within the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) no later than one year, beginning January 2003, said a statement issued at the weekend after a summit in St Kitts-Nevis. The islands' leaders also agreed to have freedom of movement of labor by December 2007, with those states who are prepared to go ahead, doing so by January 2004.
BRAZIL: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of the left-leaning Workers' Party, is heavily favored to win Sunday's (Oct. 27) runoff in the presidential campaign. Public opinion polls show 66 percent of those surveyed favor him, compared to 34 percent for government-supported candidate Jose Serra. A former lathe operator and union leader, Mr. Silva has spooked investors who fear he may lead Brazil to default on its $230 billion foreign debt. Although he has pledged to honor Brazil's debts and to uphold the terms of a $30 billion loan agreement with the IMF, foreign investment has dried up, punishing Brazilian stocks and sending the currency, the real, plunging more than 40 percent against the U.S. dollar. top of page
COLOMBIA: The bodies of 14 people kidnapped a year ago, some of them decapitated, were discovered last week in graves near the town of El-Charco in southwestern Colombia. Some 100 people were kidnapped a year ago from this community in different operations that authorities suspect right-wing paramilitary groups were behind. Authorities now fear all of the missing might be dead. Both paramilitaries and leftist rebels FARC operate in the area around El-Charco. to table of contents
CUBA: The European Parliament has given its annual human rights prize, the Sakharov Award for Human Rights and Freedom of Thought, to Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Paya Sardinas for his peaceful efforts to bring reform to the communist nation. His activism dates back to 1969 when he was condemned to forced labor by the regime of President Fidel Castro. Mr. Paya, 50, founded Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement in 1987. The nonviolent, non-denominational opposition movement calls for deep political and economic changes in Cuba's communist system. He is a lead organizer of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering effort aimed at forcing a referendum asking voters if they favor guarantees for basic civil rights. In May, Varela Project organizers turned in petitions signed by 11,020 people asking the Cuban parliament for a voters' initiative on the proposed reforms. The Cuban Constitution requires 10,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot.
UNITED STATES: Washington has linked
a group of Islamic extremists in Southeast Asia to the al-Qaida network
and asked the UN to join in drying up contributions to Jemaah Islamiyah
and blocking travel by its members. The Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah
is suspected in the bombings of a Bali nightclub Oct. 12 in which more
than 180 people died. The spiritual leader of the group, which was officially
designated a foreign terrorist organization after months of U.S. investigation,
was arrested last week on suspicion of involvement in several church bombings
that killed 19 people in Indonesia two years ago. By adding the group to
34 other organizations branded as terrorists, the U.S. State Department
made it a crime for Americans to assist the extremists and barred issuing
them visas to travel in the U.S. top
ASIA & PACIFIC to table of contents
SENIOR MINISTERS FROM ACROSS THE PACIFIC RIM met under tight security in Mexico Oct.23 towards forging a deal on cutting the access of would-be bombers to planes and ships. The foreign and trade ministers from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) discussed the U.S. anti-terror campaign, North Korea's nuclear program, Iraq and trade issues. Washington has drawn up strict - and expensive - new security measures, including more effective baggage-screening measures and tighter immigration controls at airports across the world, advance screening of passengers on international flights and reinforcing flight deck doors on passenger aircraft. Some Asian nations are worried the measures are too expensive and could hamper trade. In other news, a new comprehensive joint-study published Oct. 23 by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) said that banks in Asia are afraid to lend, and companies are reluctant to borrow, resulting in a deadly circle that threatens to keep economic growth muted across much of the region.
AFGHANISTAN: Desperate refugees stuck in makeshift border camps have begun leaving the remote sites for the safety of a new camp near Kandahar established by UNHCR. Since the UN refugee agency began offering relocation assistance on Oct.10, more than 2,600 displaced people living in four remote sites surrounding Spin Boldak - a smuggler's haven on the border with Chaman, Pakistan - have opted to leave for the Zhare Dasht temporary relocation camp. Both the Afghan government and Pakistan's authorities had asked UNHCR and its partners to meet the needs of the tens of thousands of Afghans who were stuck in desolate conditions when Pakistan closed its border and the mainly Muslim non-governmental agencies working in Spin Boldak withdrew.
AUSTRALIA: A national memorial service for victims of the Bali bombings was held Oct. 24 with politicians, family members and tourists alike all filing into parliament to mourn the dead and missing. Prime Minister John Howard and the nation's religious leaders led about 1,000 Australians, foreign diplomats and visiting schoolchildren in parliament's Great Hall, offering prayers for and calling for justice. More than 100 family members of Australians killed in the bombings laid flowers in a Balinese water pool as they entered parliament's marble lobby and queued to light candles for their loved ones as a lone piper played "Amazing Grace." top of page
EAST TIMOR: The European Commission
signed an agreement Oct. 21 with East Timor, the world's newest country,
to provide $44.6 million dollars in aid over three years. The funds will
be put towards a work program to support long-term development, focused
on health care, rural development and poverty-reduction targets. Pro-Indonesian
militias destroyed about 80 percent of the infrastructure of the small
Southeast Asian state after the country voted for independence from Jakarta
in August 1999.
INDONESIA: Several thousands of people in the remote province of Papua are in need of immediate assistance after an Oct.10 earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter Scale left hundreds of homes damaged. It left 7 people dead, 182 injured and 10,000 affected, in addition to damaging 800 homes, roads and bridges in the Manokwari district of the province. Some areas in this already remote and difficult to access part of the country were cut off. A second earthquake on Oct.18 measuring 6.2 hit the same province as emergency food supplies provided by local authorities ran out. In other news, Jakarta pledged its support Oct. 24 for a UN effort to list Jemaah Islamiyah as a terrorist organization. The move would hinder support for the extremist group accused of numerous attacks in Southeast Asia.
NORTH KOREA: Pyongyang has begun to
introduce a series of reforms applying market economics principle and the
free use of money, mainly in the agricultural sector. The government said
in July it would begin phasing out food rationing and devalue the currency.
In recent months, prices for rice have risen by up to 40 times, with farmers
increasingly allowed to trade surplus products at free markets. The government
has in turn raised its procurement prices for agricultural products within
the entrally planned state system. Pyongyang is also now engineering
salary increases in urban centers of up to 30 times present levels. There
are also plans to turn a city on the Chinese border into a special capitalist
zone. top of page
EUROPE to table of contents
LIVING IN A FANTASY WORLD. That is how Oxfam senior policy director Kevin Watkins describes defenders of European and U.S. farm policies, in an op-ed piece for the Guardian (UK). Now they are joined by a band of fellow travelers who also think these policies are good for the world's poor, says Mr. Watkins, for last month, six European ministers, led by Hervé Gaymard of France, explained-in a new twist to the familiar defense of the indefensible common agricultural policy (CAP)-that EU agricultural policies were helping farmers in developing countries. To those arguing that CAP-sponsored overproduction and the subsidized dumping of exports is destroying markets for these same farmers, "the gang of six," as he puts it, had a simple response: developing countries should confine themselves to self-sufficiency in food because agricultural exports are bad for poverty reduction.
ALBANIA: A state of emergency still remains in effect in ten communes in two of the twelve of the country's prefectures. Efforts are ongoing to repair roads in the prefecture of Skhodra. The public sewage system has not been cleaned in some communes of Skhodra, due to a lack of special cleaning equipment. The water and electricity supply, however, has been reestablished. Distribution of humanitarian assistance, especially food continues in four affected communes.
CZECH REPUBLIC: The farming business is facing its worst economic situation since the year the 1989 'Velvet revolution' and collapse of the Communist regime and fixed prices, with summer floods and lower commodity prices delivering a one-two punch, said the country's agrarian union ASZ. The August floods which swept the country's central region cost farmers more than $83 million, while according to the Czech Statistical Office, agriculture prices in September were down 10 percent from the same period last year, with potato growers and poultry farms among the hardest hit. ASZ said in a Oct. 23 petition an increase in government payments to $80 per hectare was needed to keep crop farmers and many of their suppliers in business long enough to plant the 2003 crop. to table of contents
DENMARK: European Justice and Home Affairs Ministers met in Luxembourg last week to debate a comprehensive plan by Denmark, which currently holds the EU presidency, to facilitate the repatriation of some of the more than 400,000 Afghans living in Europe. The EU plan, set to be outlined towards the end of the year, would likely complement, rather than replace initiatives already begun by some of the bloc's members. Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) will help four failed Afghan asylum seekers to return home under a Danish government-assisted voluntary repatriation scheme introduced on Sept.15. The plan, scheduled to expire Nov. 1, provides air travel with IOM and a reintegration grant of $2400 for adults and $800 for children, paid by IOM. top of page
MACEDONIA (FYROM): A total of 45 international monitors from more than 30 European countries will supervise the polling process next month for a new census. Macedonia's census has strong political overtones, with the most sensitive question being just how many of the country's 2.1 million people are ethnic Albanians. Previous estimates of 22.7 per cent are strongly disputed by the Albanian community, with some saying the true figure may be between 30 and 45 per cent. One of the biggest headaches in preparing for the census has been to ensure a proper ethnic balance between the 9,012 pollsters. In other news, at least four people were injured and six arrested on Oct. 23, as protesting ethnic-Macedonian students rampaged through the streets of the capital Skopje amid rising ethnic tensions.
RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Armed Chechen
rebels stormed a crowded Moscow theater Oct. 23, taking hostage as many
as 700 people in the audience for a popular musical and demanding an end
to Russia's long-running war in the separatist southern republic. Hostage-takers
had grenades strapped to their bodies and said they were prepared to blow
up the building if it were stormed by troops and police. In other news,
a man been charged in the kidnapping of Kenneth Gluck, head of the Medicins
Sans Frontieres (MSF) mission to Chechnya, who was abducted Jan. 9 in the
Chechen village of Starye Atagi. The kidnapping was reportedly organized
and carried out in the Grozny region. Moscow the detained man is a Starye
MIDDLE EAST to table of contents
THE 'TWO-STATE' SOLUTION CONSIDERED FUNDAMENTAL TO PEACE in the region is near death, said Terje Roed-Larsen, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, in a sharply worded editorial in the "Al Hayat" newspaper. "A viable, independent Palestine alongside Israel is still possible, but perhaps not for much longer," writes Mr. Roed-Larsen, blaming the deteriorating security situation "fueled by vicious terror attacks and widespread violence against civilians," the Palestinian humanitarian crisis, the destruction of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel's expansion of its settlements. The envoy also points to the "growing chasm" between the efforts to forge a peace accord and the catastrophic situation on the ground. While the Quartet - the United States, European Union, Russian Federation and UN - have reached an unprecedented consensus around a roadmap that would lead to a comprehensive peace, "these promising diplomatic moves clash foursquare with the disastrous situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today," he writes. top of page
BAHRAIN: This Persian Gulf island kingdom held its first legislative elections in nearly 30 years Oct. 24, with supporters hailing the ballot as an important step toward democracy but Shiite Muslim groups criticizing it for not going far enough. Bahrain's move toward democratic rule sets it apart in a region where only one other nation - Kuwait - holds legislative elections. Kuwaiti women do not have the right to vote, but Bahraini women do. Voters will choose 40 members of parliament in the first legislative election since 1973. However, four political groups, including the Shiite Muslim Al-Wefaq movement, called for a boycott to protest a constitutional amendment giving a council appointed by ruler Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as much power as the assembly. to table of contents
IRAQ: Iraq is set to begin on Saturday returning to Kuwait the country's national archives, which were taken by Baghdad following its occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Washington put its tough new proposal on Iraq into the hands of the Security Council in preparation for a vote that could come as early as next week. The U.S. proposal, drafted with British support, gives UN inspectors broad new powers to search and destroy material related to weapons of mass destruction and warns Iraq of "serious consequences" if it obstructs their work. The new draft also finds Iraq in "material breach," of its obligations under previous resolutions, language interpreted by some as paving the way for a unilateral use of force by the U.S. Washington needs nine votes and no veto in order to secure the resolution's passage. to table of contents
ISRAEL: UN deputy relief coordinator Ross
Mountain has called upon Israel to release some $681 million Palestinian
Authority funds deposited in an escrow account and blocked by Tel Aviv.
He noted that 1.5 million Palestinians are now receiving food assistance
from the International Red Cross, the WFP, and the UN Relief and Works
Agency (UNRWA) - a higher percentage than the number of Afghans dependent
on international assistance. Mr. Mountain also chastised Israel for not
living up to promises to ease some living conditions for Palestinians,
in particular failing to ease the movement of Palestinians through checkpoints